The Studio of Eric Valosin

Friday, August 30, 2013

Hacking it as an Artist

Coming up in October, Newark, NJ will be hosting its annual Open Doors art walk, which turns out to be the perfect coincidental kickoff for Aferro Gallery's Activate Market Street initiative. As a part of this, I'm collaborating with Marc D'Agusto (fellow MSU alum and the exec. director of Gravity Arts Initiatives) on an interactive projection installation for Aferro, one of Newark's foremost galleries.

And so, I get to play with some new toys! If the timeline accommodates a bit of a learning curve, this will be my first foray into the artistic universe of a hacked Xbox Kinect! Armed with borrowed hardware and one of the greatest introductory computer vision textbooks I've ever seen, I've begun digging in. (Thank you, Eric Bowers!)

I've had some nominal experience with Processing (the open source programming software developed in part by Casey Reas, who, coincidentally, has a solo show opening at Bitforms next week), but this is a whole new beast. As you may well know, Kinect uses infrared projection to map out not only the pixelated image of what it sees before it, but to map out the depth (accurate to the millimeter) of each of those "pixels" away from the camera. With the right driver and programming library, Processing can access all of that information and do some massively cool stuff with it.

on the right you see the standard color image, and the left image is the depth image, accessed from the Kinect by a Processing code

Essentially, our proposal as it stands now deals with inverting silhouettes of live passersby and inserting them into a projected scene. The exact details are in the works, but we're looking to combine some of Marc's interest in relational aesthetics and the bodily metaphors of architecture in a state of decay/revitalization, with my experience with interactive projection installations and tendencies towards a mystical theology of perception and disorientation of spacial relationships.

an image out of our original proposal
There's a ton of work to be done still, but if I can get on the Kinect train before it leaves me behind at the station, I expect the project to really take on a new life. However, I've got some back up plans up my sleeve, including good ol' Max/MSP and a standard webcam, which I've used quite a bit in past installations. Just in case, I've been researching quite a bit on simple background subtraction and frame differencing patchers that can help achieve the silhouetting effect and facilitate some rudimentary image tracking.

One of 3 useful patchers I came across that may serve as a starting point for what I would build. This one displays pixels in white only when there is a change in them, effectively removing the static background and isolating the moving person in the foreground.
Mainly, I just always enjoy an excuse to learn something new for a project. Having fun hacking away!

Click here for the next post about this Project >>

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Artist's Statement

“I pray to God to rid me of God.” 

This was the prayer of Meister Eckhart, the famous 14th-century mystic who grasped that God - if deserving of the title - must be inherently ungraspable, not a neat, tidy, wholly knowable entity. In my work I’ve taken up Eckhart’s yoke of apophatic mysticism, using paradox and negation as a way to reconfigure our sense of logic and break apart the boxes into which we often stuff the knowable world. I seek the sublime: an overpowering and unmooring experience that can unhinge viewers from their preconceptions and create spaces that foster a preparedness for true mystical encounters.

This project seems especially prescient in our pluralistic, deconstructed, postmodern era, which has pushed religion beyond traditional metaphysics. No longer are there clear distinctions between outer and inner, relative and absolute, object-ness and nothingness, secular and spiritual. Conventional cosmological hierarchies lose their foothold in reality, as even reality itself falters as an authority. Can we hope for some resurrection scene after it’s been curtains for Nietzsche’s God? Can we hear echoes of Eckhart in a world whose space is more often cyber than sacred? In the wake of this postmodern shaking of tradition, a new, fertile ground for mystical experience opens up; a relational metaphysics beyond postmodernism: what I've taken to calling a meta-postmodern mysticism.

I locate my practice at this far edge of postmodernism, seeking what’s beyond. I fortify myself with Eckhart’s prayer, rejecting the boxed and limited “God” that’s been concocted, and making a radical turn (or return) to the root of it all - to a direct, unlimited experience of the divine. John D. Caputo notes postmodernism’s potential to shred the dualisms that have boxed and rendered God virtually unviable since the enlightenment. He sees not the death of God but a key to resurrection, reclaiming our postmodern era as, in fact, “post-secular.”

Using light and projection with painting, drawing, and video, I explore the techno-sublime in this post-secular mystical space. I embrace technological mediation as a viable - if not necessary - vehicle for divine interaction. My optical installations merge the analogue with the digital to promote a sense of bodily awareness and interaction within a highly mediated space. Enmeshed with self-negating paradox, this amounts to an unhinging encounter with the technologically mediated sublime. My often geometric, pseudo-diagrammatic imagery works to develop the cosmology of this worldview. In my drawings I aim to create meditative imagery that requires an engagement with the digital, thrusting the viewer into the dematerialized, spiritual realm of cyberspace. 

