DiMoDA (2018)

Back in 2013, when access to virtual reality equipment rendered the knowledge gap between professors and students all but negligible, artist Alfredo Salzar-Caro, then a fledgling student himself, began to envision what a virtual house made for digital natives could look like. Within its walls, he pictured, would contain the Stargates of his dreams, each portaling out to wonderlands of his creation, of course, but also to realms devised by intrepid others from his international, underground milieu. 

And thus the Digital Museum of Digital Art came to be: a virtual edifice forged in Unity and animated by a blinking constellation of Internet downloads around the world. The current mission statement describes DiMoDA as the “preeminent virtual institution devoted to digital/New Media art,” proceeding to suggest that the structure itself is an “architectural contribution to the Internet’s virtual landscape.”

The better part of DiMoDA’s operation involves collecting digital artwork and commissioning new ones, counting the likes of Jacolby SatterwhiteClaudia Hart, and Brenna Murphy in its growing roster. When fortune strikes, DiMoDA also organizes the occasional salon.

This Thursday, for example, DiMoDA minted its latest commissions with a public opening at the 3-Legged Dog in New York’s Financial District. Under Salazar-Caro’s curatorial prompt, the projects aim to conjure “witchcraft, magic, simultaneity, and the virtual body.”

Acquainted readers should decide for themselves whether the twin shows, “New Talismans” and “Mind//Body Dualism,” delivered on their promise, but it’s worth noting that DiMoDA 3.0 boasts the combined output of artists Rindon JohnsonMorehshin AllahyariPaul HertzShane MecklenburgerKorakrit Arunanondchai, and Vicki Dang.

That DiMoDA’s holdings can be accessed remotely is just one of the distinguishing characteristics to rally industry support. Notable among them is the Whitney Museum’s Adjunct Curator of New Media Art, Christiane Paul, who is slated to organize DiMoDA’s fourth round of commissions next year.

With north of three decades of experience in the field, Paul is skeptical—of both the medium’s long-term viability, and of the technology’s limitations, too, maintaining that artists working in VR art today are hardly exempt from the headaches that hampered artists in the past.

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Alice Sheppard (2017)

Alice Sheppard is a big fan of asking, “what if?” The question, in part, stems from a civic determination to entertain alternatives: to the ways we understand dance, navigate space, and perhaps most importantly, to the ways we comprehend the disabled body. But more often than not, her line of inquiry tends to lead to a project.

With over a decade of experience in integrated dance—along with a latent dive into choreography in 2012—Sheppard has, over the years, formed a compelling space at the nexus of dance and technology. In this time, Sheppard co-founded the company Kinetic Light with fellow performer Laurel Lawson and video artist Michael Maag, amassed a growing online community through threads like #askwheelchairdancer and #rampfail, and directed the construction of a custom-built ramp stage with the support of engineers at Olin College.   

The artist keeps busy. During the latter-half of this month alone, Sheppard is slated to host a series of public rehearsals at Gibney Dance in midtown Manhattan, where she and her stage are taking up residence. On Friday, at the invitation of Sasha Wortzel, Sheppard will lead a Whitney Museum Study Session on Melvin Edwards’s sculpture, Pyramid Up and Down Pyramid (1969/1970), which is currently on view in “An Incomplete History of Protest."

“I encountered her work this past summer when she participated at an event at The 8th Floor,” Wortzel told NEW INC during a phone conversation. “It was a roundtable discussion about disability and contemporary art, and thinking beyond how institutions make themselves more accessible, but thinking about accessibility in terms of methodology as artists, curators, and academics. One thing that resonated with me was when she was talking about ramps and how, so often when ramps are built into spaces, they’re very ugly, utilitarian, and practical. They don’t give a sense of pleasure or joy.”

