Q+A with Rachel Stuckey

Rachel Stuckey is a moving image artist based in Austin, Texas who works with video and new media to question, parody, and endorse technology’s influence on human bodies, minds, and systems of belief. She was previously a member/programmer with Experimental Response Cinema from 2012-2016 and is now the Director of Speculative Futures for the Museum of Human Achievement. Stuckey also runs the Welcome to my Guest Room Digital Artist Residency Program.

Still image from Rock Rub

Rebecca Marino: So, let’s go ahead and acknowledge that you’re answering these questions from your residency in Spokane, Washington. Any particular projects you’re working on while you’re there? 

Rachel Stuckey: Yep, I’m in residence at Laboratory, working on a virtual reality project that incorporates the users biometrics from an EEG sensor to guide the experience. It’s called Update Required. You’re basically plopped in the middle of a 360 degree Windows 95 environment, and told that your operating system is out of date. You can either proceed calmly, choose to read the Terms of Service agreement, or ignore it (all of this based on what your brainwaves are doing). The journey will get more contemplative or critical accordingly. Or you can just nostalgia-trip on the Microsoft of yesteryear. Something like that…I’m using a lot of tech that I’m new to, so it’s a lot of learning and nerding out on code.

RM: While I instantly associate your work with new media/technology, there seems to be just as much performance happening. Most of these characters you’ve developed (such as Estrin, Margaret, Melanie) are played by you. Did this happen naturally? Do you consider yourself a performer?

RS: I actually started performing in my work again as a bit of a personal joke. This was with Hello Nebula? It’s me, Margaret. The goal (part of the goal) was to thumb my nose at grad school and let loose on all the “bad” things I felt restricted from but secretly loved. White girl performance video seemed particularly no-go, autotune: equally terrible, gratuitously screen recording my effects instead of actually animating them was a blissfully cheap move. Except everyone went nuts for it. Haha! What a great outcome, I really love showing that work. The ease and simplicity of working with myself as a platform for expressing and embodying ideas is what drew me back to it for Innernet Addict and Estrin Tide is Fresh, Everyone Else is Tired. I have heard that I’m a decent performer and should pursue it more in my practice, but I also feel like having my face in everything limits where my work can go. I’m working on figuring out that balance.

Excerpts from Estrin Tide is Fresh, Everyone Else is Tired

RM: One of my favorite aspects of your work is your sense of humor. There’s a lot of satire happening, a lot of commentary on internet dependency and the internet as a tool for self-care and enlightenment. Where do you feel like you personally fall in this category?

RS: Hah, totally. I usually say that my work is one aspect (or several) of my personality dialed up to 11. The satire is coming from a very real place and hopefully for a lot of my viewers it hits in a real place too. The internet has deep hooks in a lot of us and that makes reflecting on our relationship to it difficult. Sometimes humor is the only way in there. And let’s be real, it’s also the web’s native dialect.

The internet has been an integral part of my life for practically two decades now. I feel like we’ve grown up together. The awkward Web1.0, Geocities, this-page-is-under-construction phase hit perfectly when I was an awkward, pre-pubescent middle schooler; when I went to high school the net went Web2.0. Now I’ve got an MFA and IoT is a thing…we’re practically unstoppable!

How myself and other users have grown and changed and been groomed by this technology while it’s also evolved/evolving is endlessly fascinating to me. The net allows us to reach things we can’t in real life, but it can also take us to some seriously dark places. There’s an incredible blur between productive and destructive activities in cyberspace, whether we’re looking at self-care, socializing, working, or just general use. The boundaries of what’s acceptable and expected with tech change faster than any other social norms. Connected humans are working/not working all the time now because of mobile web.

Concerning digitally-assisted self-care and enlightenment, I think it’s an important route to explore artistically. When the dominant view of tech is all about productivity, work, and making sales – there’s not a lot of room for self-exploration, contemplation, and genuine discovery. Solutions I’ve heard like taking an “internet sabbath” by switching off the modem on Sundays seem like a bandage for guilty feelings of dependency. Plus, you then have so many emails/posts/tweets/vines to catch up on! Playing around with the concept of digital sanctuary or creating experiences where someone can aimlessly (but consciously) interface with tech without all the social pressures that comes with it seem like potential routes to deeper criticality and a healthier relationship to our technology.

I read tarot cards via email as a super part-time gig – and the experience of that, of doing something that involves connecting to someone remotely without tech, but with the prompt of an email server, has given me a lot of food for thought. In terms of taking that experience, dialing up the mystical aspect, sprinkling in some hacker attitude, putting it in a transhumanist body named Estrin and making her advocate for it…. it is a way to explore and express the parts of a connected lifestyle that are mundane and mysterious at the same time.

Innernet Addict (2 channel)

RM: What’s your favorite website?

RS: That’s a super hard question. Oh wait, not it’s not; http://spiritorbs.home.mindspring.com/spiritorbs15.html

RM: What’s the website you always seem to find yourself coming back to?

RS: Is it too basic to say YouTube? Because it’s YouTube. I guess it’s more of a community (or lots of communities), but I’m on there all the time.

RM: Very important question–What was your first screen name?

RS: frog2legs – but my dad made it up. The first one I came up with myself was loosa26 (idk, middle school), but I also had a whole slew of inappropriate aliases to match my equally inappropriate online personalities, like URALUZR911 which my friend and I used to troll the popular kids at our school.

Installation image of Where Do Computers Come From?

RM: I just learned about your digital artist residency Guest Room which stemmed from your project Welcome to my Homepage–Can you tell me a little bit about the history of Guest Room and how it started? Who is currently your artist-in-residence?

RS: The Guest Room started as a way to make Welcome to my Homepage a space for other people, and not just me. Welcome to my Homepage is like my online vacation home. I go there when I really want to take up residence in my browser, kick back from my typical art practice and throw some GIFs around. Most of the time it’s totally neglected, and wherever I go back it feels really stale – but that’s also part of the fun. The attic was built as a place where friends could stay. Eventually the ball got rolling, and I was really loving inviting artists into the space and seeing what they did with a dedicated chunk of time and cyberspace.

In summer 2015 the attic became the Welcome to my Guest Room Digital Artist Residency Program, and I started holding open calls for applicants. Most of the early residents weren’t net-based artists at all so the projects tended to be really refreshing, loose explorations of new territory. That still happens even though my recent residents tend to be more web savvy, which is what I love about the program.

Violet Forest is the current guest. She’s a co-founder of the cybertwee art collective, web designer, and generally cool person. I was actually really psyched that she applied, since I’m a fan of her work and have been following it for a while. She’s working on a series of WebGL + three.js experiments which will be unveiled around the end of the month. In November Jesse Cline will be taking over the space, the first Austin-based resident I’ve had in almost a year. He’ll be doing some crazy material translations from digital space to CNC routers, 3D printers, laser cutters, and back into digital space again. It’s getting very high tech! But there’ll also be a healthy mix of lo-tech artists this season as well.

Rebecca Marino is co-editor of Conflict of Interest and works as a visual artist and curator in Austin, TX. She recently worked with Rachel Stuckey on the collaborative exhibition Placeholder, which is currently on view at the Visual Art Center

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