[This pre­sen­ta­tion becomes more of a video essay than talk” and this tran­script should be con­sid­ered more of a find­ing aid to the spo­ken con­tent than any sort of replacement.]

Golan Levin:And we are back with our penul­ti­mate lec­ture for the Art && Code: Homemade fes­ti­val of 2021, dig­i­tal tools, crafty approach­es. And it is my great plea­sure to intro­duce Hannah Epstein, also known as Hanski, who is a fyberspace artist. She inte­grates the tra­di­tion­al craft of rug hook­ing with dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies, cre­at­ing digitally-augmented arti­facts and inter­ac­tive nar­ra­tive instal­la­tions, or gamestal­la­tions. She joins us from her dual homes on the fringe of the Internet and in a church she is ren­o­vat­ing in rur­al Nova Scotia. Hannah Epstein.

Hannah Epstein: Hey. So, thank you Golan for that intro­duc­tion, and thank you for hav­ing me here for the Art && Code: Homemade con­fer­ence, festival.

Yeah, so basi­cal­ly my name is Hannah Epstein. I think some­thing is weird with the— I think it’s glitch­ing. Are you guys— —your end?

I think it’s just a bad con­nec­tion. I made a back­up video, so just play that until I fig­ure out what’s going on here. 

The name "Hannah Epstein" in a colorful fantasy font, captioned with "epic music plays"

Hey. My name is Hannah Epstein, and I make art on the grave­yard of the 21st century. 

Hey, let me just check my email here. Power bill…no. Family, no. Super scam, no. Okay, delete that. 

Hey, final­ly! [The AOL You’ve got mail!” notice plays] Fuck.

Oh, Golan.

[Alternating as Golan Levin” and herself:]

Hey Hannah, this is Golan Levin here. 

Oh hey, Golan.

You know, I nev­er knew, was it uh…is it Hannah or Hahnnah?” I was nev­er sure.

It lit­er­al­ly does­n’t matter.

So, ah…I was won­der­ing if maybe you would wan­na come do a pre­sen­ta­tion at this fes­ti­val I’m doing.

Okay, I’ll do it.

Cool. Well that’s great. See you in cyber­space. I’m Golan Levin. Bye.

Home…made, home…made. Like what does that even mean any­more? Literally every­thing is home­made now that we’ve been impris­oned there. Even my sis­ter. She’s a lawyer. She’s basi­cal­ly prac­tic­ing law in a home­made court­room while rid­ing an under-desk ellip­ti­cal. If only an artist with a lot of fore­sight did their 2017 MFA the­sis show about this exact top­ic. Oh yeah. I did that. 

[Back to Hannah stream­ing live”]

So, I think I’m back now. I bring up my the­sis project because I want to show that my work has been con­cerned with the con­cept of home—

The home is a threat to total­i­tar­i­an pow­er. It seeks for ways for you to open the door and let it in. 

The project was called Work From Home and it start­ed The Family™, a mock ver­sion of the YouTube fam­i­ly phe­nom­e­non, where real fam­i­lies would upload con­tent of their dai­ly lives to YouTube, col­lect fol­low­ers and likes and sub­scrip­tions, and basi­cal­ly cash in on adver­tis­ing dollars. 

It seeks for ways for you to open the door, and let it in. 

I’ll show you next how I’ve actu­al­ly been work­ing from home for the major­i­ty of my work­ing life, pre- any kind of pan­dem­ic. Hopefully through­out the talk you’ll see how my expe­ri­ence in dif­fer­ent home set­tings has affect­ed work production. 

The last years of the home as an unadul­ter­at­ed space to launch critique. 

You only need one take. This footage you’re watch­ing was shot in 2012 a cou­ple years after I had moved to Toronto. I was liv­ing in a six-person room­ing house and mak­ing a lot of rug hook­ing and exper­i­men­tal video games. My home was a very direct launch­ing pad to all of these projects and allowed me to find myself as an artist out­side of the school system. 

So I live here with six oth­er peo­ple. So there’s like an array of things that have been col­lect­ed over the years from oth­er iter­a­tions of six peo­ple that have lived here. Once you put togeth­er this envi­ron­ment maybe you would under­stand the video games and art stuff that I make. It’s unliv­able, like on a sur­face lev­el, and at the same time it’s like the most heart­warm­ing place I’ve ever lived. 

[voiceover in com­put­er voice:] Welcome to PxXXYborg. Welcome to PxXXYborg. The series of tests you are about to under­take are part of an exper­i­men­tal pro­to­type in con­scious­ness map­ping software

[Hannah:] PsXXYborg is like, it’s actu­al­ly like a brain­wash­ing mech­a­nism. So we put it inside the back of a van, peo­ple would go in one at a time, and they would answer a whole series of ques­tions to cre­ate a mod­el of your psyche. 

