Golan Levin: And wel­come back, every­one. This is the Friday evening ses­sion of Art && Code: Homemade. My name’s Golan Levin, direc­tor of the Art && Code fes­ti­val, pro­fes­sor of art at Carnegie Mellon University. And I’m thrilled to wel­come you to our evening ses­sion. We’re going to have three pre­sen­ta­tions. It’s five o’clock Eastern time where I am, and we will be short­ly hear­ing from Leah Buechley and Nanibah Chacon. At six o’clock our time, one hour from now, we’ll hear from Kelly Heaton. And then at 6:30, we will hear from Virginia San Fratello and Ronald Rael.

It is now my plea­sure to intro­duce col­lab­o­ra­tors Leah Buechley and Nani Chacon.

Leah Buechley is a pro­fes­sor at the University of New Mexico, where she directs the Hand and Machine research group. Her work explores inte­gra­tions of com­put­ing, elec­tron­ics, art, and craft. She is a pio­neer in paper- and fabric-based elec­tron­ics, and her inven­tions include the LilyPad Arduino, a con­struc­tion kit for sew­able electronics.

Nanibah Chacon is a Navajo/Chicana painter and renowned mural­ist whose work is ori­ent­ed to community-based arts and edu­ca­tion, and sociopo­lit­i­cal issues affect­ing women and indige­nous peo­ples. Following a decade-long career as a graf­fi­ti writer, Nani shift­ed to large-scale pub­lic works and murals, a nat­ur­al pro­gres­sion that extends from her per­son­al phi­los­o­phy that art should be acces­si­ble and a mean­ing­ful cat­a­lyst for social change.

Leah and Nani have been col­lab­o­rat­ing, and we’re going to hear about that now. It’s my plea­sure, please take it away. 

Leah Buechley: Great. Thanks, Golan. 

So today, Nani and I are excit­ed to talk to you about a col­lab­o­ra­tion around design­ing and build­ing inter­ac­tive murals. And I should say as a pre­am­ble that this col­lab­o­ra­tion is real­ly just start­ing. And so we’re excit­ed to kind of talk to you about the ear­ly stages of this project, and then I hope also have a lit­tle bit of a con­ver­sa­tion about it. 

I’m gonna give a short overview of my work and some of the pre­cur­sors to this project, and then Nani and I will kind of trade off and go back and forth. 

So just a lit­tle bit about me and my work. My work takes place at the inter­sec­tion of kind of tech­nol­o­gy research along with kind of mate­r­i­al and cul­tur­al research. I’m real­ly inter­est­ed in explor­ing the rela­tion­ships between mate­ri­als, cul­ture, long-standing prac­tices of how dif­fer­ent cul­tures work with dif­fer­ent mate­ri­als, and then inte­grat­ing that with tech­nol­o­gy to give rise to kind of new cre­ative oppor­tu­ni­ty for all sorts of dif­fer­ent peo­ple and kind of dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. Anyway, that’s a super brief overview.

I want­ed to talk a lit­tle bit now about our project and the pre­cur­sor projects to it. So, we’re plan­ning to work togeth­er to build these very large-scale murals that have embed­ded elec­tron­ics and inter­ac­tive capa­bil­i­ties due to the fact that they’ll have these embed­ded elec­tron­ics and embed­ded com­put­ing capa­bil­i­ties. Part of the impe­tus behind this project was a series of projects that I worked on when I was a pro­fes­sor at MIT with my grad­u­ate stu­dents there. So we designed and built a series of inter­ac­tive wall­pa­pers? So these were large-scale sur­faces that we paint­ed using con­duc­tive inks and paints, and then built cus­tom elec­tron­ics to kind of attach to these dif­fer­ent wall­pa­per sur­faces to explore what very large-scale kind of ambi­ent inter­ac­tive surfaces…like, what could you do with those, both kind of aes­thet­i­cal­ly and also play­ful­ly, and also kind of func­tion­al­ly. How might sur­faces like this…what might it mean to have a large-scale inter­ac­tive sur­face kind of embed­ded in your home that could pro­vide like, light­ing and speak­ers and kind of elec­tron­ic func­tion­al­i­ty, along with some sen­sors about the envi­ron­ment and the abil­i­ty to kind of inter­act with all of the net­work devices in your house in this like, phys­i­cal kind of ambi­ent way. 

