Sunday, December 13, 2015

Artist Talk: Kevin B. Chen

Kevin B. Chen is a Bay Area curator and artist. He curated the student art exhibition this semester and gave a talk while he was on campus. He is based in the Bay Area and focuses his work on the city of San Francisco as well as big cities in general. In his curatorial work he was showing, he focused on how maps and cartography could create art. The works were about San Francisco and how maps showed aspects of the city that people might take for granted or be completely unaware of. I really enjoyed the procedural nature of the work, using software and statistics to create attractive visual art with a solid and powerful concept behind it. Kevin said he found maps were one of the most powerful means of visual communication. He brought up a picture of a map from the 16th century with dragons and other monsters on it as if to say modern maps have lost their sense of wonder or adventure and well as being clinical in their devotion to accuracy rather than user experience. Chen stressed how maps can be the greatest means of individualization and fantasy.
I really enjoyed the work of the artist Eric Fisher in Chen’s show. Chen said Fisher hardly considered himself an artist. As a former Google programmer, he used programs to create maps centered around data and visually representing that data. In one of his pieces, he used Flickr data and geotagging to see where photos in SF were being taken by locals, and where they were being taken by tourists. It was incredible to see how much work must have gone into creating his algorithms, to figure out by the regularity of people's photo posts in an area to figure out if they lived in the location or not. You could tell where landmarks were as well as local hangouts just by the colors of the map. The pieces were very visually interesting as well and offered more as abstract art than glorified infographics. Philip Roth was another interesting artist showcased by Chen, he created sculptural maps from a specific media. In his San Francisco centered piece, he used DVD cases from a movie set in the city, then burned the cases in the places of the map where the 1906 fire burned.
Chen’s own work was just as exciting and interesting. He showed an ongoing series of miniature drawings of cityscapes. These detailed skylines never exceeded the height of a penny thought they retained the detail as if they had been drawn at a much larger scale. Chen even lays out magnifying glasses with the works when showing them. It’s the attention to detail which is what I think the strength of these pieces are, the concept behind them has to do with increasing population and megacities, though the audience, I believe is attracted to the immense amount of work put into them. I also find it fascinating that his work was so physically demanding. Chen hurt his arm and wrist repeating such precise strokes, as well as straining his incredibly nearsighted eyes. The contrast between the monumental physical endurance and tiny size of the work is fascinating. It seems like the opposite of the abstract expressionists in terms of physicality, his work is meticulous and defines itself in its small size. Chen was incredibly interesting as well as inspiring to see a young artist carve out a niche by doing whatever he could in the art world.

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