from Tribute in Light: Visualizations
from Illuminated Fountain
from Urban Lodestar
PAUL MYODA is a sculptor based in the woods of Chepachet, Rhode Island (RISD, BFA; Yale, MFA). Regularly exhibited both nationally and internationally, Myoda is inspired by the underlying logic and mathematical principles of the natural world and applies them to his work with new media, technology and industrial materials. Myoda's recent work, Synesthesia, is a series of interactive, kinetic and illuminating sculptures that focus on the neurological phenomena of overlapping sensations between visual and aural forms. He is an associate professor at Brown University, where he has been teaching since 2006.
Interview with Paul Myoda (conducted by Kimberly Meilun)
Can you talk about one of your recent creative projects?
Since 2008, I have been creating a series of artworks titled Glittering Machines, which are interactive, kinetic and illuminating sculptures. There have been a number of different subgroups of Glittering Machines, which I think about like different chapters in a book, or tracks on an album. For instance, some of the sculptures respond to the presence of viewers by making different sounds, such as the clang of a bell or thump of a drum. Some respond to viewers by illuminating in different ways -- from gentle, beckoning lights, to harsh strobe-like alarms. Others are programmed to behave in unpredictable ways, such as a group of sculptures that are inspired by various Personality Disorders (PDs), i.e., Paranoid PD or Borderline PD, which move or flash or sound in oftentimes repellant manners.
How do you decide where an installment should be showcased?
To date, there are approximately 40 different Glittering Machine sculptures, many in an edition of 3, and they have been exhibited in solo exhibitions in private galleries in Washington D.C.; Miami, FL; Providence, RI; and in many group shows and art fairs in NYC, other parts of the U.S., and abroad in Europe. These exhibitions come about by having studio visits with gallerists, museum directors and curators. To get these studio visits, sometimes I will simply invite someone to see new work, or more often, someone will have seen some of my work in another venue, and ask to do a visit for some project or exhibit they are working on. This is a little bit of a chicken or egg question, but I’ve found that typically one exhibit leads to another exhibit, and so on.
What mediums do you work in? Many of your art pieces involve the dynamics of light. How have you explored the interaction of shadow and light on forms?
Over the years, I have worked with a number of different materials and processes – from paper and glue to steel and welding. To create all of the Glittering Machines, I initially decided to begin with light, or more specifically, high-power LEDs. Over the past decade, this has become a very dynamic field, with many developments and innovations. Following from this decision, I then investigated the optical qualities of plastics, i.e., reflection, refraction, occlusion, etc., akin to a lens-maker. I then needed to choose some type of support structure, or body for the sculptures, and chose aluminum because of its machinability. Once I gained enough familiarity with these materials and processes, I got to the point where I can now think with them.
Each Glittering Machine is typically designed in the computer using both 2D drawing programs, such as Illustrator, and 3D programs, such as Maya or Rhino, and then the pieces are cut from plastics or metals using CNC (computer-numerically-controlled) lasers, mills or waterjets. Recently, I have also been 3D printing a number of components from different types of extrusion plastics. I then use a lot of traditional machining and construction processes to assemble things together.
To make the Glittering Machines interactive, I design electronic circuits with various sensors (ultrasonic and infrared), motors (stepper and gearhead), and high-power LEDs, and code everything together using the Arduino IDE (integrated development environment) and Arduino boards.
This sounds like a lot of different technologies and steps, and often it feels quite slow and labor-intensive to me, but frequently a particular sculpture will begin as a sort of absent-minded doodle, or gestural sketch of an image or some motion that sticks with me, or puzzles me enough to try to abstract it and translate it into a sculptural form. If all of the work disappears in the final sculpture -- if it even seems effortless -- then I’m usually pretty satisfied with the result.
What inspires you/your work?
I always have my feelers out for intriguing references, such as an image (2D), or form (3D), or something in motion (4D). These references can come from the natural world, i.e., from organic plant-life to inorganic crystal formation, or the built-world, i.e., really from any other human endeavor, such as engineering, scientific instrumentation, or other design pieces or artworks.
The one thing that I am utterly dependent upon, however, is music. I honestly don’t think I could make a thing without music as a muse. I’ve recently been investigating synesthesia – the triggering of one sense, such as sight, via information from another sensory pathway, such as sound -- and have started to make works fueled by this strange cognitive overlap or misalignment. There’s a number of artists who have looked into this in the past –- most notably Wasily Kandinsky -- so I’m looking at ways to extend this with new insights in neuroscience, technology, and, of course, aesthetics. I’m not sure if I’m a synesthete, but I am so excited by this work because if it works, I believe it will disappear any questions about abstraction or the purpose of an artwork, in much the same way that one would never question why someone would write music without words or a libretto.
To extend the analogy with music: as long as music moves people, both literally, i.e., dancing or tapping one’s feet, as well moving them emotionally or spiritually, i.e., to be able to feel something greater that an artwork’s obdurate materiality and socio-historical context, then it becomes self-evident, its enjoyment and experience pure and unalloyed.
At least that’s my hope.
I’m also considering a new name for this work, because I think it might be a very different body of work from Glittering Machines. I don’t quite have it yet, but it’s on the tip of my tongue or toes or eyes or ears.
Why do you wear black all the time?
There are two reasons I wear black all of the time: 1) if I had different options in the morning, I become paralyzed, like an ass standing before two bales of hay, and 2) whenever I do wear something else, a white shirt, for example, if I have to attend a fancy-schmancy event, I realize what a sloppy eater and drinker I am, because the shirt ends up looking like a Jackson Pollock by the end of the night.