Mark Amerika is an artist, theorist, novelist, and Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Colorado. He holds a Masters in Fine Art (MFA) in Creative Writing from Brown University (1997). Amerika has exhibited his art in many international venues, including: the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, USA), the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, USA), the Denver Art Museum (Denver, USA), the Institute of Contemporary Arts (London, England), ZKM (Karlsruhe, Germany), La Biennale de Montreal (Montreal, Canada), and the Museum of the Moving Image (New York, USA).
In 2009-2010 the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens, Greece featured Amerika’s comprehensive retrospective exhibition entitled “UNREALTIME”. The exhibition included Amerika’s progressive works of net art, “GRAMMATRON” and “FILMTEXT,” as well as his feature-length work of mobile cinema, “Immobilité.” “Immobilité” (2007) was composed using an unscripted method of acting and footage was captured using a mobile phone to create an amateurish style similar to videos distributed through social media environments, which at the time were in their infancy stages. In 2012 Amerika released his transmedia narrative titled, “Museum of Glitch Aesthetics,” a multi-platform net artwork commissioned by Abandon Normal Devices in conjunction with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
A frequent keynote speaker, Amerika has presented his art and contemporary art theories to audiences throughout the world. On October 7, 2016 Amerika will lead a lecture at Jacksonville’s Museum of Science and History (MOSH) as part of the Vystar International Artist Lecture Series. Seating is limited and tickets range in price from $15.00 – $25.00. All ticket holders will receive complimentary tickets to the 7:00 PM Cosmic Concert series and free admission to the museum on 10/7/2016.
10 Questions with Mark Amerika
How would you define net art for someone who us unfamiliar with the format?
This is art that is created specifically for someone to experience over the Internet. A painting is something you generally hang on a wall and a sculpture is something placed in a physical space. But net art is to be experienced by typing in a web address and interacting with work online. One of the advantages to this medium is that anyone can interact with the work from wherever they have a net connection. Pretty cool, yes?
You are progressive in your concepts of art and methodology. When a body of work is progressive there is a chance it may not be understood. How do you respond when someone says they don’t “get” what you do?
We live in a culture focused on personal self-esteem and that can be dangerous for the up-and-coming artist. It’s too easy to be influenced by what you think someone might like and then create a work to match their aesthetic taste. But the history of the avant-garde is about the opposite: it’s about creating work that challenges the norms of society and accepted tastes. Sometimes the work can be confusing or difficult to access. That’s okay. Take a deep breath and just look at it for what is and maybe you can change your perception and unlock the beauty that lies within.
What in particular do you want people to see in your work, and why is it important that they do?
Everybody brings a different set of experiences to whatever artwork they encounter and this will lead to different readings or interpretations. Some may find aesthetic value in the way the work looks. Others may be more attracted to what it “says,” conceptually. In some of my work, the response is more visceral. I’m just happy whenever someone is open to experiencing the work for whatever it has to offer them.
What is your approach to starting a new project? Do you have any patterns, routines, or rituals?
It almost always starts with improvisational writing and image capturing. I sketch out some ideas and loose language. Drawings soon come into the mix, and maybe some sound recordings. I then continue to another round of images or what I call “data capturing,” which includes screen shots from my iPad or laptop.
As things slowly evolve, sculptural shaping of materials starts to take place after I have all of these media elements to work with. The materials I most often work with are a combination of ideas and digital information. You can think of it as information sculpture that turns into digital videos, sound art, net art, and live audio/visual performances.
What do you feel is your greatest contribution to the arts and your community? Additionally, what resources or programs do you think would best equip artists in their efforts to serve their community?
In addition to all of my art and writing, I am also a Professor at the University of Colorado. I’ve been doing this for about 17 years. Enough time has passed that I can now see how the digital art lab I started way back in 1999, as well as the students who have worked with me and gone on to do great things in the community and beyond, have really been an essential force in building a strong contemporary scene that’s open to experiments in art and technology.
What projects are you working on now and are you seeking or presently involved in any collaborations?
Right now I am working with some younger artists who are also Studio Assistants. We are developing these really cool video art pieces that play with old analog video synthesizers, green screens, and all kinds of on-the-fly effects-processing. The end result is what we call retro-futurist glitch aesthetics. It looks like I may even perform in front of the camera this time!
What forms of technology, whether past, present, or future, are you excited about the prospect of utilizing in your creative process?
Right now I am excited by 3D animation and virtual reality. The future will be all about more immersive experiences. Even the founder of Facebook, Zuckerberg, recently said he wants Facebook to be at the cutting edge of using VR as a vehicle for telepathic communication. What will the artist of the future do with that kind of technology?
What advice do you give to your students to encourage them to avoid feeling downtrodden if their work isn’t immediately accepted?
Take risks with your work. Try things you would not normally consider and see what comes out. If you play it safe, you may end up going exactly where you’re heading: nowhere, really fast. Better to explore what I like to call “the adjacent possible.” Instead of getting stuck in a repetitive loop which leads to creative redundancy, push yourself to discover new potentials in your creative practice that you never thought yourself capable of making.
What advice do you have for an artist that is trying to acquire and grow their audience?
You know that rule about 10,000 hours? Supposedly, if you keep focused on the same practice for 10,000 hours you will become great at what you do, no matter what it is.
But does that hold true for the arts? Look at the Sex Pistols. Sid Vicious had no idea how to play bass guitar and didn’t really practice at all. Yet he was successful (until he OD’ed).
There is no one way to grow your audience. The important thing is to make work that people want to have access to and then start building your community from scratch. That means go local and grow from there.
What role has community played in the development of your art? Likewise, how would you define your role as an artist in a local and national scope?
Community is everything. My local and regional communities in Boulder and Colorado have been an important foundation for my work as a nationally and internationally recognized artist.
I have shown my work in all of the big regional museums and a few Colorado galleries. I have also had the chance to present my work to the public in venues like the Denver Art Museum. Of course my “community of shared interest,” i.e. the international art world that I circulate in, is another kind of collective support mechanism that enables me to share my art and writing across the planet.
Additionally, the advent of the Internet in the mid-90s made it possible for digital artists like myself to locate a distributed network audience, which has really opened up a lot of opportunities for me over the years.