Q&A with artist Maria Antelman

edited by William J. Simmons

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If possible, how would you describe your work in one word? 


Where does technology fit into your work and your world?
My dad was in the media world – a political cartoonist who was publishing magazines and making animations. I grew up surrounded by cameras, projectors, printing equipment, graphic tools, technical guides, films, transparencies, etc. I grew up in Athens, a city informed by a glorious past and I was trained as an art historian. Then I moved to Silicon Valley, a place where technological progress and the future is the only perspective that matters. For me it has always been about the past and the future, and technology comes in handy as a lens to see things through.


What are you obsessed with creatively?
Strange artifacts, unusual optical apparatuses, weird tutorials, sci-fi ideas that come close to reality and art itself. There is nothing better than a good show or a good film and the ideas and conversations around it.


In a few of your pieces, you embrace the mistakes with the original content. Do you do that when creating the actual piece?
In programmed systems, errors are mostly attributed to humans. I think of these errors as technological pathologies, as results of accidental encoded processes initiated by users. Something goes wrong and a behavior changes and this becomes the beginning of something else.


Describe your mixture between technology, documenting technology, and technology of the past.
In this quickly changing technological world, we constantly need to negotiate our relationship with memory, identity, physical body, society, and similar technicalities. As we become extensions of the technologies we use, our tools change us and change the way we relate to ourselves and to the world. I attempt to raise questions about these subtle, yet deep, transformations. Every time is a different approach.


As your work looks back on the process of others, how would you want someone to look back on your work?
If an alien saw my work from a different place and time, I think he would think that he is looking at a collection of failed attempts of the ingenious human spirit to control chaos, find a purpose immersed in an information overflow, decode undecipherable codes, recover from erroneous processes and failed visionary ideas. I do hope the alien has a good sense of humor.

Are there books or films, which inspire your process?
Films that pop in my mind: Rashomon, Persona, Blade Runner, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Shadows. Recent books: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke; 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary.


Describe your typical day?
Ideally I wake up at 6AM and do some reading before the day starts. These days my studio is at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I make work, cook, take care of my people, daydream of the Mediterranean.


What are you working on now? What is next for you?
I am thinking of Borge’s story The Library of Babel and of warehouse automation systems as they are integrated into repositories of knowledge. New ways are needed to deal with the overflow of information; as a result, warehouse solutions are being adapted for libraries. Now books are stored by size and weight: Aristotle’s Metaphysics can be found (or not) next to a cookbook. Robots are the new librarians. They control the system and its languages – the barcodes and the algorithms underlying the automated functions. We design systems to be used by machines, but these performances may be impossible to ever be decoded again by humans.

Maria Antelman lives and works in New York City. Currently she is an artist in residency at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn.

Discover more about Maria and her work here

Art Editor – William J. Simmons

All images courtesy of Maria Antelman

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