So we con­struct­ed these arti­facts and then pro­grammed them with a range of dif­fer­ent appli­ca­tions and games and so on and so forth. The pre­vi­ous image was a close-up of one of the wall­pa­pers. This is a larg­er image that gives you a sense of the scale of some of these pieces. And again I want­ed to just high­light the fact that this is kind of paint­ed on a very large sur­face using a mix­ture of con­duc­tive inks and paints, and then tra­di­tion­al paints, and then we’re able to attach elec­tron­ic com­po­nents to the sur­face of that paint­ed wall using things like screws and mag­nets and stuff like that. 

So the plan for our col­lab­o­ra­tive project is to use some of the lessons that we learned in our material-based research, our design research, and also kind of the inter­ac­tion design research that we did for this series of projects, and then take it and real­ly expand it and also make it some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent, work­ing on a much larg­er scale even than these projects were, out­doors. And also in a very dif­fer­ent con­text. So these wall­pa­pers were intend­ed to be used and built kind of in the home, in this inti­mate pri­vate set­ting, and of course murals are a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent can of worms. So murals are these out­door, very pub­lic dis­plays that are often root­ed in a par­tic­u­lar com­mu­ni­ty and a par­tic­u­lar his­to­ry. Oftentimes—and I’ll hand things over to Nani in a sec­ond and she can talk more about all of this—but often­times murals can com­mu­ni­cate in an almost nar­ra­tive way some­thing about the his­to­ry or impor­tant kind of cul­tur­al con­text of a par­tic­u­lar com­mu­ni­ty. And that is very dif­fer­ent from what you would expect from the wall­pa­per in your home. So we are just start­ing again to think about how all of these dif­fer­ent threads come together. 

I might talk a lit­tle bit more about this in a sec­ond, but I’ll men­tion that one of them, an ongo­ing one for me, is an inter­est in and excite­ment about the mate­ri­als that go into this project, and the mean­ing of those mate­ri­als along with the mean­ing of this larg­er project. So I’ll come back to that in a bit, but Nani I’ll hand things over to you. 

Nanibah Chacon: Hi, every­one. My name is Nanibah Chacon. I’m a mural­ist. I’ve been doing this for about twen­ty years. And right now the focus of my work is doing large-scale pieces that are community-based and site-specific. And what I do with these works is…I like them to work less in the way that a tra­di­tion­al mur­al works in kind of a his­tor­i­cal con­text that kin­da gives the nar­ra­tive to maybe a sto­ry or a his­to­ry of peo­ples, and real­ly use this plat­form and this medi­um to pro­vide a ques­tion that then the com­mu­ni­ty comes to answer. And that ques­tion to begin with is begun with the com­mu­ni­ty also. So it becomes this exchange of kind of work­ing back and forth, and there­fore it always needs an audi­ence. And I think that cre­at­ing work in this way, murals work the best for this medi­um because they are com­plete­ly accessible. 

This piece right here is… I put this slide in here because this is actu­al­ly an arts and tech­nol­o­gy piece that I had cre­at­ed about ten years ago. And it’s titled She Taught Us to Weave,” and it’s man­i­fes­ta­tions of Spider Woman. Spider Woman as a deity that taught Dine ask peo­ple to weave, which was real­ly a tool of sus­te­nance. And this mur­al itself was embed­ded by low-powered FM radio, so that way it was trans­mit­ting, and real­ly want­ed to think about the con­text of using tools and using the idea of the elec­tro­mag­net­ic spec­trum as a way to one, kin­da act as a trap; that you always have this view­er in front of you, a cap­tive audi­ence. And then what is that spec­trum kind of impos­ing on them? 

So, what it’s actu­al­ly trans­mit­ting is a prayer. And I col­lab­o­rat­ed with my sis­ter. My sis­ter builds trans­mit­ters. And we had— It’s funny—this is just kind of a side tangent—is we had kind of looked into the mate­ri­als that Leah had men­tioned just a sec­ond ago and like had no idea how to use them. So, we kin­da guer­ril­la’d wiring this and hook­ing up some solar pan­els on the roof, and build­ing a trans­mit­ter outside. 

