Q+A with Sean Ripple


outfit 2 – gif alone b/w fauxphalt for converse (she said the outfit looked patriotic), 2016. Visitor documentation obtained via smartphone camera and shared with the artist.  

Artist statement:

I should have studied physics/mathematics/some other higher level discipline. Maybe if I had I wouldn’t feel so trapped in the superficial. Though it’s possible that the surface is my burden… my field… an actual intellectual pursuit that may prove to be valuable to others. Leave the physics to those less invested in base experience, primal drive, or the true depth of the outer layer… the bliss and curse of the immediate and the whimpering sound that all human endeavor makes compared to the roar of its absence. The mathematician may be able to devise a calculation that informs a pilot about the expected time it will take to travel the line between two points (and most importantly, when the pilot should descend to ensure that they land in the correct spot), but I don’t believe a mathematician can account for the extent of the wander that is individualized consciousness. Yet while it is true that there is a high degree of variability and eccentricity/idiosyncrasy represented by individuals, if you skate across the surface of the variability, you notice integrities among the differences. You notice something essential.


Thao Votang: I recently contributed to your exhibition/project, non-commercial expression prohibited, where you took an admission-based approach. To experience it, you asked people to meet you at the Domain and pay you $20 for access to a private Instagram account. The total fees collected were used to purchase an item that became its own piece of work. Why did you decide to have an admission fee and only interact with those who had paid?

Sean Ripple: Before I conceived of the exhibition premise, I was visiting the Domain to make artworks in one of my usual ways — collecting/altering/commenting upon imagery from the social sphere and streaming it to my social media channels. During this visit, I came across a code of conduct for the mall that contained the phrase, “engaging in non-commercial expressive activity not sponsored by the center is prohibited.” This phrase ended up informing how I would move forward with the exhibition. By asking visitors to pay for access to a private social media stream in person, I felt that I satisfied the specific demand outlined in the Simon Properties code of conduct. Additionally, creating a paywall was my way of acknowledging my own anxieties about being one who makes quite a bit of work that is freely accessed digitally and how this mode of sharing tends to subvert the potential for my work to generate revenue.

TV: We didn’t really discuss how you wanted me to contribute to non-commercial expression prohibited aside from providing some text/writing for it. You talked about your thought process up to that moment and some ideas, and I decided I would try to release something I wrote once an hour. I released flash fiction pieces on Instagram that were typed out in Notes on my iPhone. For the most part, the length was determined by the amount of space a screen shot would take on my phone.

I didn’t really know what you would do and thought you would do work that was similar to what you had been posting online — spliced videos, added sound to imagery, incidental layering at commercial stores. You told me another friend was contributing something too, but, to be honest, I never tried to find it and didn’t stumble upon it. What appeals to you about working this way?

SR: I don’t know that it especially appeals to me to work in this manner, but it is my way. It’s a problem of focus as well as being one who is perhaps easily inspired and just as easily disenchanted, mixed with a practice that lacks quite a bit in terms of facility, funding, and audience.

TV: When I was thinking about what I would write, I hoped that I would provide some gateway text into the project. This came from having a few people say that they didn’t really get what you were doing. As the artist, do you think I was successful? Are you frustrated that people don’t really know what you’re doing — or is that part of it for you too?

SR: Your contribution was successful in the sense that I had hoped to have collaborators provide some sort of text-based contribution to the project that could live alongside my efforts. I wanted this for tone and also, I feel that additional voices related to a project help to legitimize its reason for being and so, I invited you and one other contributor to be a designated part of the exhibition. The other contributor provided me with a script for a performance that I did not use because they didn’t have the chance to upload it to the tumblr where it was supposed to be housed. The script sits in my email inbox and during the exhibition, I thought of it like a good luck charm in my pocket — not that I’m especially superstitious.

Regarding the incomprehensible nature of the project — wouldn’t be the first time this sort of comment was thrown my way, but a lack of comprehensibility or a fear that an audience won’t get something should never convince one to shelve a project. Point me in the direction of someone making sense, and I’ll call them a cult leader — ha!

