Inside Mana Contemporary: Interviews with Four Artists in Residence
Based in Jersey City, Mana Contemporary houses emerging creatives ranging from multimedia artists to dancers, providing them exceptional studio spaces and exhibition galleries. Facilitated by experimental nature of this space, artists work alongside each other to foster a community that continues to inspire and challenge the world we live in today. Milk interviewed four of the artists in residence at Mana Contemporary to hear their exceptional stories, art-making process, and future aspirations.
As a performer and sound artist, Tiri Kananuruk produces performance art where her passion for technological consumerism, machine learning, and wonder for language collide. Growing up in Bangkok, Thailand, Kananuruk studied exhibition design and later decided to explore her interest in technology at NYU’s interactive telecommunications program.
A project she developed at NYU, TK 1971, mimics what the process of becoming a machine sounds like. Using a speech synthetic headpiece that generates, transforms, and loops her voice according to her bodily movement and the weight of her breath, she invented this technique. The performance of this cyborg has a denouement that one may perceive as a tragic end – TK 1971 eventually malfunctions, breaks, and falls apart. Partaking our organic mobility and complicated digital machinery, the artist implicitly articulates the phenomenal bond between humans and technology. In her eyes, imperfections in both technology and humans transcend obstacles of what it means to live in this hyper digitized modern world. As she believes that “performance is about broken system, machine error, and human error,” TK 1971 delicately reflects the values she cherishes as an artist. Through the process of making art, her fear of her technology breaking down transforms into appreciation, truly enjoying the moment of growth she has a privilege to witness.
She is especially fascinated by the ways in which both humans and computers produce sound and language. She says, “you use your whole body to pronounce a word, but for computers, programmers just type two lines up code and it speaks something.” At 2018 Open House at the Mana Contemporary, she presented a performance Deep Talking, which Kananuruk invited opera singer January Punwattana to interact with speech bots, aiming to celebrate the “accidental beauty of computational error.” Her fascination with interactive technology as well as accidental errors inspires her to appreciate machine-driven improvisation.
We oftentimes desire perfection from technology, computers, and machines, yet both TK 1971 and Deep Talking involve interactions between humans and technology where imperfection sensitively engages with the audience. For her, neither art nor technology is about achieving unrealistic expectations for humanity. Through her performance, she allows us to experience that from a different angle which changes the ways we interact with technology everyday.
When she is not walking down a runway as a fashion model, artist Kananuruk continues to search for unique ways to employ technology as a crucial vehicle to understand the world with advanced technology.
A Mexican engineer, artist, and researcher, Sebastian Morales develops interactive art – his pieces conjoin elements of robotics, digital culture, and living systems. His works are known for utilizing sculpture, kinetics, biomimicry, and coding where his passion for science and art collide.
Growing up, Morales hoped to be an inventor, and studied mechanical engineering in college. He then realized how dry the field of engineering could be and longed to create projects “more magical” and unconventional than his peers. Subsequently, it became second nature for him to use technology and engineering as tools to explore his artistic curiosity. He continues to redefine and reevaluate categories that scientists would consider established because the ambiguity of boundaries is what allows him to challenge human perception and capability.
With the goal of deconstructing the boxes that science has placed on engineers, Morales’ current work creates speculative symbiotic ecosystem between single cell organisms and primitive organisms from the internet, or ‘bots.’ The project, Symbosis.live, was inspired by the question, “what qualities does it take to make something alive?” from his time at the Interactive Telecommunication Program at NYU. In fact, there is no consensus in the scientific community on what life must entail, and Morales himself believes that internet bots could be considered alive. The amount of internet bots that exist far exceeds our expectations. As Morales says, “on the internet, there are more bots (non-humans) than humans just like we have more foreign cells in our body than our own.”
He was particularly interested in if these two separate living organisms could evolve together, both with and without human intervention. After digging into server logs on the internet and carefully observing single cell organisms extracted from nature, he succeeded in making these two groups of living organisms interact with one another by using an estuary to catalyze interstimulation amongst the cells. Abstractly speaking on the relationship between natural cells and computer cells, Morales expresses, “I find it fascinating how both are invisible to our eyes and must be mediated by technology, yet they shape our lives completely.”