So, this is a very large piece. I want­ed to give a detail of this work but also there’s— If you want to go to the next slide also, Leah, then you can see the pan-out of the entire mur­al. And this mur­al was cre­at­ed by chil­dren at Washington Middle School here in Albuquerque. And real­ly it was rely­ing on the stu­dents to help dic­tate the con­tent of this mur­al, which was find­ing empow­er­ment. So a lot of the times I work with these over­ar­ch­ing con­cepts and then hone them into an idea that is kind of cul­ti­vat­ed over time. And in think­ing of empow­er­ment, what we did was we researched these plants that were grow­ing up around their neigh­bor­hood. A lot of them are cat­e­go­rized as weeds, a lot of them are kind of these nui­sance plants. And then we took em to an herbal­ist that was in the same com­mu­ni­ty and she iden­ti­fied their med­i­c­i­nal prop­er­ties. And for us, me and the stu­dents who were work­ing on this, this is the way that we were able to one, empow­er these plants but also empow­er the stu­dents with knowl­edge that they are then pass­ing along and kind of hon­or­ing these plants that you would nor­mal­ly dis­miss or even pull out and throw away. So, I want­ed to show this piece to show the inter­ac­tion between com­mu­ni­ty and it start­ing from a com­mu­ni­ty focus, and using it to answer ques­tions and cre­ate dialogue. 

This is anoth­er piece. And this is an inter­est­ing work. A lot of the works I do are in rela­tion­ship to the spaces that they’re in. So, I try to cre­ate that dia­logue with me as the artist but also the peo­ple of that com­mu­ni­ty, and the con­ver­sa­tion that we might have in between that. So of course you can see this is at the El Paso Museum of Art. And I did this piece about the riv­er that joins us, of course the Rio Grande, that trav­els all the way up through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains all the way down and ends in Juárez. And real­ly, our rela­tion­ship to the water, and our rela­tion­ship to the his­to­ry of the water, and the water that flows between us is real­ly water of mil­lions of years. And the water that’s inside us. 

And the inter­est­ing thing about this piece was that we also were able to col­lab­o­rate with a small group that was work­ing on aug­ment­ed real­i­ty. And they used this work as a teach­ing tool, and it’s paired with a pro­gram for aug­ment­ed real­i­ty. So you could take a cell phone, down­load their pro­gram, kind of scan across it. And they did a series of murals that were done in El Paso. And on this one in par­tic­u­lar— Actually it works with almost any­thing. If you prob­a­bly even screen­shot­ted this and then did it, you could look at it. Then the plants move, you get actu­al sounds of the riv­er. They went and took some sound­bites of the riv­er. And you get an overview of some of the sil­very min­nows and some of the plants, and some of the history. 

And yup, that’s all I have for slides of my work. 

Buechley: Okay great. So, we thought we would take the last part of our talk here to just talk a lit­tle bit about the col­lab­o­ra­tion and kind of what we are most excit­ed about and inter­est­ed in in com­ing togeth­er for this collaboration. 

Here’s a lit­tle kind of mock­up of…I don’t know, poten­tial mini inter­ac­tions that might take place. This is anoth­er close-up of that ini­tial mur­al that Nani showed. 

For myself, I want­ed to talk a lit­tle bit about the dif­fer­ent aspects of the col­lab­o­ra­tion and what I’m excit­ed about. One of the things that I feel most inter­est­ed in and excit­ed about is learn­ing from Nani and kind of expand­ing my own knowl­edge and under­stand­ing through this project. Both in terms kind of design­ing and mak­ing a mean­ing­ful and beau­ti­ful piece of work that occu­pies this real­ly dif­fer­ent kind of space and this real­ly dif­fer­ent kind of mean­ing for peo­ple. But also there’s this kind of third com­po­nent of the project which we haven’t real­ly talked about yet, which is our plans to col­lab­o­rate with youth around the city of Albuquerque to kind of col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly design and build murals. And this is some­thing that Nani has a tremen­dous amount of exper­tise in and that I’m real­ly look­ing for­ward to kind of bring­ing youth into this process and have them par­tic­i­pate in this process and also my hope is that this may be an oppor­tu­ni­ty to present kind of tech­no­log­i­cal tools to youth and to oth­er com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers as a cre­ative tool that maybe looks and feels dif­fer­ent­ly than the stereo­types that folks might have in their heads about what tech­nol­o­gy is, and what you can do with it, or what you might want to do with it. So any­way, those are after a few of the things that I’m real­ly excit­ed about. 

