Ryan Rowlett: Flew the Coop

Ryan Rowlett, who interned for Brooks' Exhibitions Department this semester, sat down with me to discuss interactive media, LA flight, communal functions and his upcoming project at Odessa this Friday. Below is the flyer Rowlett designed for the installation.

LM: In our previous conversations you mentioned leaving home and heading to LA to work for Element Skateboarding Company in 1999, right after high school graduation. You also mentioned this was the time when your interactive media career began. How did you get into that medium?

RR: I worked for Giant Skateboard Distribution which was a conglomerate of 12 or 13 different companies including Element and Black Label skateboards. Geoff Crowe, who was the art director at that time, took an interest in me as an artist and designer, and showed me how to use programs like Photoshop and Flash. Looking back now it's pretty incredible that they were willing to give me that responsibility given my lack of experience. At that time I was painting a lot. I was heavily influenced by outsider, skateboarder artists like Ed Templeton, Margaret Kilgallen and all of the artists associated with Beautiful Losers. It wasn't until I came to Memphis College of Art and saw postmodern artists using text and image and new media that I started using design conventions and programs in my personal work.

LM: After Billabong bought out Elements, leaving you out of a job...you headed to Wilmington, NC to attend school and complete a few general credits on your transcript. Did you know at that time you wanted to attend the Memphis College of Art? If not, when did you decide on Memphis and why?

RR: My family was in North Carolina and I just wanted to be far away from L.A. I went to a portfolio review in Charlotte and a representative from MCA offered me a scholarship. I had thought about going to art school for a long time but just couldn't afford it, so when MCA offered me the scholarship I really had no excuse not to go.

LM: You are graduating in May from MCA and currently working on your thesis for the BFA exhibition this Friday, which is also the same night as the Odessa project. You are a busy guy. Does your thesis involve interactive media?

RR: My thesis show is called "Edens". It's interactive insofar as I am encouraging people to take photocopies I made (it's not very interactive).

LM: How did you come up with the idea for Friday night's installation --"Flew the Coop"-- at Odessa?

RR: I had been making Flash animations for the web and I started getting bored with mouse and key board functions being the extent of interactivity. At the same time, I don't really care for the internet, or the computer in general, as a space for viewing art. I think people are typically pretty impatient and dismissive while using computers, especially in comparison to the amount of time and attention one might pay something in a gallery setting. On the other hand, the computer is such a powerful tool. So I decided to create something that would use the computer to enact changes in physical space. I started thinking about how performance and interactive computer software could overlap. What I ended up making is a piece of software that animates a group of illustrations, which the user can manipulate via computer to produce a projected composition. Once a desired composition is attained, the operator can utilize the projected image as a matrix to draw from directly on the wall.

LM: You have chosen to appropriate images by John James Audubon. Once these images are projected onto Odessa's walls, who will make up your crew of volunteer tracers and painters? Will you be painting too?

RR: One thing that is exciting for me about this kind of art is that the user essentially becomes the author of the finished piece. It has more of a communal function than just showing some paintings. Art making is usually such a loaner activity; you end up shutting yourself inside a musty studio most of the time. This way we get to hang out and listen to music and have a beer; it's way better. A group of local artists including Jake Hendrix, Richard Gamble and Jay Crum will actually make the paintings. I might make one too.

LM: Will this project be like a "barrel of monkeys" or more like "shooting fish in a barrel"?

RR: This project is like shooting fish in a barrel of monkeys. May I thank a few people?

LM: Of course.

RR: I would like to thank Odessa, Jill Wissmiller and Bowman Kelley at MCA, Richard Gamble and the Brooks, Jake Hendrix, Jay Crum , and anyone else who helps.

For more information on Ryan visit his site at ryanrowlett.com. Check out all of Odessa's happenings at myspace.com/odessamemphis.

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