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Sarah Lahti

Random Access Memory: Identity and Symbolism Through Electronic Sculptural Investigations

Abschluss des PhD-Programms / Completion of the PhD-Program: März 2018

Betreuung / Supervision:
Thomas Macho
Timothy Boykett
Sabrina De Turk

There is an explosion of practice based artistic research centered around DIY electronic parts: from the convenience of ordering parts and having them delivered, to the proliferation of an open-source culture online wherein communities have formed of artistic creators, sharing technical knowledge, to the relatively low cost of these mass-produced items, fine art that is electronic, and, in some cases, allows a level of physical interactivity with its audience, has become very popular.  One can live on almost any corner of this planet, and, if there is an internet connection, have access to these highly specialized, yet mass produced parts.  I explore this trend, and, in so doing, form a more fine-tuned conceptualization about my own sense of identity, embodiment, and sense of agency.

There can be a kind of transient quality to working with electronics as sculpture, a sense of the throw-away: as a USB cable that is used daily eventually wears out, so a tube of oil paint is used and then replaced.  As well, there is a bit of an “anti-establishment” or a bit of a rebellious side to making fine art pieces displayed in a gallery or museum context, that are meant to be touched, handled, or otherwise physically interacted with—this, in and of itself, is quite a contemporary notion.  We all grew up knowing not to touch the paintings in a museum, and are all still hesitant to physically interact with art pieces in galleries, even when they have signs instructing us to.

However, there are also very classical notions that are included in this research, as well: the notion of the use of color as a form of decoration and expression, wherein individual colors carry a symbolic representation of a concept, the notion of sound as a means of conveying emotion, connection, and cultural meaning, and the notion of visual art as decoration and celebration: form, scale, and repetition for their own sake.  As well the notion of the symbol: a little light display representing a brain or head, an electrical cable representing veins or disemboweled insides…symbolism has such power to both hide as well as convey meaning, and is such a powerful way to engage in a form of public discourse about personal history or identity.  All these issues are explored in the research.

The Arduino, the Raspberry Pi, low voltage microcontrollers, OLED light displays, LED light displays, infrared-light activated parts, all of these electronic bits and pieces form the backbone for a research question revolving around electronics as sculpture, of light emitting displays as self-objects and symbols of beauty.  While the colors of an oil painting are beautiful because they are a source of reflected light, the colors from an OLED or LED display are beautiful for a very different reason, they are themselves emitting colored light.  It was this use and celebration of colored light that really pulled my research in this direction, and the different types of colored light and its compositional and conceptual possibilities that are of interest.  They are at once very artificial, very symbolic of the urban culture of the developed world.  In this day and age when we cannot really run our careers without a computer or the internet, it somehow feels very right to, artistically, take apart the computer, literally, and really explore the possibilities that this medium offers.

What relationship, what type of nuances, can be set up between the art piece and the audience, using contemporary mass produced DIY electronics as a point of departure?  How can taking a decidedly low-brow, populist view of computing facilitate the artistic process of questioning aspects of self-identity, and how that relates to society on a larger scale?  How does it change the dynamic between the viewer and the maker to require viewer input (ie, a sound, a clap, a noise, etc.) in order to turn a sculpture on or off, for example?  How can electronic bits and pieces be used to convey an artist’s unique point of view?  How can working with DIY electronics to create fine art be a transformative process for the artist(s)?

This research is supported, in part, by a grant from Zayed University.

Random Access Memory: Identity and Symbolism Through Electronic Sculptural Investigations, "neomask new" von Lahti Sarah
Random Access Memory: Identity and Symbolism Through Electronic Sculptural Investigations, "mask five" von Lahti Sarah
Random Access Memory: Identity and Symbolism Through Electronic Sculptural Investigations, "oled board shape" von Lahti Sarah