Nani, I’ll hand things over to you.

Chacon: Yeah. I for one was very very excit­ed when Leah asked me to col­lab­o­rate on this project just because of the new…I feel like it real­ly is a new hori­zons for pub­lic art. Definitely I’ve worked in a large capac­i­ty of cre­at­ing lots of dif­fer­ent types of pub­lic art pieces aside from murals. And I am real­ly inter­est­ed in what tech­no­log­i­cal com­po­nents can add to con­tent and the way that we…internalize those con­cepts? I real­ly think about the way that we use tech­no­log­i­cal tools right now, and I real­ly feel that they are still very much on the util­i­tar­i­an lev­el. And this is I think a project for me that shows that shift between being util­i­tar­i­an into art, and becom­ing some­thing beau­ti­ful, and becom­ing some­thing more. Becoming some­thing aes­thet­ic. And for me that real­ly is an increase in the way that we think, the way that we see the world, the way that we par­tic­i­pate in the world, and also that we see and receive knowledge. 

So, all of those hori­zons for me I think are just very excit­ing. And one of the things that I love about cre­at­ing work in the way that I do is that learn­ing is a huge part of my process. I think it’s the rea­son why I choose to cre­ate work that’s col­lab­o­ra­tive with com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, and with stu­dents, and with chil­dren some­times, or elders, or really…you know, any­body. Because I think that I learn a great deal, and for me that’s impor­tant and I think that that real­ly facil­i­tates the growth of my prac­tice and cre­at­ing new pieces. Each piece that I make kin­da builds upon itself, and I think in the whole scope of every­thing that includ­ing stu­dents in that is very essen­tial. Because at some point you know, it’s great when you have some­thing new and you do some­thing new, but if you’re not real­ly pass­ing on that knowl­edge or the cul­ti­va­tion of that knowl­edge, then the next phase of it can’t real­ly go any­where. So, I’m excit­ed to embark on this with Leah and be able to not only facil­i­tate new ways of mak­ing art but also new ways of thinking. 

Buechley: What you just said, Nani, made me just think about like… I mean, I’ve already said a lit­tle bit of this, but one of the things that just so much res­onates with me, and one of the things that I feel like has tak­en me a while to learn and that I now feel so pas­sion­ate­ly about, is the way that we as a soci­ety often approach edu­ca­tion? as…I don’t know, there’s a big com­po­nent of edu­ca­tion that is right­ly like pass­ing on knowl­edge that we’ve already gath­ered, right. That’s like a huge com­po­nent of education. 

But I also think a wonderful…often over­looked oppor­tu­ni­ties, in edu­ca­tion are involv­ing new peo­ple in like gen­uine­ly new work, and gen­uine­ly new explorato­ry process­es? And one of the things that I’m most excit­ed about for this project is to be involv­ing like kids, and youth, in this project from the very begin­ning in devel­op­ing this weird tech­nol­o­gy that has nev­er exist­ed and we’re not sure we real­ly know how to build, and hav­ing them be part of that gen­uine tech­no­log­i­cal and artis­tic dis­cov­ery process from the ground floor is some­thing I’m just real­ly excit­ed about and I think is just an excit­ing and real­ly ful­fill­ing way to approach edu­ca­tion in gen­er­al. So I’m excit­ed about that.

Chacon: Yeah, I agree. I also have a back­ground in edu­ca­tion, and that’s always been kind of when— I agree with you in that it’s often over­looked, and not val­ued some­times. Sometimes we can get even stuck in the tropes of the way that teach­ing is facilitated. 

But yeah, I’m also real­ly inter­est­ed in…you know, every now and then just to let the audi­ence a lit­tle bit in on where we are in the process, even though it’s quite new. Is like hear­ing the capa­bil­i­ties that are even pos­si­ble. And for me, think­ing about a wall that can… Of course I look at pub­lic art as being inter­ac­tive, that you need an active audi­ence to par­tic­i­pate in— We see a lot of pub­lic art pieces on the Internet but it’s like, go out in the world and look at em, because they’re meant to be expe­ri­enced on large scale, and I think that that’s the impact of see­ing work like that. 