His other works also require advanced technological knowledge and architectural precision. The immense amount of work he puts to ideate and prototype his art pieces is reflective of how he applies his skills of being both an engineer and artist. In the future, he hopes to grow his projects with more collaboration, and believes that his works will evolve as other intelligences emerge.
A Brooklyn-based director, choreographer, and dancer Gillian Walsh powerfully conceptualizes the ways in which Dance is ‘alienating’ and the problematic figure of the dancer.
Her work, Fame Notion, originally commissioned by Performance Space New York is a critique of the American economy’s sabotage of dancers through exploitation of their physical and mental capability, having to endure extreme working conditions and financial constraints. In the 3-hour-long piece, Walsh aims to convey the reality of putting dance at the center of a life. It showcases the internal conflict dancers go must abide throughout their years of training and professional career. What do dancers seek? Why do dancers continue pursuing a career so competitive, physically exhausting, and economically unrewarding? Walsh herself admits that neither she nor Fame Notions has clear answers to these questions, yet the piece powerfully depicts the “void” that many dancers stumble upon. Through material framework of the concept of ‘alienation,’ the piece speaks to all dancers whose passion and love for dance have been jeopardized.
Among all disciplines of the arts, there are some qualities unique to Dance. Walsh expresses, “Dance is such a strange thing to let your body and psych through. Because it’s not an object, you don’t have the ownership and it can’t exist immediately.” The physical condition that dance requires automatically disallows the practice past a certain age, despite years of dedication and sacrifice a professional may have made since early adolescent. In fact, Walsh organized an interview series with dancers in Fame Notion whom she recruited from advertisement casting websites. Although each journey may differ from one another, the dancers shared similar conflicts between their aspirations and material realities of being dancers.
Walsh has extended her horizon in the field of dance by choreographing her own piece.
Her soulful urge to translate her emotions and ideas into movement sprouted in middle school when she began to take Dance more seriously. She was not originally trained in ballet or competitive style, so grew up feeling the, “chaos of seeing other dancers taking Dance very seriously,” which she perceived as another confusing paradox dancers struggle with.
In the future, she hopes to translate Fame Notion into other contexts and potentially change the relationship to the audience and the space. Learning from each rehearsal and performance, Walsh continues to grow as a dancer and choreographer to critically and passionately interpret the experience of dancers everywhere because, “Dance moves [her] in a way that other things can’t.”
Brooklyn born and Jersey City-based multimedia artist, Rezarta Seferi creates works ranging from digital art to filmmaking. Currently working as an exhibition director and artist in residence at Mana Contemporary, Seferi continues to make art influenced by experiences of family, and how they inform our behavior in non-familial relationships.
After graduating from Bard College with a degree in Political Philosophy and Film and Electronic Arts, she worked at Takashi Murakami as a studio manager. Despite the rigorous schedule at Murakami Studio, which she described as a “boot camp-like environment,” she had a notorious experience building close relationships with artists, learning painting and silk screening as well as mastering digital software like Photoshop.
She then got a residency position at UnionDocs, a non-profit Center for Documentary Art based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The organization aims to bring together a diverse community of creators who thrive to express human experience, practical perspectives, and compelling visions for the future. There, she created a documentary, “Connie & Corey,” featuring her 24-year-old friend Corey and his 67-year-old roommate Connie to demonstrate on-going gentrification issues through the unique dynamic between the two.
Currently, at Mana, she creates humorous digital art composites using Photoshop tutorials. Her work often depicts texts, particularly family names from her Albanian origin, as she grew up having to correct other people mispronouncing them.
The role of film is profound in her life as her weekly routine includes watching at least 3 movies. For Milk fans, Seferi recommends Climax directed by Gaspar Noe, Diamantino by Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, and Opening Night by John Cassavetes. As a documentary film director, she especially is inspired by John Cassavetes whom she respects as, “the father of American independent filmmaking.”
As a Mana artist, she continues to explore multimedia art from different angles. With humor and sincerity, she uses her creativity and artistic capability as a vehicle to highlight the experience and voices of those who are underrepresented.