by Shawn Spangler
Shawn Spangler: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Bryan Czibesz: "I am a studio artist and educator based in the Hudson Valley of New York, where I teach at SUNY New Paltz. My interests began in engineering and architecture (my father is an engineer and I worked for an architectural firm for four years), but I found working the field that I wanted control over more of the parts of my creative processes. I took my first ceramics course with Kirk Mangus at Kent State University; he had a way of seeing the world and material processes that was at once engaging, enigmatic, and profound. He catalyzed in me two things: to be more perceptive and broadly inquisitive, and to work more directly with my hands. The first ultimately led me to quit studying architecture for a number of years in order to travel and look beyond Northeastern Ohio, where I grew up. The second meant that when I came back to school I felt that my place of departure had to be ceramics."
SS: Your studio practice I would describe as technically complex, and your making process seems really engaged within a sort of digital space, yet is grounded by the ceramic continuum. Can you talk a little about how you cultivate your ideas and create you work?
BC: "I think about technology as the way humans source sustenance and reconcile the physiological limitations of our bare faculties. It is a continuum that describes the way that we engage with materials physically in the world, as well as the knowledge that is contained within that manipulation and is exchanged between people across time and space. As a result, I am interested in the tension between what we can do with material technology and its relationship to the actions and reactions of the human body. This is evident in the way hands work in clay, but it also relates to most of the ostensible goals of technology. Technology is a mediation--or a prosthesis--that engages our desire to transcend the limitations of our physiology. The cup, for example, is the first prosthesis for what we can do simply by cupping our hands. From that point forward, each technological innovation can be seen as an incremental removal of the human body from direct experience, all the way up to digital technology and virtual reality, which leaves nothing but digital prosthesis in place of our physical experience in the world. I like the tension this presents between our goals and our actual visceral experience in the world.
I am at heart a tinkerer, and regularly working with my hands is at the core of how I engage with the world. My work often shows evidence of careful, exacting construction, which I look to execute in balance between careful hand processes and mechanization. While I enjoy working with digital material, I am not a coder, and one of the primary things that compels me about materials--and clay in particular--is its directness and its relationship to the human hands, our manipulation of tools, and making things. In that way, I am more interested in using digital processes and digital space as a material that can then lead me back to working with my hands.
In the studio, I work equally with digital fabrication tools and hand processes. I enjoy the duality of that relationship, between human and machine, as a type of call and response. Digital models and machine tool paths often suggest ways of looking at form, line, and material manipulation in distinct ways. Sometimes that begs me to mimic; sometimes it compels me to work loosely. My work has often integrated mechanical configurations and kinetics with sculptural forms. Recently, I have been interested in also crafting the machines that produce the work in concert with hand processes."
SS: There seems to be an emerging maxim bracketed with digital tools where the hand or human touch alone is considered limiting. Do you agree?
BC: "I do. I might suggest that while there is a bit of a sea change with digital tools (in terms of data complexity, manipulation with algorithmic and generative modeling, data dissemination, etc.) they are tools the same way that anything that comes between the hand and direct material manipulation is a tool. While hand to clay is the most simple material technology, humans clearly have desires to do all kinds of other things from that point forward. Sometimes we want a mark in clay that is not the finger print. Similarly, sometimes we want to manipulate materials differently from how we can manipulate them with our bare hands, or even with simple hand tools, and this is where mechanization has always played a role. Often this is about precision and repetition. Increasingly, this is about information too, and how artists, designers, and makers of all types process our perception of the world into the things that we make. This is an act of translation of the world, which is what artists always engage in. Digital processes allow us to work iteratively more quickly at times, allow us to undo things, and allow us to treat the way we translate the information of our world significantly differently. We can process data algorithmically, for example, as a way of augmenting--and at times disrupting--historic ways of constructing meaning. Digital tools also allow us to construct strategies for making things--particularly in the way data can be processed, manipulated, or disrupted to simulate form--that yield results we would not normally envision or encounter."
SS: What are your interests in collaborative and community based research projects and what roles do you feel digital tools play?
BC: "Like I mentioned previously, I think that the way I work between machine and hand processes is a collaboration, a kind of call and response. I have also recently become interested in ways of situating objects and ideas in material-semiotic relationships that allows us to understand that people, objects, tools, and materials all play a role in making meaning. In practical terms, both the shared ideas and the tools that we use to make things are actors in a network of meaning, each always playing a role. This may mean that the tools speak as much as the materials, and as much as one individual, or another individual, etc. I enjoy considering the way that social collaboration between people and processes really gets to the core of how humans have always engaged in sharing ideas with each other, as well as the role that technology plays in speaking in this network of ideas.
Digital tools provide access to images, ideas, information, etc. at a level that is quite astonishing. Instantaneous communication in so many forms means that barriers that existed previously in sharing resources with collaborators and across communities simply don’t exist. This has served to facilitate projects being developed across great distances, but it also really helps to infect ideas with complexities of information. I view this as both good and bad; digital tools can simulate so many things so quickly that it is at times difficult of achieve a depth of inquiry that makes meaningful, poetic work. This is always the challenge with new ways of working."