But, to think about the capa­bil­i­ties that tech­nol­o­gy will have in our pub­lic spaces, and for that to be acces­si­ble. And you know, Leah kind of touch­ing on that with how at the first attempt it was real­ly about cre­at­ing some— You know, she had made a pro­to­type that was wall­pa­per in a home but real­ly reach­ing upon that and think­ing about the acces­si­bil­i­ty of…that it should­n’t be lim­it­ed to one per­son or one house­hold, that real­ly it should be kind of out there for every­body. And for me that’s real­ly impor­tant because that then kind of breach­es on the way that we begin to think as a soci­ety, the way that we begin to think as peo­ple, and how we are bring­ing togeth­er and cul­ti­vat­ing con­cepts with­in that.

Buechley: Now is maybe a good time to open things up for ques­tions or com­ments from the audience. 

Golan Levin: And here I am. Thank you so much, Nani and Leah. There are a bunch of great ques­tions com­ing up in the chat here. I have a ques­tion I’d like to start with, which is sort of based on my own intu­itions as a per­son who cre­ates inter­ac­tive art. 

It seems like there’s mul­ti­ple scales at play here in your even­tu­al col­lab­o­ra­tion. I mean, Nani as a mural­ist you’re used to mak­ing things that are to be per­ceived from actu­al­ly a fair­ly sig­nif­i­cant dis­tance. And at that scale, you know, aug­ment­ed real­i­ty could make sense with a phone or some­thing like that. 

But Leah, you’re accus­tomed to mak­ing things that are tan­gi­ble and up close. And in the wall-like work that you’ve made it’s like you’re real­ly up there. And in the pic­ture you just show this per­son who sort of like right up against the wall. 

And I’m curi­ous what sorts of thoughts you’re hav­ing about whether the mur­al is some­thing that peo­ple inter­act with or expe­ri­ence, in this tech­nol­o­gized way or in this expand­ed way, from far away or from up close, or even both or where—how you’re bridg­ing the kind of scales. And espe­cial­ly Nani, because this could be very new for you if you’re making…have you made murals before that peo­ple could appre­ci­ate or inter­act with or expe­ri­ence from way up close with lit­tle details that they can kind of read?

Chacon: Yeah. I mean the work that I showed of course is…you know, a lot of them are pret­ty large-scale. Like, I think two of them that I showed you are you both twen­ty feet high and over a hun­dred feet long. But yeah, walls come in all shapes and sizes. And I think that the walls that we’re cur­rent­ly look­ing at are ones that are on the pedes­tri­an lev­el. You know, ones that would be on a side­walk. And actu­al­ly that is the size that actu­al­ly I think in a cityscape or some­where where there’s a lot of pedes­tri­an traf­fic, those are a pret­ty tan­gi­ble size of walls. And the design process is dif­fer­ent, you know. I mean even in cre­at­ing a mur­al, you cre­ate for what you can see and what you can expe­ri­ence. Some walls are meant— Larger ones of course you’re going to be larg­er with detail and con­tent and the way that you design that. And with a small­er wall you have a lot more inti­mate of an audi­ence and the detail is a lot more intri­cate. So I design for the space, for the space that’s needed. 

Levin: Other ques­tion sor­ta relat­ed to that. What are some ways that you wish peo­ple could inter­act with a mur­al that you don’t have tech­nolo­gies for yet?

Chacon: Ooh, that’s so hard. [laughs] I don’t know. I don’t know what I’d— Yeah, I mean I think that there’s so much with… For me it’s real­ly that tan­gi­bil­i­ty, right? And I think that 2D art is always just meant to be looked at. But what oth­er ways can we inter­nal­ize that, maybe think­ing about sound and sound capa­bil­i­ties? I think some­times I’m inter­est­ed in the way that we bridge con­cepts, and the way that con­cepts can come togeth­er to cre­ate dif­fer­ent mean­ings. I don’t know if that makes sense. But maybe the way that sound or light isn’t just used as some­thing that is kind of enter­tain­ing but real­ly some­thing that adds to the con­tent and adds to the facil­i­ta­tion of the ques­tion or the work itself. 

