This year, the Luce Foundation Center marked the 10th anniversary of our opening. To celebrate, we're throwing a party on July 22 at our Luce Unplugged Community Showcase with musical performances by PraxisCat and Big Hush and beer tastings from Fair Winds Brewing Company. We'll even have cake! In preparation for the party, we sat down with Christine Paluch (aka PraxisCat) to chat about her music and D.C.'s music scene.
Eye Level: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from? When did you start writing and performing music?
PraxisCat: I am from "Illinoise." I started making music when I was about 7; I started with synthesizers but took up other instruments along the way. Performing has been something that has been more intermittent until recently. I would occasionally play in bands in my twenties, but not regularly enough to be noteworthy. Then I took a break from performing for about five years. A few years ago I ended up playing a show at Pyramid Atlantic as part of Sonic Circuits' experimental music monthly concert series. I have been performing fairly regularly since as PraxisCat.
EL: Can you tell us about your creative process?
PC: I often start with the idea for a simple sound or concept and improvise using that sound. Then I work around that sound to add complexity to create something more atmospheric. For example, the idea of somebody running a metal bar across a storage container in a large empty warehouse. Then I add additional layers of complexity to it, maybe the sound of distant birds, or an engine running outside. I do almost everything from scratch using synthesizers, hackable instruments, and effects. Conceptually, it may begin as an environmental, but can evolve into something else. Sometimes the goal is to present something as alien as possible, other times it is to present something more terrestrial. The idea is to take the listener someplace else, maybe out of their comfort zone. The process at its core is improvisational; I always try to keep it somewhat living and dynamic since goal is to present an abstraction of place or emotion.
EL: Your music explores the relationship between synesthesia and urban spaces. What's your favorite place in D.C. and why?
PC: In terms of audio, there is an area around Northeast where both rail cars and Metro runs which are a bit interesting. It can be an intermittent orchestra of trains and escalators. Mechanical sounds can be interesting for those of us with sound to color synesthesia. They have their own palette and movement.
EL: What's your next big project?
PC: I am building synthesizers right now, though this process tends to take awhile to do so. I am also recording a follow-up to the Decay album I recently released.
EL: This Luce Unplugged Community Showcase celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Luce Center's opening. How has the DC music scene changed in the past 10 years? What are your hopes for the next 10?
PC: Since I have been here, it seems like so much has changed. But I was not as deeply ingrained in the local music scene until recently. If anything, it seems like the community is a bit tighter than it was before, possibly out of necessity as many resources in the area have been threatened, displaced, or have disappeared. My hope for the next ten years is that more is done to support musicians staying in the city, not just in terms of housing, but also in terms of having rehearsal, performance, and community spaces. There are models for this such as Rhizome DC, and Union Arts. I hope we can see more of this within the D.C. area.
PraxisCat will open the Showcase at 6 p.m. and Big Hush takes the stage at 7. Hope you can make our celebration as we look forward to many more great years ahead!
Some Strings Attached: the willful marionette at SAAM
July 15, 2016
SAAM's annual birthday celebration honoring the legacy of media pioneer Nam June Paik—an artist known for his interest in robotics and humanizing technology—featured artists Lilla LoCurto and Bill Outcault. Their work, the three-foot tall the willful marionette was built from 3-D scanned images of a human figure. It addresses what the artists refer to as "the frailty of the human body." On display through Monday, July 18, the willful marionette holds center stage in the Luce Foundation Center's sculpture court in the company of figurative American sculpture, and engages with viewers by reading their movements and expressions. He does what no other work of art surrounding him can do: make eye contact and react to human gesture. Little Bill (Big Bill being Mr. Outcault himself) responds in real time to spontaneous human interaction.
According to Michael Mansfield, curator of film and media art at SAAM and emcee of the birthday event, "the willful marionette belongs to the long tradition of kinetic sculpture and performance associated with Alexander Calder, but also Jean Tinguely and the E.A.T [Experiments in Art and Technology] artists, a group with which Paik later participated. In 1963, Nam June Paik created Robot K-456 in collaboration with the electrical engineer Shuya Abe. Paik described it as 'the first non-human action artist' and imagined it as his avatar."
Working collaboratively since 1991, LoCurto and Outcault have produced interactive installations and sculpture concerning the body's relationship to culture and technology. They began working with body scans early on and over the years worked with dancers to bring more human movement into their work. This led to new research and opportunities, including an invitation to do an artists-in-residence at the University of North Carolina, Colleges of Computing and Informatics and Art and Architecture in 2013-14. It's here that the willful marionette was conceived...or at least scanned.
How will you interact with the willful marionette? Visit the Luce Center before closing time, Monday, July 18, to find out. Remember to tag your willful selfies and other photos #atSAAM.
America Now at SAAM
July 14, 2016
On Saturday, July 9, SAAM presented America Now: America Particpates, an opportunity to incorporate creativity with citizen democracy through art, music, storytelling, and service. Visitors were able to pick up a brush and help make a 20-foot community mural about what America means to them and pose in front of our greenscreen photobooth which placed them in front of paintings from our collection. They wrote letters to our active military service members and veterans, participated in a Wikipedia edit-a-thon, and registered to vote, in participation with Rock the Vote. And, more than 2,000 turned-out to enjoy performances by D.C. hip-hop artist Tarica June, and bluegrass bands Steep Canyon Rangers and Seldom Scene.