Much is at stake in the development of this meta-postmodern mysticism: the fate of western religion; the very framework within which we understand ourselves and our universe; and the ethics of how to exist in such a universe today. It is the goal of my practice to put viewers closely in touch with this reality, if by ridding them of it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Results are In!

Many of you who participated in my recent survey on the Role of Art in Worship have inquired about the results. So.... [drumroll]

They say that a 10% response to a survey is considered a solid attempt, and 15% an overwhelming success. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, in just 4 days and 20 tags, I received 53 responses (a 265% response!) So thank you to all of you who participated! 

The questions I asked were as follows:

  1. Position within church: clergy, non-clergy leadership, or lay congregant; briefly describe your church
  2. Rank the following art forms in order of their use in your church's worship experience (1 = most used, 6 = least used): dance, film, literary arts, music, theater/performing arts, visual arts
  3. What do you think the role of the visual arts is in spiritual life (in general, not limited to church)?
  4. How important do you think the visual arts are to the worship experience? (1 = not at all important, 10 = extremely important)
  5. How much do you think the congregation values the use of visual arts in the worship experience? (1 = wouldn't notice if it disappeared, 10 = membership would tank and there would be an upheaval if it disappeared)
  6. How has visual art been used in your church (by you personally or by others in leadership or the congregation)?
  7.  How many people in your congregation would identify themselves as an artist? How many of them actively contribute artistically to the life of the church? (Take your best guess, but if you really don't know, please enter "999"): Number of artists ___, Number who contribute regularly ___, Number who have contributed only once or very occasionally ___
  8. Has your church ever used/employed an artist from outside of the congregation? If so, how? if not, why not?
  9. What concerns, if any, do you face that would stop you from using art more?
  10. In what ways do you wish art could be used in your church that it isn't already? (Optional. Feel free to dream big.)