[Levin and Buechley inter­rupt each other]

Levin: Sorry, Leah. The chat is hop­ping with great ques­tions. Please go ahead. 

Buechley: Oh, just a quick com­ment to that. Which is to push back on the premise of the ques­tion, a lit­tle bit. One of the things that I think is a won­der­ful and fruit­ful way of work­ing and that I’m look­ing for­ward to Nani is that the exist­ing tech­nol­o­gy, we have a beau­ti­ful rich palette. And we’ve just nev­er played with it in this con­text. And there’s so much to do there with the mate­ri­als that we have at hand. And I think the most inter­est­ing thing here is not some fan­cy new tech­nol­o­gy? It’s actu­al­ly in the inte­gra­tion, and in the con­ver­sa­tion, and in think­ing about things like what we can actu­al­ly build right now. Anyway like, to me that’s a more inter­est­ing place to put atten­tion. Not that the oth­er thing isn’t interesting.

Chacon: That was a [inaudi­ble] way to put it. Thank you, Leah.

Levin: Another ques­tion from the chat, and this is real­ly about the con­tent, in a way, of such a mur­al. The per­son asks, giv­en recent con­tro­ver­sies around Confederate stat­ues, how do you think that a technology-based mur­al could open up new oppor­tu­ni­ties for engag­ing pub­lic accep­tance of or crit­i­cism around pub­lic art sym­bol­ism? Like are there ways the tech­nolo­gies and the aug­men­ta­tion could open up greater access to crit­i­cal content. 

Buechley: Right.

Chacon: Yeah. I mean I absolute­ly do. I think one of… It’s hard to base…I think all pub­lic art into the realm of what the pur­pose of Confederate stat­ues was for. And I think that there is the slip­pery slope that begins to talk about like, pub­lic art as kind of offen­sive, or we should take it down, or not take it down, and what’s real­ly being said. And for me that’s…the tech­nol­o­gy side and the artist side is why the inte­gra­tion of com­mu­ni­ty and com­mu­ni­ty col­lab­o­ra­tors is so impor­tant, is that whether we’re using tech­nol­o­gy, whether using just paint, that we are facil­i­tat­ing this con­tent in a con­sci­en­tious way that is lay­ered. And that real­ly begins from not try­ing to tell any­body a his­to­ry or uphold you know, some­body we think is impor­tant or should be upheld. But real­ly that that con­tent is com­ing from the com­mu­ni­ty itself. And that it’s made in that con­sci­en­tious way of kind of being maybe a feed­back loop of some­thing. That’s my inten­tion with work, is that it’s made to express a dia­logue that is then giv­ing out some­thing and then receiv­ing some­thing. Which in a weird way is kin­da like a tech­no­log­i­cal pun, also. But like, that’s the way that I think about the works that we’re cre­at­ing. So I absolute­ly think that pub­lic art in gen­er­al, but also that the facil­i­ta­tion of these tech­no­log­i­cal com­po­nents can do that. 

Buechley: And just a lit­tle com­ment also. One of the things that is inter­est­ing about this project that we’re encoun­ter­ing already is not only the phys­i­cal large-scale but the time scale as well is over long peri­ods of time. So work­ing on a project that will be installed over the course of many years…we’re start­ing for exam­ple to do tech­ni­cal mate­r­i­al tests just to see if our elec­tron­ics can with­stand the out­side envi­ron­ment over long peri­ods of time, like over the course of many years. And I men­tion that because I think one of the excit­ing and inter­est­ing tech­no­log­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties here is to poten­tial­ly relate to time and change and ongo­ing inter­ac­tion. And of course the mur­al itself changes over time the longer it is in a space and it degrades, plants grow up, peo­ple get used to it, what­ev­er. But the art­work in all sorts of ways is evolv­ing, but the elec­tron­ic ele­ment can have its own kind of evolv­ing kind of his­to­ry of inter­ac­tion, and I think there’s just a lot of rich­ness there to explore in the time scale and how peo­ple relate to the mur­al over time just to explore there, that could relate to that question. 

Levin: Leah, one thing that was­n’t— I don’t think it was explic­it­ly men­tioned in your pre­sen­ta­tion togeth­er was how did you two meet? Or how this arose. I real­ize you’re both in New Mexico, but how did this come together? 