Below are some photos of some of the activities that day. All photos, except final photobooth images are by Paul Morigi. (Click on each photo to see a larger version.)
America Now is a three-museum collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, and Smithsonian American Art Museum. It is made possible by the generous support of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Family Foundation.
Pokémon Go: Games, Art, and Open Spaces at the Museum
July 13, 2016
'Guess what! Our building is a PokéStop!'
'There are Pokémon all over the galleries!'
'My friend caught a rare Tauros near the Pleistocene Skeleton sculpture.'
Shortly after its release, colleagues began playing Pokémon Go —an augmented reality game that has captured the imagination of the entire internet. Museum visitors were doing the same. At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, new games are often received with more enthusiasm than might be expected of an art museum. Perhaps you've heard, SAAM has a long history with games. Creating, collecting, exhibiting, and, of course, playing them. They're fun, they're often beautiful, and best of all, they connect people.
We often see people walking around our galleries with their phones out, ready to capture photos of the artwork. As a social media manager, I'm interested in ways people communicate their museum experience online, to their friends, family, and community. Usually that sharing is mediated by Instagram or Facebook. Increasingly, people are doing that on the spot via their phones. They're reflecting on their visit and connecting with people virtually while standing in the galleries.
So how does Pokémon Go fit into this? It's an augmented reality game, a social network, and way for people to explore the world around them. Players are discovering new places, accidentally exercising, and meeting new people. Right now it's on track to surpass Twitter in daily active users.
With six PokéStops in and around the building, players of Pokémon Go know that SAAM is an ideal place to play this game. If they climb the steps and open the door, a first-time visitor will soon realize that free admission allows them to roam the halls. Players can catch a Doduo near our Jenny Holzer, spot a Paras basking in the glow of Megatron/Matrix, or corner a Zubat as it appears to zoom out of a Georgia O'Keeffe painting.
Increasingly, museums say they want to be open spaces for people. At SAAM, we hope everyone —art experts, hobbyists, or people who have never studied art— feels comfortable walking in the doors. Some do, but certainly not everyone. Given the nature of the PokéStops, most of which are historic markers, monuments, public buildings, and artworks, Pokémon Go encourages players to explore the world around them. At SAAM, it's an invitation to walk inside a building full of art. Maybe it’s the new experience of a first visit, or perhaps it adds a new layer for those well familiar with our museum.
Luce Artist Talk: Five Questions with Kathryn Thibault
July 11, 2016
Each month, we partner with our neighbors up the street at Flashpoint Gallery to present our local artist talk series. This month, Kathryn Lynch Thibault joins us to talk about her most recent exhibition and works that inspire her in our Luce Foundation Center. Thibault works across media forms, creating pieces that are not only personal to her, but also challenge how the viewer thinks about common, everyday objects and gestures. Luce Artist Talks are presented in collaboration with CulturalDC.
Eye Level: Your exhibition at Flashpoint, Cultivation/Harvest/Neglect, uses the concept of cultivation and gardening to explore connection and mortality. Why gardens?
Kathryn Thibault: Originally my interest stemmed from looking at garden tools and their relationship to a long-term concern of mine: the tactile connections between the body and mechanical elements. I found space of cultivation a rich area of conceptual exploration, blending process, bodies, growth, and decay. So I decided to take some of my previous material and compositional interests and use them to build work from this new starting point.
EL: How much does personal experience and memory feature in your work?
KT: Because my studio process tends to be intuitive, they factor heavily in my work, though not always in a way that is obvious to me during the process. I am most happy when my work links directly to my own experience, in a way that feels personal but also will resonate with viewers.
EL: How has your art or practice changed over time?
KT: My focus has gone through several major shifts, from technical theater to glass and ceramics in undergrad, then to metal, interactive, and performance work in graduate school. I then transitioned into doing a lot of work in graphics, 3D modeling, and web-based technologies, both for art and non-art purposes. Then I circled back to more physically-based work, both drawing and painting, as well as vellum and mixed media, ephemeral, wall-based sculpture.
EL: What inspires you? How will you decide what to do next?
KT: Frequently, I find inspiration in some small element, such as a texture sample or a specific object in a context that connects to my personal experience (like the frame of a field cultivator). A number of works have actually come out of ideas I've encountered while reading, both fiction and nonfiction. Although I do love working with vellum and more temporary installations, future pieces will still rely on small components but feature more permanent objects. I intend to come back to some of the ideas I've pursued in this show and other recent exhibitions in glass, a material I have always planned on returning to at some point.
EL: What experience has had the biggest impact on your work?
KT: Most recently it would be the four years I spent as a resident artist at the Arlington Arts Center. An amazing community of artists and staff and protected time and space to work made it possible for me to continue to make art at a time when I had considered giving it up. I left the Arlington Arts Center last year due to a family move to Seattle, but the experience had a significant impact on my development as an artist.
Thibault's talk will be at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 16 and her installation will be on view at Flashpoint Gallery until August 13. After her talk in the Luce Center, attendees may visit the gallery with Thibault to continue the conversation there.