  • 53 participants, 18 clergy, 14 leaders, 21 lay congregants, wide range of churches (20 members to well over 1,000, rural to urban, conservative to liberal, parish and non-parish ministries)
  • Visual arts typically ranked the 3rd most used; only one person ranked it most used in their church (question 2)
  • Visual arts has an average importance to spiritual life of an 8 on a scale of 1-10 (question 4)
  • Average value placed on visual arts by the congregation was about 5 on a scale of 1-10 (q.5)
  • On average, participants ranked the importance of visual arts (q.4) 2.44 points higher than they ranked the congregational appreciation of it (q.5). Only 5 people ranked congregational appreciation (q.5) higher than spiritual importance (q.4)
  • One person ranked its importance (q.4) a 7 but stated “I don’t know” in response to why. Shows an implicit importance but lack of understanding of the function of art
  • This disconnect between importance (q.4) and appreciation (q.5) suggests 3 possible things:
    • We know it’s important but don’t know how to implement it to get that across
    • Makers get more out of our current use of arts than viewers
    • We *assume* there’s a general disinterest in our congregations that may or may not really be there (the question asks people to predict congregational responses, but doesn't get actual representative congregational answers)
  • 67.5% of churches in the survey have never used artists outside their congregation, usually for money reasons (though at least one participant noted they had never thought of it as an option) (question 8)
  • A synthesized description of the function of visual arts in spiritual life compiled from all of the responses to this survey (question 3 and others):
    • "God himself is beauty and truth, who revealed himself to us first through art, as a creator of creative beings. The visual arts are therefore an extension of God himself and the gift of an opportunity to partner with God. The use of visual arts in worship connects us to God in new ways by encouraging a diversity of viewpoints, emotions, and new ways of feeling, and thinking. It grabs our attention by breaking us out of routine expectations. It encourages an active, participatory form of contemplation, providing a space and mindset for worship in which to pause and reflect, meditate, and be inspired by a potentially revelatory experience that surpasses words (which merely describe.) Visual art bolsters our capacity for other creative processes, and must partner in dialogue with all the other art forms, engaging all of our senses and tying into the whole of the service, liturgy, and season. Ultimately though, like all other forms of worship it must point to Jesus and then get out of the way, so as not to become idolatrous or distracting"
  • Reasons why congregants undervalue art
    • Lack of education (People don’t understand it)
    • Underexposure 
    • Overexposure but Under-disclosure = It’s everywhere, but taken for granted (People don’t think about it/recognize it when they see it) - By contrast, the church that meets in a bar, which, by way of obvious contrast, would make you very aware of art that otherwise seems out of place, ranked its congregational valuing of art at a 10, saying “because we are in a very non-traditional space [bar], the visual art is what makes the space spiritual,” giving people “ownership of the space and by extension, of the church”
    • People don’t give feedback (so it never adjusts to function better)
    • Done with good intentions but poor execution (so it is not proven to be valuable or effective)
    • People are tied to our prior textual/auditory culture or aren’t visual learners
  • The most popular current uses of visual art
    • Overhead/projected images to accompany sermons/lectures
    • Bulletin covers
    • Graphic design
    • Performance (live creation of art in response to scripture, i.e. A pottery demonstration accompanying discussion of Jeremiah, or painter responding to the spirit, etc)
    • Youth activities
    • Annual arts fairs, shows
    • Altar design
  • Some outside of the box uses of visual arts that were presented
    • Teaching about liturgical colors
    • Annual arts fairs and shows
    • Used to enhance music (partnering with other senses and art forms)
    • As a participatory worship offering
    • Devotional, meditation point or extension of prayer (with supplies made available)
    • Mobia - a group that gives in-house stained glass window tours at churches
    • as Prophetic gifts (spirit-led creations given to congregants accompanied by a prophetic word)
    • As Outreach gifts (artistic cards or small works of art given to newcomers or community members)
    • An in-house art gallery featuring members and local artists
    • Reaching out to university students outside the church to create art for the church
  •   Biggest stumbling blocks to the arts
    • **Money!!! (even a church that reported an estimated 500 artists in the congregation, half of which contribute regularly, cited money issues as a main reason they don’t do more or reach out to non-congregant artists.)
    • **Lack of education (leaders aren’t trained, followers aren’t educated, people won’t get why it’s a valid tool)
    • **Fear of disapproval from Congregations resistant to change
    • Lack of direction/leadership
    • Lack of time
    • Limiting architecture
    • Politics (lack of pastoral support or Disconnect between leadership and congregants (old-guard, text based culture vs. newer imaged based culture)
    • Lack of volunteers (if you have an art idea, it’s coming out of your pocket - again money)
    • Lack of artistic contacts
    • Lack of quality
    • lack of attention because of bigger fish to fry;
    • Theological concerns
      • Takes focus off of savior and becomes a distraction
      • Idolatry - Worships man’s accomplishments rather than God’s
      • Complicates and clutters worship, interfering with prayer attitude (the desire for church to provide a simple and stabile place of respite from the busy and volatile culture of everyday life)
      • Oversensationalizing and oversimplifying the complexity of truth, creating empty emotional reactions
      • Ethical insensitivity (i.e. a painting with a white Jesus with a hispanic child is not only inaccurate, it can create a further feeling of disconnect rather than diversity and unity)
  • Big Dreams - it’s amazing how many fantastic ideas people have. It’s just a matter of taking the time to dream them and then actually doing them!
    • Training programs to break barriers, make art more personally relatable, and teach others to dream big
    • Murals and youth involvement
    • Better altar design and use of space
    • Live artmaking performance
    • Invitation to use art to contemplate before the service or during a prayer time
    • Artists groups to support the arts community, create a non-threatening form of outreach, and beautify the building
    • Commissions for stations of the cross, sculpture gardens, and other specific projects
    • More congregational participation and communal projects
  • Quoteworthy passages: 
    • From stained glassed windows to the pomp of choir robes and clerical garb, there is significance in visual aesthetics in worship even if attention isn't overtly called to these items.”
    • [re: question 9] “I think visual arts is the least of my church's worries”
    • [re: question 3, comment section] "I never hear any input one way or the other from the people"
    • "real truth invites us to face the complex nature of our broken humanity, empathize with those living in the tension between pain and joy, understand deeply the fact that all of us exist within a mixture of darkness and light, and realize the redemption and joy of grace while never avoiding the barrenness of our souls that must be recognized for true worship."

I'll be addressing many of the pressing issues and incorporating many of the creative solutions from these surveys into my class when it rolls around, so again, thank you, thank you, thank you!

LASTLY, many of you expressed an interest in talking further, which I would LOVE to do ... but it was an anonymous survey... so I don't know who you are or how to contact you unless you explicitly told me in your response! So please feel free to reach out and email me: eric@ericvalosin.com. I'm excited by your inspiring and challenging thoughts and questions and would love to continue the dialogue!