On a level, I didn’t have a fully hatched notion of what the exhibition was. Largely, it was meant to be user-defined. For the first few hours, before any invited visitors arrived, I began imagining that I was a figure lost in a color field painting. I functioned as a witness to an amorphous form that had beautiful bursts of color and conjured a deep sense of longing. In essence, I was forced to meditate and access an experience that was not readily apparent… I had to quietly struggle with a sense of nothingness, which for me is pretty painful.


king of rap on my bag, 2016. Screengrab of a truncated description of an action performed inside the store, “Austin 5”, typed into a search field on the store’s website.


TV: You mentioned in conversation that you’re trying to rely less on documentation of your work. What made you think about making this change?

SR: I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve allowed myself to be lulled into a self-satisfied stream-based bliss for far too long. I can no longer rest easy believing that documentation streamed on a social media channel legitimizes and properly contextualizes my efforts. It doesn’t. I don’t mind this method of creation and sharing it for what it is on free to access social media channels, but I’ve concluded that I must challenge myself to look beyond this mode if I hope to grow as an artist.

TV: I like being at the Domain because you can see so much diversity. I hear Vietnamese more often there than anywhere else in Austin. At the same time the Domain is quite different than the malls I grew up with. It’s outdoors and probably purposefully. For most of the year (our six months of summer) people don’t want to loiter around. It’s the perfect shopping place without the teenagers smoking, skating, or gossiping. What are malls to you?

SR: Malls are all but pornography. They’re lust producers, no? Of course I know this is inflammatory. I know many (including myself) use malls practically — buying clothing to make us look more presentable/appropriate for a variety of social contexts, etc…  but at base, it would seem that the function of a mall is to elicit and attend to desire in the individual.

TV: I appreciate that you pointed out an article about Pokemon Go after we talked about your ability to do things in public that don’t pose a threat to your safety. I experience a lot of privilege too — people assume I will be submissive and smart (and not at all threatening). Online, you’ve also brought up ethical issues around the use of artificial intelligence. Do these issues play a dominant role in your thinking?

SR: I would say that power/powerlessness, authority/subservience, freedom/fear, privilege/lack of access, value creation, and the unintended consequences of desire all play dominant roles in my thinking.

TV: I wanted you to pick out the images in this interview because I’ve also been thinking about the histories that we make for ourselves. I find myself thinking about how we create our own history or legacy over and over when I see your work. How does this, if it does, tension between lasting and not-lasting play into your work?

SR: It’s the not so calm dead center of what I do. The archive and how it may be used/interpreted by unknown actors is definitely of interest to me. Your question brings to mind a memory of coming across some promotional content (can’t recall if it was an email/ad/short bit of PR) for an exhibition of artist Jason Rhoades’ work organized by a curator whose name I don’t recall. The sense of anxiety/sadness/disgust that I felt about how the promotional material came across as self-serving to the curator over the deceased artist was intense. But really, why should I care? I have no business expecting the purest of intentions from those with prying eyes… future or otherwise. Paint a vulgar picture… reissue, repackage, re-evaluate, reuse, recombine, etc…

Our records are as imperfect as our interpretations of them are fluid.

keystone kaper_1, 2016. Digital image of a pair of jeans procured with money provided by visitors of the exhibition, non-commercial expression prohibited, that should be thought of as a sculpture of the artist as a middle-aged man.


TV: In another project I participated in, this ain’t no favor, you hired people to read to you as you did yard work. I did that because I loved being read to at the school library when I was a kid. It’s an intimate thing to share with another person. Was that project successful in the ways that you had hoped?

SR: Absolutely successful. And it’s still ongoing. My hope is to turn the project into a true peer to peer business someday. However, cashless venture capitalism being what it is, I don’t expect this to occur for quite some time, if at all.

TV: How long have you been doing able to work on #unemploymentresidency, and what have you learned so far?

SR: Almost everyday since March 1st of this year. I don’t know what I’ve learned thus far. Certainly not C++ or how to manage a brand on social media with over 500k followers.

Artist and his family on a recent trip to NYC taken by a friend, 2016.

Artist and his family on a recent trip to NYC taken by a friend, 2016.


Thao Votang is co-editor of Conflict of Interest, a writer, and co-founder of Tiny Park.

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