Chacon: Leah found me. In [indis­tinct; laughs]

Buechley: I mean this gen­er­al project, I’ve had this like…since we kind of worked on the wall­pa­per project I’ve been like oh, I’d real­ly love to try work­ing on a mur­al project at some point. But I don’t know…I can’t do that like, by myself. I would need a great col­lab­o­ra­tor. And so when I came to New Mexico I just asked peo­ple that I knew like, Do you know any mural­ist who might be inter­est­ed in col­lab­o­rat­ing with me and whose sen­si­bil­i­ties, we would have a good align­ment there and raport and stuff.” And a friend of mine rec­om­mend­ed Nani. And then I looked at her work and I was like oh, it’s so gor­geous! And so, yeah. So I was real­ly hap­py that she was inter­est­ed, too. 

Chacon: Fate.

Levin: I’m going to field maybe two more ques­tions then we’ll then wrap it up. So Nani, how do you man­age all of the sort of hands involved in the work of mak­ing a mur­al? It not just for a com­mu­ni­ty, often it’s by a com­mu­ni­ty, or a com­mu­ni­ty’s involved in mak­ing it hap­pen. Something that’s a hun­dred feet long, twen­ty feet high…you’re not paint­ing it all only by your­self, right? So tell us about—

Chacon: Oh, like the process.

Levin: The process and also how that process might be…wrinkled in an inter­est­ing way by the new col­lab­o­ra­tion as well.

Chacon: So I do have a back­ground in teach­ing. And I think a lot of the mur­al process like in these larg­er pieces that are a hun­dred feet long, I often have an assis­tant. And they’re already painters, so there isn’t too much…of course there’s always a teach­ing capac­i­ty in there. In the Washington mur­al in par­tic­u­lar I worked on it over two sum­mers with stu­dents that were at the mid­dle school them­selves. So you know, it was a group of twelve stu­dents. It was with Working Classroom, which is also the col­lab­o­ra­tors that me and Leah will be work­ing with. 

And part of that was I taught a work­shop to the stu­dents that I had. And I taught them how I paint­ed. I walked them through my process from start to fin­ish. And they paint­ed with me, you know. And then there were moments that of course me and my assis­tant, we would go through and kind of tie things togeth­er. That makes it inter­est­ing for me, because in the fin­ished prod­uct you see it and it looks great and there’s…you know, it’s a fin­ished prod­uct. But for me I def­i­nite­ly see their hand in there. I see the stu­dents’ hand. I see a 12-year-old hand. And I think that makes it beau­ti­ful. I think that that’s a dif­fer­ent way of that mur­al look­ing, of that paint­ing look­ing, that is some­thing that I could­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly create. 

So I cel­e­brate that. And I think that there is a great deal of teach­ing and lit­er­a­cy that kind of comes—a kind of mesh­ing of style and maybe that give and take a lit­tle bit in the process. Because you have to com­pen­sate and you can’t always think every­body’s going to do every­thing the way that you want it done. 

As far as oth­er com­mu­ni­ty col­lab­o­ra­tions, every time I work on a mur­al— And I think this is impor­tant to say because some­times I think the idea of a community-engaged mur­al” means that every­body came and paint­ed the mur­al, and that’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly true. I most­ly paint the prod­uct. That’s the fin­ish. But the com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment part can take all dif­fer­ent shapes and forms that devel­op the con­tent. And for me the con­tent of the work, the thing that makes the work stand, is the con­tent. And that’s the part that takes the care. And that’s the part that I bring the com­mu­ni­ty in. 

So some­times that can be…you know, I’ve worked with tra­di­tion­al language-keepers, and I’ve worked with elders, and I’ve worked with peo­ple who are in rehab facil­i­ties, and peo­ple who are going through dif­fer­ent stages of life in groups. And you know, it’s all dif­fer­ent forms of the way we devel­op this con­tent or get to know each oth­er and facil­i­tate this. Almost every time it’s dif­fer­ent because every sit­u­a­tion and every per­son is dif­fer­ent. So some­times we cre­ate oth­er kinds of art togeth­er before we get to this process. So yeah, there isn’t like, kind of one thing to that. But yeah I think that most­ly it’s a give and take process. And at the end of that, that’s kin­da how the col­lab­o­ra­tions come together. 