Unadulterated space to launch critique. 

PxXXYborg starred a charis­mat­ic tech­no cult leader, basi­cal­ly an Elon Musk type, who encour­aged peo­ple to shed their meat husks and upload their consciousness. 

[Cult Leader:] I’m sick of it. And I know you are too. War! Poverty! Illness! This world has gone mad. It has gone mad! And that’s why you are here.

[Hannah:] The goal was to real­ly like, put peo­ple into a cube assault­ed with sort of brain­wash­ing pro-technology rhetoric the whole time. Hopefully I’m try­ing to get them to con­front what it is to exist in a tech­no­log­i­cal world. 

Enter Carnegie Mellon. 

Grad school was the first time I was mak­ing work out­side of the home. The first time I had a stu­dio. Inside the stu­dio it was impor­tant to me to try and retain the essence of what it was that got me to grad school in the first place. 

The com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the home­made aes­thet­ic in a mil­i­tary indus­tri­al complex. 

So I made projects like choose-your-own-adventure cloth­ing, Destroy Evil, which was an inter­ac­tive instal­la­tion; peo­ple were encour­aged to destroy what­ev­er they thought was evil. Or Shark N’ Hoops, where peo­ple flew around these RC-controlled sharks. 

I even­tu­al­ly start­ed mak­ing these inter­ac­tive rugs like here, Feed The Ducks. 

[Back to Hannah stream­ing live”]

Hey yeah, I’m back again. I decid­ed to go change my clothes. So I think it’s impos­si­ble to talk about work­ing from home with­out address­ing the domes­tic sit­u­a­tion we have in these cir­cum­stances. And for me, my domes­tic sit­u­a­tion changed dras­ti­cal­ly after grad­u­ate school.

Home sweet home. Home as the place where women his­tor­i­cal­ly expe­ri­ence a lot of exploitation. 

I moved in with my boyfriend who had just sold his app com­pa­ny. We lived half the time in a pent­house con­do in Toronto, and the oth­er half in a mod­ernist box in Venice Beach, LA.

Namaste. Personally, right now, I have a mul­ti mil­lion­aire boyfriend, and I have no money. 

This was actu­al­ly a pret­ty cre­ative time for me. I was able to put togeth­er two solo shows. The first show was Monster World and it sold out in a cou­ple of days and was reviewed by the LA Times. The sec­ond show was Do You Want a Free Trip to Outer Space? 

[Steve Turner:] This is a show from Hannah Epstein, who is a Canadian-based artist. All the hooked rugs that she made, each one by her­self, illus­trates her voy­age to out­er space and back to Earth. 

Hooked rugs and video games as Trojan Horse-style incur­sion tech­nique into the cul­tur­al tem­ple known as the art gallery. 

Superficially I had achieved suc­cess, although I was expe­ri­enc­ing a lot of iso­la­tion and lone­li­ness that peo­ple now, under the con­di­tions of the pan­dem­ic and lock­down, are start­ing to become famil­iar with. 

Sometimes I think about what it might be like if I was the rich one and my boyfriend was the poor one. Like what if I went to work and he stayed home all day and did some light dusting. 

Today’s craft will be an exten­sion of soci­etal oppres­sion into the domes­tic space.

So I left. 

With no sol­id ground stand on, I bounced around from New York to Iceland to Israel and Italy, all while try­ing to put togeth­er my next solo show Making Bets in a Burning House. The show was def­i­nite­ly about me pro­cess­ing a break-up with a tech­boy. But it also sym­bol­i­cal­ly was meant to focus on cul­ture’s cur­rent­ly fraught rela­tion­ship with its own Silicon Valley boyfriends. 

One room of the show had the hand-made hang­ing on prison walls above a lava floor. In the sec­ond room you dis­cov­er you’ve been under sur­veil­lance the whole time, being watched by a cam­era that tracks you with an AI sys­tem. And all the works in the room are made by an AI

I fed all the images of all the rugs I’d ever made into a gen­er­a­tive adver­sar­i­al net­work, and I had those print­ed and made into phys­i­cal objects, basi­cal­ly real­iz­ing the AI’s predictions. 

There’s noth­ing that’s sacred to tech­nol­o­gy but it’s insa­tiable desire for growth and consumption. 

The only hand­made object is a worm whose tail points to a fake iPhone. If you were to pick it up the home but­ton would zap you, the snake in the vir­tu­al Garden of Eden. 

Stay safe, stay home. Where we can keep an eye on you. Right, guys? 

