May 2019 Artist in Residence: KT Duffy

Portrait of the artist.

Portrait of the artist.

KT Duffy (b. 1987) is a new media artist and educator from Chicago, IL. Their mission in life is to demystify coding and technology for creatives, with a focus on those underrepresented in STEM fields. They received their MFA in Interdisciplinary Art from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2014. Their work has most recently been shown in a two-person exhibition at the South Bend Museum of Art, a solo exhibition corresponding with their residency as PIXELFACE (collaboration with Ali Seradge) at LoRez Brewery in Chicago, and a solo show at Terrault Gallery in Baltimore, MD. They are currently an Assistant Professor of Art and Technology at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, IL.

Q&A with KT Duffy, interviewed by Noëlle Pouzar

Anemoia 2018 Generative Plotter Drawings on Vellum, MDF, Foam, Acrylic, 47”x38”x2.5'“

Anemoia 2018 Generative Plotter Drawings on Vellum, MDF, Foam, Acrylic, 47”x38”x2.5'“

What are you curious about?

Everything, or many to be more accurate. How everything is connected.

When viewing your work, biomimicry and technology are often in relationship with each other. How do you approach this relationship during your research and production process?

A lot of times when I am doing visual research technology, it is literally the lens that fleshy bits are being viewed through. It becomes like a mediator between the bio/entity and human comprehension of the form. I’m really interested in this translation to human scale via technology, and how in that translation the “thing” is inevitably transformed into something else completely. Tardigrades are a great example of this.

In my practice, I use a lot of digital fabrication (3d printing, laser cutting, CNC routing, etc.) to create my forms. When the forms are in my computer they are flawless; their scale is infinite and their color/texture is often variable as well. When I use DigiFab to materialize them they inevitably transform into something else entirely. I view these baby robots as collaborators in that I’m giving this translation of form over to the machine and I’m granting this art-making robot some autonomy in the processes.

What creative risks have you taken? Do you feel that these risks have benefited your body of work?

Recently I made a video that is intended to be displayed as a video projection (not mapped or embedded into a sculptural form) which perhaps counter intuitively felt like a risk. I also created the audio for this piece which was a big step outside of what I normally do. I also made a bunch of small automated prints for GIFC, which again sounds counterintuitive, but was actually really hard to let myself make a thing that was allowed to be that one thing. Like, this is a drawing, not a drawing embedded in a bunch of other tech created stuff that is generated with code.

I think these couple of moves have definitely benefitted my practice, or at least offered me permission to break out of the boundaries I place on myself. Like most folx, I have some imposter syndrome and mine is specifically toward the label of New Media Artist. As a femme-type person who has self taught their way into the practice, I have this notion that I need to put all the fucking tech in it and kinda prove that I am worthy of this label.

All this is to say that I found the process of making the video + audio and the prints to be really freeing and really fun. Dare I say it, but maybe I didn’t have to think so hard or work so hard to still have the exact practice I have. :)

Detail of And I Can’t Say That I’ll Miss My Human Form, 2017-2018

Detail of And I Can’t Say That I’ll Miss My Human Form, 2017-2018

Tell us about PIXELFACE, your collaborative new media project. Do you see humans interacting with these installations differently than your other work? How do you see PIXELFACE evolving as both a concept and project?

PIXELFACE is an ongoing collaborative project with painter Ali Seradge. We have done a few projects as PIXELFACE and are in the process of figuring out where it will go next. As collaborators, PIXELFACE is where we get to pursue our more divergent ideas. It’s not so much that either of us feel like we can’t follow up on these because they are outside the neighborhood of our personal practices, but it’s about seeing how far we can push something. In the PIXELFACE arena these ideas feel more free and fun to bounce off of each other and see what it can materialize into.

I see PIXELFACE as being more directly responsive or confrontational to its environment than either Ali and I are within our own practices. It’s also really fun to kinda think of your labor as a creative being in service to this larger entity of PIXELFACE. This presents a lot of really wacky opportunities where you can kinda get out of your own way because you are serving this sentient digital overlord. This project is all about going big, getting weird, and being speculative as fuck.

For me personally it feels really good to collaborate with a painter. My first love is painting and drawing. The way I think about my work is still very much steeped in these considerations. However, I never really pushed that form in my own personal practice because in undergrad I got turned onto video art and it was all over from there (video is the gateway drug to New Media). Working with Ali, who has definitely put his thousand hours in, I am always surprised and excited by the way he is approaching both the visual and tech problems we are trying to solve.

Also in full disclosure Ali and I are married as fuck. As folx that are constantly talking about art, sharing a studio space, and so up in each others processes, it’s really nice to have a clearly defined creative entity that can be the venue where all this natural collaboration we have going on can become a thing of its own.

Research by KT Duffy

Research by KT Duffy

What will you be working on during your residency at LATITUDE?

I will be tweaking some software I wrote which helps me create generative forms and prints. I’ll be doing a lot of research on this JavaScript neural network library called Synaptic to do so. I will also be creating a new plotting machine with Arduino and a CNC shield. This will be a repositionable standalone plotter which I will be able to place on top of any material I want to plot on. It will have a range of about 5” x 5”. Using these two tools, I will be scanning the plotted forms, replotting, scanning, replotting, potentially infinitely, and then using the large format printers to create final compositions.

What pieces of science fiction, whether a book/podcast/movie, influence your practice?

I actually kinda missed out on SciFi as a kid! So my introduction to the central ideas of SciFi that I am so attracted to as an adult actually come from my experiences growing up on the South Side in the Catholic church. My Luke Skywalker was Jesus. All of that magical Catholic stuff is still in the mix for sure. I kinda ignored this for a long time, but I’m coming back around to it recently. I’m really excited to explore where some of these notions can take my work.

Books I have read in the past year-ish that have really stuck with me are:

  • Future Home of the Living Gods by Louis Erdrich,

  • Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado,

  • The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin,

  • The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells,

  • The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer,

  • Survivor - a speculative fiction anthology - edited by JJ Pionke and Mary Anne Mohanraj,

  • The Xenogenesis Series by Octavia Butler (this about the third time I reread that),

  • The Binti Series by Nnedi Okafor, which contains literally the most brilliant explanation of what a deviceless interface embedded in your human vision would look like. Currently I am in the middle of Red Wolf Black Leopard by Marlon James, which is truly just wild.

Lastly, my ultimate guilty pleasure of all times is The Fifth Element.

How do you feel about this black hole image?