Levin: Thanks. And then Leah, the last ques­tion I have is for you. We’ve known each oth­er a long time. And I think it’s real­ly fair to say you’re a pio­neer in the field of hand and machine, or you know, high-tech/low-tech. You’ve been at this a long time. LilyPad Arduino was I don’t know, fif­teen years ago or some­thing? We’ve been through the mak­er move­ment, and you know, we’ve out­lived Make mag­a­zine and all that. 

And I guess this ques­tion is…I mean it’s maybe not a state of the union but more of a per­son­al per­spec­tive on how your rela­tion­ship to the sort of land­scape of hand and machine work has changed since you’ve been work­ing in it. This is also in the fol­low­ing on some of what han­nah perner-wilson spoke about this morn­ing in terms of her ambiva­lence in rela­tion­ship to the e‑textiles field as you know, sort of post- Google Jacquard post- her tex­tile shop, her tai­lor shop. Like, we’ve come a long dis­tance since you began in the field, and I’m sort of curi­ous to know where you’re at now with it and how you feel about it.

Buechley: Wow that’s a big ques­tion. Um… I… Overall I would say I feel real­ly hap­py and excit­ed? I feel… I don’t wan­na— When I start­ed doing this kind of work…again like, now that’s been a long time ago, like it felt like what I was doing was weird and there weren’t very many peo­ple explor­ing things like this. And now that’s real­ly not true. There’s I think vibrant, beau­ti­ful work hap­pen­ing at these inter­sec­tions all over the place? And that is real­ly incredibly…just delightful. 

I don’t know that I can take any cred­it for that, per se? Like I feel like there’ve been all sorts of things that have led to that out­come. I mean a lot of like the word STEAM and work that has hap­pened under that umbrel­la. Seeing some of the foun­da­tion­al work—and you know, I think despite some of my crit­i­cisms of Make and stuff, the mak­er move­ment helped get a lot of stuff out into the larg­er world out­side of just like, aca­d­e­m­ic research labs. And that has been real­ly excit­ing and inter­est­ing to watch happen.

So I…I share I think han­nah’s… And han­nah’s such a bril­liant and amaz­ing artist and per­son and tech­nol­o­gist and every­thing. I share some of her ambiva­lence about e‑textiles in par­tic­u­lar? I feel essen­tial­ly no ambiva­lence about this land­scape of find­ing cre­ative ways to work with tech­nol­o­gy and engage long-standing mak­ing prac­tices and a range of mate­ri­als kind of in our work with tech­nol­o­gy. And I think there’s tremen­dous…there remain like incred­i­ble cre­ative oppor­tu­ni­ties there for art and design but also just for just like, tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ment. I think a lot of the most excit­ing work in HCI and in design, frankly, is hap­pen­ing at these inter­sec­tions, kind of blend­ing what we know about mak­ing with all sorts of dif­fer­ent mate­ri­als and kind of blend­ing that with new technologies.

So any­way, so I don’t— I feel very…remain like super excit­ed about and engaged with this larg­er field. I think, again…specific projects where if you stay in the domain too long I get rest­less. E‑textiles is one of them. I just assume—like, I don’t want to do that any­more, basi­cal­ly. But there are lots of beau­ti­ful, awe­some things that I do want to do. 

So I think it’s great. I mean, this con­fer­ence is like one big chunk of evi­dence about how great it is, I think. I’m delight­ed. I’m excited.

Levin: Thank you so much both of you, for shar­ing your ener­gy and your work and your…just the…we’re all— This is going to be a very por­ten­tous and very excit­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion. It’s love­ly to see it at this ear­ly stage. We’re all gonna fol­low along, I’m sure. Thank you so much for shar­ing your ener­gy and work with us here. During short days and dark times it’s real­ly love­ly to see this kind of inspi­ra­tional approach. 

So with that I want to thank Leah and Nani. Thank you so much for join­ing us today here at Art && Code. We’re gonna pick it up in about fif­teen min­utes at six o’clock PM Eastern time with Kelly Heaton. So I’ll see you all soon. Thank you so much.