And so yeah, I was like, basi­cal­ly, this is the apoc­a­lypse. I need to get as far away from any kind of densely-populated city as pos­si­ble. So, Nova Scotia. And I need to like, cre­ate this safe place so that when my friends are like, escap­ing America because their coun­try is col­laps­ing, I have a refuge I can offer them. What bet­ter place to build a refuge but a church. 

Driving down the coastal high­way Lighthouse Route 3, you approach a tall white building.

The home is a threat to total­i­tar­i­an pow­er. It seeks for ways for you to open the door and let it in. 

You approach a tall white building. 

Oh hey, Welcome to my church. It’s most­ly like a church-slash-studio. This is where I hang out and smoke cig­a­rettes and read books. I want­ed to try spray­paint­ing all the walls, but that turned out to be a ter­ri­ble idea. 

This is my col­lec­tion of beach rocks that will even­tu­al­ly be an out­door fire pit. 

This is where I’ve been doing a lot of the shoot­ing for the video that you’ve been watch­ing so far. This is where the mag­ic hap­pens. Is it weird to green screen in front of a green screen? 

This is my like, one attempt at a paint­ing and I…nailed it. 

I still do a lot of rug hook­ing. I basi­cal­ly sit here and kind of imag­ine myself as a rug hook­ing priest. And I imag­ine that the thing that I’m mak­ing is my sermon. 

I want the new work to be as epic as pos­si­ble. I want to abuse as many sacred cows as I can. And I want to play­ful­ly call out total losers. 

I also have a bit of a col­lec­tion of antique hooked rugs that I’m start­ing to build. This is—

Man Offscreen: Hello.

Epstein: Hi. 

MO: Hi there. Um, I’m just here— My aunt was down yes­ter­day to look at a church pew?

Epstein: [mut­tered to cam­era] Record this, please record this.

So, obvi­ous­ly because I have a church, it means I also have a graveyard. 

Graveyard of the 21st century. 

And actu­al­ly, Amazon owns this grave­yard and they’re still in pow­er and I’m not gonna say any­thing bad about them. 

Epstein leaning on a headstone overlaid in video with a rectaingle labeled "grimes + elon 4eva"

Grimes and Elon, a life togeth­er, an after­life together. 

Okay, like… I’m sor­ry. I’m sor­ry. I don’t hate tech­nol­o­gy. I real­ly, you know, I don’t. I use tech­nol­o­gy all the time like. Like, I’m shoot­ing this on an iPhone. I’m on the Internet all day. I basi­cal­ly am con­stant­ly per­form­ing on Instagram. I’ve been inte­grat­ing cir­cuits into tex­tiles to make them react with sound when you touch them… 

I do a lot of pro­jec­tion mapping. 

The facade of the church Epstein lives in, with projection mapping on it in bright red, purple, and green, etc. making it appear to be crudely drawn in chalk or pastels

Like, I use tech­nol­o­gy. I just like, see what’s hap­pen­ing and I just don’t want any of the stuff that I make to be a par­ty to what is essen­tial­ly a new type of feu­dal­ism that’s aris­ing like the vir­tu­al empire, where we’re all these peas­ants till­ing the con­tent fields. And I under­stand it’s an inescapable rubric at this point, but I just like refuse to real­ly believe that. 

So, basi­cal­ly if I was gonna give some kind of con­clu­sive state­ment it’s that for me the idea of home­made is real­ly about mak­ing a home space. What that means to own your own space. 

And this is my room. This is like my inspi­ra­tion. This is from the east coast. And I think it’s sup­posed to be a Mexican style of fight­ing mask or some­thing. But this is to me like the weird­est shit ever. Like that sense of igno­rance. Like I don’t know what I’m mak­ing but I’m acci­den­tal­ly mak­ing some­thing amazing. 

[as Golan Levin”:]Okay, wow. Hannah, Hahnnah…Epsteen, Epstein, I don’t real­ly know. Um…wow that was uh…definitely a unique take on the very sim­ple ask for you to come here and talk about the home­made. So… I guess my first ques­tion is…uh…

[long pause]

I’m Golan.

Golan Levin: Right, my first question. 

Hannah Epstein: I’m… I was hav­ing a heart attack. Did that work? I did­n’t watch—

Levin: It total­ly worked.

Epstein: Okay, good. Because I’m like—

Levin: Yeah no, every­one is in the chat, um… Yeah.

Epstein: I was hav­ing a total freak­out think­ing that it was­n’t gonna work. 

Levin: No no, it total­ly worked. It total­ly worked. Everyone’s here for you. Everyone’s here for you. 

Epstein: Okay good. Good, good.

