Technical wizardry

We're captivated by New York artist Joe Winter's playful repurposing of everyday technologies, and decided to ask him more about his work.

It obviously requires a high degree of technical know-how to create work such as yours. Which interest came first: art, technology or have they always been closely intertwined?

contemporary art from emerging artists - Joe Winter
Xerox Astronomy and the Nebulous Object-Image Archive
is an installation in two parts: a central kinetic sculpture
and the presentation of the image archive the sculpture
produces. The first part places an office photocopier
at the center of a mechanical universe.
By continually documenting, through photocopies, the
paths of the orbiting lamps, the copier produces images
suggestive of various forms of scientific vision.

As a kid, I entertained myself in all sorts of ways. I had the fairly typical collection of engineering toys (Lego, Tinker Toys, etc), a chemistry set, and I built models of dinosaur skeletons, airplanes, and cars.

I also made paintings, drawings, and wrote poetry. I spent a lot of time playing music, and looking back, I think the idea of a musical instrument has been an important bridge between the idea of "art" and the idea of "technology."

Especially in some of my older works, both notated music and musical instruments are precisely organized systems that I've used as a framework for "artistic" production.

As an undergraduate, I more or less split my time between the arts, humanities, and sciences. Looking back, I think a confluence occurred when I found myself simultaneously studying the oulipo in literature, and the music of certain 'New York school' and minimalist composers, all artists whose procedural approach has often been cited as a precedent for the use of technology in art making.

What I took away from studying (and falling in love with) a lot of that work is the idea that imposing a system of rules on the production of a work can be a way to stimulate production.

I also have a problem-solving personality, so the idea of escaping from a labyrinth of one's own design has always been appealing to me.


How do you view technology itself? Obviously it's central to your work, but do you have any misgivings at all regarding the extent to which it has come to dominate our lives?

Joe Winter: contemporary sculpture and installation
Nebulous Object-Image
(see above)

Machines typically operate within a narrow set of material and procedural constraints; they tend to quit working properly if you don't follow the instructions.

In using them, one either implicitly agrees to operate within those constraints or actively attempts to undermine them. When making art that involves machines, at various times I find both approaches to be productive.

It's important to be able to recognize the myths surrounding our devices. It's also important to separate what we are doing with them from what they are doing to us.


Which artists (or other figures) do you admire, and perhaps see as an influence on your work?

I'm a sucker for structure, and a sculptor, so I appreciate artists who think rigorously about form, about how their materials are put together.

This is true regardless of whether those materials are words, images, colors, objects; whatever.

I enjoy the films of Peter Greenaway, the novels of Steve Erickson. Alvin Lucier is a composer I admire. There are some Calvino stories I read over and over again.

I'm reading Eileen Myles' new book of essays ('The Importance of Being Iceland') right now, and loving it. Her writing is so present tense, feels like the work is happening right in front of you, and I think that's one of the most important things for me as an audience.

It's something I also strive for as an artist; I want work to be curious and active, work that seems like thinking rather than thought.

I need to feel I'm in capable hands; it's also important to feel invited.


How do you view the New York art scene today in terms of the art being produced and possibilities for artists in the city?

Joseph Winter, contemporary art
'One ship encounters a series of notable exceptions': installation

The only unifying factor I can think of in terms of the NYC art scene (which is otherwise rather unwieldy and multifaceted) is the economic effect of the past year and a half.

Despite the difficulties, I actually have a sense that we are entering a time of potential. Periods of great stress tend to be followed by periods of diversification, and of the people that comprise an art scene (artists, critics, curators, collectors, dealers, etc), artists are among the most diverse and resourceful. And numerous.

Also, the less money flowing through the art scene, the more power I think artists actually have to influence what's getting made, shown, and championed. Galleries closing means artists finding less conventional ways of exhibiting their work. I'm hopeful that the razing effect of the economic downturn might just allow new things to emerge.


So how would you personally describe your work as an artist and what you are trying to achieve?

Some of my earliest works were sound performances. I would establish some kind of structure to the performance, but within that all of the sounds were completely improvised.

Even though recent works have had a more determinate form, I try to keep the kind of energy, the sense of presence and activity, that was such an important part of those improvised works.

I want my audience to feel like they are witnessing something, that they've become inserted into some kind of system. It's important that I engage an audience in an experience before I start worrying about conveying a message.

That said, I try to make my work as multidimensional as possible, and while I believe in delivering something immediate, I hope that the more the work is considered, the more the ideas and interrelationships that interest me become apparent.


Any projects in the pipeline that you'd like to tell us about?

contemporary art from emerging artists - Joe Winter
Fantasie no. 1 for Mobile Pianos
Joe Winter, New York artists
Fantasie no. 1 for Mobile Pianos.
All images © Joe Winter

Lately I've been studying the way ultraviolet light destroys pigment in photographs and other types of images. I've been thinking about the way that light is responsible for both the production and destruction of color. I'm thinking about pictures as some kind of recording of light, but also imagining what that light was doing before it left an impression, and what it continues to do after those impressions disappear.

Basically I've been making "photographs" by using light to subtract color, rather than produce it, and I've been thinking about objects/sculptures that facilitate this process.

I'm also doing some mechanical experiments that down the line I think will relate to some kind of "inverse printing press" sort of machine.


See more of Joe Winter's work

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