Making Art

Graduates of Rensselaer’s decade-old MFA program are helping to define new media art.

By Meg Gallien

It’s a brave new world in the arts scene today—a new media world, to be precise. The graduates of Rensselaer’s master of fine arts in the electronic arts program work in constantly evolving new media. They are defining the new media art as they produce works that incorporate video, computer music, CD-ROM, and the Internet, along with traditional visual arts, music, and film.

And as they integrate the various art forms, they often choose to collaborate among themselves, and even with a sometimes unexpecting audience.

Go to www.mccoyspace.com and click on “Maintenance Web.”

Jennifer and Kevin McCoy (www.mccoyspace.com) are collaborators in their artworks, which include interactive computer installations, videotapes, and Net art—art that happens on the Internet. They recently completed a project called Airworld, which was commissioned by the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis. Airworld is an Internet site for which the McCoys wrote a computer program that collects marketing texts from industry Web sites.

“The program then collages it all together and presents it as the voice of this company called Airworld that seems to be able to do anything and everything,” says Kevin McCoy ’94.

While an Internet project like this might have a gallery opening and some outreach to audiences savvy in the Net art world, for the most part, people may stumble onto the Internet site unaware, and be forced to determine what they’re experiencing. This is intentional on the part of the McCoys, who want to extend their own collaboration to one that includes the viewer, as well.

“We’re interested in multiple voices working together,” say the McCoys. “That begins with our collaboration. But those same ideas extend into the kinds of tools and technologies that we use as well,” they say.

Kevin McCoy earned a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from Whitman College and had pursued interests in computers and music before enrolling at Rensselaer. Jennifer McCoy ’94 earned a bachelor of arts in theater from Cornell University where she was an independent film maker.

Members of only the second class of MFA graduate students at Rensselaer, the McCoys found that Neil Rolnick’s vision of integrating the electronic arts to form a new degree program provided a rare opportunity.
“It was pretty unique,” says Jennifer McCoy. “It still is, I think, to have computer music and video and performance under the same roof.”

They also found a rich environment in which to team up with the other graduate students, who brought a variety of talents and interests to the iEAR program. Many of these artists have continued their collaborations since leaving Rensselaer.

“The whole collaborative spirit started there,” says Jennifer McCoy.

About half their work is exhibited on the Internet, say the McCoys. They have also participated in exhibitions at the P.S. 1 Center for Contemporary Art, the Swiss Institute of New York, and The Rotunda Gallery, among others. Jennifer McCoy teaches at Brooklyn College and Kevin McCoy teaches at City College of New York.

Go to http://visarts.ucsd.edu/~ajenik/ and click on “waitingforgodot.com.”

Adriene Jenik ’96
(http://visarts.ucsd.edu/~ajenik) was already pursuing a career as a new media artist and teacher when she chose to attend the MFA program at Rensselaer to deepen her understanding of the digital tools available to artists and to “carve out some time to push my work further,” she says.

Jenik earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Rutgers and she often incorporates literature, language, and poetry into her artwork, either generating new forms within the work, or using literature and drama as an inspiration from which to further different kinds of experiments on media.

Like the McCoys’, her work is often a collaboration among artists, and includes audience interaction as well.

Her new work is called Desktop Theater, which, says Jenik, is like street theater on the Internet (pictured above). She has developed a troop of actors around the world.

“We go into visual chat rooms [on the Internet] and perform plays, or do other kinds of improvisations,” says Jenik. Sometimes the people in the chat room know a play is being performed; others simply happen onto the scene and “then they get swept up in what we’re doing,” she says.

The largest project Jenik’s acting troop has undertaken had 11 different actors in four different time zones. The troop includes actors from England, Mexico, South Africa, the United States, and Canada.

In addition to her work as a media artist, Jenik is assistant professor of computer & media arts at the University of California, San Diego. Prior to joining the UCSD faculty, she was an engineer in the Blast Jr. development team for Disney Online’s Daily Blast.

Jenik’s artwork has included video productions, performance, artistic CD-ROMs, and Internet theater. Her work, Mauve Desert: A CD-ROM Translation, has been screened at numerous film festivals and is considered a landmark piece of interactive narrative.

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