Levin: I want to chan­nel their ques­tions, which we have a good amount of time for. 

Epstein: Can I just say that I’ve like…killed myself mak­ing this video. And—

Levin: It’s amazing. 

Epstein: So like, the questions…I like, will try to answer them. But I feel very brain­dead and inca­pable so, try. 

Levin: No, it’s good. It’s clear you were up for some time to make that. 

Epstein: Yeah.

Levin: The cura­to­r­i­al com­mit­tee is very proud. A sim­ple tech­ni­cal ques­tion, in a way. First ques­tion, very sim­ple one, is what kind of time com­mit­ment is rug hook­ing? Do you do it by hand? How do you feel about tech for rug hook­ing like tuft­ing guns? 

Epstein: Yeah, so rug hook­ing is def­i­nite­ly what I spend the major­i­ty of my time doing. And so that means basi­cal­ly any­where from like three to six hours a day. So it’s very labor-intensive. But in a way it’s like a way of doing labor and leisure at the same time. So I’ll be rug hook­ing, but I’ll also be watch­ing movies, or lis­ten­ing to pod­casts and just like, con­sum­ing media as I’m doing this slow process, very much respond­ing to and react­ing to media. 

The tuft­ing gun is some­thing that I was ini­tial­ly very attract­ed to because it’s sort of like the elec­tric gui­tar and I feel like I’m play­ing acoustic. But I’ve sort of remained true to just the hand-made, the hand-hooked, very like…in touch with like this…like my body is the machine is what I like to say. And so feel­ing very much in tune with like the body’s pow­er to cre­ate things and not try­ing to extend it to a tuft­ing gun. I mean, also I did­n’t want to build a new frame and did­n’t want to get the new mate­r­i­al to do it. I’m sort of stead­fast in this method­ol­o­gy that I’ve already devel­oped for myself, so.

Levin: There’s a lot of ques­tions about the church.

Epstein: Oh yeah.

Levin: First of all, Maddy, whom you know, asks, Does Amazon lit­er­al­ly own the church?” There was a lit­tle conf—there was a lit­tle bit of blur­ring of real­i­ty and irre­al­i­ty there. What the deal?

Epstein: No. That was just a joke to imag­ine like a future. But yeah, sor­ry. That was a joke ques­tion, too.

Levin: Do you actu­al­ly have a graveyard?

Epstein:do have a grave­yard. I mean it’s not my respon­si­bil­i­ty, but my neigh­bors are all dead. So, yeah.

Levin: You live next to a grave­yard or your prop­er­ty includes a graveyard?

Epstein: It does­n’t ful­ly include it. But like it—I mean—

Levin: Does your prop­er­ty par­tial­ly include it?

Epstein: It like, bor­ders onto it and there’s sec­tions of it that are mine. But yeah, like who real­ly owns a grave­yard. I like to call it the raveyard—

Levin: [choke laughs]

Epstein: —because maybe we could have like a big big par­ty there. 

Levin: What are your plans for the church?

Epstein: Okay, so I’ve been con­vert­ing it into a liv­ing space. So you saw in the video there this guy com­ing in ask­ing about the pews. The church was full of pews—obviously, it’s a church. And I just had them all cut out and put on the front lawn. And so it’s been a way for me to get to know the neigh­bors. Like all the neigh­bors are stop­ping by and ask­ing me if the pews are for sale. So that was a real thing. So just cre­at­ing a stu­dio, get­ting it down to very brass tacks. And then also hope­ful­ly a res­i­den­cy, hope­ful­ly a gallery space. You know, these are all part of the plan. 

Levin: A res­i­den­cy sounds great. How did you start rug hook­ing? It’s unique.

Epstein: Yeah. So, I did my under­grad in folk­lore. And then…

Levin: In Canada. 

Epstein: In Canada. And then I decid­ed I need­ed a real skill, so I learned how to rug hook. So that was when I was 25. I went to a woman. She opened the door and she was like, So you’re the new hook­er.” And she brought me to her base­ment and taught me the one skill I’ve been using since then. So yeah, from 25 and now 35, it’s been ten years of rug hooking. 

Levin: But in grow­ing up in Nova Scotia you’ve men­tioned to me that you had rug hook­ing arti­facts around you.

Epstein: Yeah. It’s a tra­di­tion­al craft. So it’s here every­where in peo­ple’s homes. They just sort of take for grant­ed— Just the imagery is more typ­i­cal­ly these real­ly sweet pas­toral scenes of like a lit­tle house or like a chick­en, and wel­come mats. They’re not like…naked James Franco. 

Levin: How has the church and/or COVID informed your recent-most work?