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Fei Liu (2017)

Winters in Harbin—the seat of China's northernmost province, where the Black Dragon River flows and pharmaceutical giants run industry—are known to breach sub-zero temperatures. Once, in 1989, when the weather dipped to negative thirty degrees Fahrenheit, a three-year-old girl cries when the school bell rings, because her parents, who she's told moved West on her behalf, aren't outside waiting to pick her up. In 1992, with a grandparent in each hand, she leaves the capital and its milieu (which, today, is still inextricable from the Russian railroad workers that migrated one century before) to rejoin them in sunny Santa Clara, only to avoid their foreign touch and to refuse cuddling in their American bed. 

These are the stories artist Fei Liu tells me as we walk the length of Prince Street in SoHo, a Marlboro Light between her fingers and a leather jacket snug on her back. Shortly after, Liu continues, she adopted the English name Kristy, which, like the Baby Sitters Club character she adored reading, starts with the letter 'K.' "I was tired of being made fun of," Liu said, recounting horror stories of classmates—largely, alarmingly, Asian-American—who ridiculed her accent. "They absorbed racism from our classmates and passed it on to people like me, who were fobby. It was a pyramid of oppression."

Today, lifetimes later, one in which Liu works odd UX design jobs and teaches courses at the New School, storytelling remains central to what Liu does—and it's a practice she wants everyone to explore. In fact, Liu plans on building a tool that illuminates the "aspects of stories that most people haven't thought about," a mechanism she'll be cultivating at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany over a two-and-a-half-month residency this summer. 

"I try to be as public about myself as I can," she said. From her stream-of-consciousness Facebook posts, to a podcast episode in which Small Data Squad aired her internet footprint from LiveJournal days past, Liu's activities both on- and offline confirm the admission. In the age of digital media, which holds its participants accountable to the narratives they broadcast, Liu's public quest to unearth vulnerabilities both hidden and forgotten prompts us to consider the stories we tell each other, the stories we tell others still, and the ones we tell ourselves.

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Print All Over Me (2017)

In 2013, siblings Meredith and Jesse Finkelstein ran with a simple idea: Give folks the tools they need to create, share, and own their own designs, and set up a system that brings them to product. That vision has since become the overnight production juggernaut Print All Over Me (PAOM), and with ventures across art, design, and fashion, it operates at a sweet intersection of the creative industry.

PAOM's impact depends a lot on whom you ask. "I think that the design industry in particular has been the most welcoming," Jesse Finkelstein said in a recent phone interview. "I think for fashion, it's taken a little longer for them to catch up, only because there's something destabilizing about a company that's democratizing design. I think as far as tech goes, similarly, it's taken a little bit longer to understand it, just because tech and manufacturing don't always go hand in hand. The art world has also been very welcoming, because they see us very much as a tool."

That the sibling-run operation has carved out a specialized space in under five years is reason enough to take pause; but here's the real clincher: Every piece of custom-made clothing, furniture, and product available on the company's platform is hand-cut, hand-sewn, and manually assembled.

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China Residencies (2017)

On Sunday, February 18, the family store-turned-community engagement initiative known as the W.O.W. Project on 26 Mott Street will be hosting China Residencies' "WOW Dumpling Art Party" in the heart of New York City's Chinatown. As the third of its kind, the fundraiser promises to come replete with zines for sale by the YJC (Yellow Jackets Collective), a projector screening footage produced by BUFU (By Us, For Us), and, as advertised, an assortment of handmade dumplings. The event is produced by a non-profit that connects an international network of artists and residencies––a mission that, as co-founder Kira Simon-Kennedy told me, stems from a bittersweet history.

In the spring of 2009, Simon-Kennedy, then living in Beijing, traded her study abroad courses for a full-time internship at the city's Red Gate Gallery. There she met Crystal Ruth Bell, a fellow American in charge of the gallery's residency program. "Even then she was interested in the idea of building an international residency network," Simon-Kennedy recalled. "She realized there was this huge information gap, and she was meeting all of these people who were running creative spaces and were looking for interactive exchange." 

The pair kept in touch. In 2012, Bell left her post in Beijing for Marquette, Nebraska, where she was invited by Art Farm to develop her idea as a resident. Later that year, Bell was diagnosed with melanoma, forcing her to return to her home state of Florida for treatment. Undeterred, she continued to work, using the hospital's WiFi to host online webinars and, with Simon-Kennedy, registering China Residencies in 2013, culminating the database she had been envisioning.