Epstein: Okay well, some of the work is a very much direct response to COVID. Like I have one piece where there’s Chinese let­ter­ing and it trans­lates to like There’s noth­ing to see” and there’s a woman danc­ing in front of a giant pile of skulls. And so that’s a very direct response to our cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. But I mean…like I’m try­ing to say in the video, I’ve been work­ing from home for a long time so the sit­u­a­tion— Everyone’s com­plain­ing about iso­la­tion they feel; this is some­thing that I’ve been going through for a long time. You just get cra­zier, is basi­cal­ly my advice from some­one who’s been doing it for a while. 

Levin: The pro­jec­tion map­ping on the church. Is it indoors or outdoors?

Epstein: Outdoors.

Levin: How are your neigh­bors enjoy­ing that?

Epstein: Loving it. So I’m right on this thing called Rails-To-Trails, which is where they con­vert­ed all the old train tracks to hik­ing trails. But because I’m in the coun­try it’s a lot of peo­ple on ATVs, like real yahoo types. And so they’re zoom­ing by, and I basi­cal­ly put on these shows for them and they’ll stop and they’ll honk a lit­tle bit.

Levin: You men­tioned that you have a church bell. Do you ring the bell when you do the aug­ment­ed pro­jec­tions on your church? 

Epstein: Oh, I should. I should. No, I rang it on New Year’s Eve and some spe­cial occa­sions. But…yeah.

Levin: Kelly Heaton asks a ques­tion I don’t com­plete­ly under­stand. Have you explored hook­ing a oui­ja board rug?”

Epstein: Oh, no. But that’s real­ly inter­est­ing. I def­i­nite­ly like to do a lot of projects that inter­act with the spir­i­tu­al, mag­i­cal ener­gy realms. And so…

Levin: Yeah, y’all should meet. 

Epstein: Yeah. Hit me up, Kelly. 

Levin: I think there’s such a won­der­ful wealth of things on the— Have you been to the Discord? Have you seen the—

Epstein: I just like, put my phone away and I was just pac­ing, hop­ing the video worked. 

Levin: Yeah. So, we have a Discord chan­nel that if you would drop in you’ll be able to see much more about it. 

Epstein: I’ll be in after this, for sure.

Levin: Maddy asks, Do you fore­see col­lab­o­ra­tions with your neighbors?”

Epstein: Hm. Yes, actu­al­ly. So I’ve been play­ing some online chess recent­ly. So chess has reemerged in my life. And there’s a folk artist around the cor­ner who makes these large wood­en sculp­tures. So I was jok­ing about maybe set­ting up a sort of chess board in my back­yard and hav­ing him build— And then hav­ing a sur­veil­lance cam­era, because I have an out­door sur­veil­lance cam­era, set up above the chess board so you could sort of log in from your phone and have the over­head view of the out­door chess­board from the sur­veil­lance systems. 

Levin: Other ques­tions. What’s been your favorite con­tent to con­sume late­ly while mak­ing? Have you been watch­ing Queen’s Gambit or—

Epstein: I just watched that, yes. That’s part of the inspi­ra­tion for play­ing. I mean, I love pod­casts. I lis­ten to a lot of Red Scare. It’s hor­ri­ble that Anna Khachiyan was deplat­formed from Twitter the same time as Trump. Yeah, so Red Scare and Tim Dillon. I real­ly like him. He’s like a con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry comedian. 

Levin: Hannah, you have um…set a new bar for a con­fer­ence pre­sen­ta­tion. The audi­ence can under­stand when I first heard that you were going to be mak­ing a video I was like Oh no, what’s this.” But I was assured by many peo­ple I had noth­ing to wor­ry about. And I’m so grate­ful for the incred­i­ble ener­gy that you have put into this. In the Discord— I guess we still have one more minute. Maybe a quick ques­tion here that’s just come in on my phone here, My fiber­craft­ing part­ner wants to know if you do arm exer­cis­es to keep from get­ting them hurt. She’s learned she has to pace her­self sometimes.”

Epstein: I mean, I just sort of stretch my wrists and maybe wear an elbow brace. But I’m kind of like, when the machine breaks down the prac­tice breaks down, so. 

Levin: Thank you so much for your incred­i­ble ener­gy. Have a well-deserved rest. In just a few min­utes we’re going to pick it up again with Kelli Anderson, for our final pre­sen­ta­tion. And a big hand to Hannah. Thank you so much, Hannah. And we will meet up again in about five min­utes for Kelli Anderson’s presentation.

Epstein: Thank you so much for hav­ing me. Really, thanks for being open to this.

Levin: You bet. Thank you. Good night.

Further Reference

Session page