Bell passed away the following year

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Adam Joumal Echahly (2014)

It’s a little past 3AM on a Thursday morning. We’re sitting across each other in his sparsely furnished South Slope studio. Around us: quasi-floor-to-ceiling paintings on gessoed wooden panels — two unfinished, all looming overhead like a congregation of sacred idols. It’s been years since he’s touched them.

But according to Adam Joumal Echahly, these works haven’t been put out to pasture just yet. “They’re not done,” he explains, “I’ll get around to finishing them.”

Until then, he’s on the frontier of a relatively new method of painting, and he’s using an apparatus that he characterizes as an extension of his mind. With deep fondness (and an equally deep voice), he tells me its utility translates his ideas with the speed and precision that his imagination demands. By the same token, he’s uncovering inventive ways to manipulate the medium, subsequently pushing its boundaries. Behold: symbiosis at its finest.

But before the big reveal, let’s circle back to the start.

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Ariel Cotton (2014)

Artist Ariel Cotton operates in a world of her own design. She keeps her own hours, works remotely, and tinkers with her projects at all other times of the day. Suffice it to say, establishing this arrangement is no easy feat. Paving roads off the beaten path calls for a unique combination of ingenuity, creativity, and courage (Nine-to-five work-week? No, thank you.) And for a newly graduated college student with big dreams and a modest budget, the challenge is tenfold.

So, she decided to make do with her dining room as a temporary studio.

It’s the first space you enter in her Brooklyn apartment-share, down a long, narrow corridor lined on either side with paintings both old and new. At first glance the space reads like a mixed storage unit of art supplies and miscellaneous widgets; but upon closer inspection, it’s obvious the room really is home to the inner-workings of Cotton’s imagination.

“This place is very important to me,” she explains. “I have a tendency to find associations in everything in general — from the fine arts to web design to interactive art. This is where I work.”

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Andrew Kaminski (2014)

Our morning started with a hunt for acetate. It was warm for late December, and as Andrew Kaminski pointed out, the whole of Harlem seemed excited by the winter heat wave. He opted to enjoy the weather with a tank: Keith Haring.

He walks fast, always half a pace ahead, back slightly hunched. “Could you let me know me when I’m slouching? I’m trying to break the habit.” I reassured him I would.

In a neighborhood that’s one-part gentrified, another part New York, Kaminski acknowledges his surroundings with a familiarity one would have with home — an impressive adjustment for a recent transplant from upstate. And the locale seems to share the sentiment: The corner deli, for one, only has affection for the guy.

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Nguyễn Chi (2014)

Nguyễn Chi is an “artist seeking relevance.”

An accurate description (one she invented for herself), but it begs the question: Relevant to whom? It’s hard to say — so much so that she’s even dedicated a blog to finding the answer. In the meantime, she knits.

Tucked along the fringe that stitches Bedford-Stuyvesant and Clinton Hill together is an inconspicuous walk-down cafe named Bedford Hill Coffee Bar. A neighborhood favorite, its patrons are a medley of Brooklynites and Everybody Else; Nguyễn belongs to the latter. But in her experience, it’s a membership she carries everywhere she goes.

Nguyễn is a perennial foreigner, stranger to every land and citizen of none. Hailing from Vietnam, she immigrated to New York when she was twelve, clueless of all things America (language included).

But the social pressure to conform is a very real and powerful force, one that Nguyễn is deeply acquainted with. Before long, she learned to speak English with remarkable fluency, accent-free. Her diligence as a student of this new world earned her success by all of the country’s standards.

But the acquisition of the American culture came at the price of her roots. And in retrospect, she acknowledges this sacrifice as a painful trade-off.

Over an Americano, that indistinct fusion where Italian espresso meets diner brew, she tells me about a recent visit to her homeland. “I realized that I don’t speak for the Vietnamese people anymore.”

Read the full profile on HuffPost Culture and Arts.