Artist Stephanie Andrews Navigates Contemporary Issues Through Delight & Wonder
On February 7th, Gray Area launched our first large-scale immersive exhibition entitled, The End Of You, inviting visitors to explore multi-sensory installations that encourage new ways of perceiving the self within the living world. Throughout last fall, artists participating in the Experiential Space Research Lab have been reimagining ways to radically shift perspective through the power of immersive art.
Artist Stephanie Andrews brings her cross-disciplinary background in media art to the Research Lab. As a creative coder, educator and multidisciplinary designer, she explores methods of activating space and encouraging collaboration among her audiences through participatory installations. We spoke with the artist to learn more about how her emphasis on play and collaboration informs her work in the exhibition, The End Of You.
Describe your background and your creative journey.
I’m a creative technologist. I also teach some of the skills I’ve learned in my art practice at Gray Area. I create tactile multimedia art and silly sentimental game-experiences that nod back to a future where everyone cares.
What are some of the themes you explore in your artistic practice?
Much of my art practice centers around developing experimental compositional methods and participatory installations that foster empathy, creative agency, and imaginative play. I also enjoy imagining better futures, and creating prototypes that could easily fit into those futures. My recent installation work incorporates levity with emerging tech to raise awareness about urgent contemporary issues and to create shared playful and tactile spaces that promote collaborative and empathetic interactions.
What are some challenges you’ve faced within your work?
Time and ego, in that order. I never feel like I have enough time to get to all I hope to build. And I always feel it’s both necessary and deeply challenging to be doing something as intimate and vulnerable as sharing my art practice with others.
Can you describe some past projects that resonate with the Experiential Space Research Lab?
I really love unconventional ways to comment on social systems and works that provide some semblance of greater agency to non-human entities. I also really enjoy using experimental play to transform spaces and shift perspectives (literally and figuratively). Below are some images of previous projects that speak to these ideas:
How do you consider your audience throughout the creative process?
I often develop things that I want to experience more of in the world. I see myself as both a creator and participant in my work, and seek to create similar roles and relationships with others who happen upon things I imagine and bring to form.
I also think about missing audiences and how to better engage with folks who might not see themselves as being into art. I want to design “art” that expands what art is and who it’s for. That’s likely why art games appeal to me as much as they do. They’re inviting and approachable and still meaningful enough to be considered “art.”
What do you hope people gain from interacting with your work?
— Seedlings of thought
— Easter eggs and hidden delights
— New compositions that we build and experience together
— Additional ways and contexts where one can celebrate being weird
— Feelings (of joy and agency, hopefully)
The general tone of your practice is whimsical and playful, approaching contemporary issues with this inviting sense of levity. In past projects, what is your process of re-contextualizing or reconstructing serious topics through playfulness and tactility?
I once read this quote by Lidia Yuknavitch: “Laughter can shake you from the delirium of grief.” This is a sentiment resonates with me especially these past few years. I wanted to share thoughts on contemporary issues, and I could no longer productively grieve. I try my best to keep informed about the depressing state of the world, and want to use my art practice to both shed light on some of those issues I learn about while offering moments of reprieve for myself and others from feeling awful about them.
On process — I’m not the funniest person in my household. I’m really thankful for having a kinder and funnier partner who is also (like me) into eerie and disconcertingly humorous art. My process is often talking to people about both important and frivolous topics, doing a lot of research, and seeing if there’s a more inviting angle to share it all with others in a fantastical yet familiar way. A few solid days of research went into “What the Camera Sees” to embed real (and disturbing) articles into QR codes that relate back to their humorous counterparts shown in the experience.
Experiential designs can come in many forms, yet a common trait is the ability to engage the audience’s senses and sometimes afford them a level of control to drive their own experience. Play and audience participation appear to be critical to your practice. What degree of agency and participation will your project in The End Of You offer the audience?
Without giving away too much — one of the core activations I’m driving forward is envisioned as a way to demonstrate feedback loops, ripple effects, and the persistent impact of inter-relationships among all species and entities. I’m working on making it an immersive space that enables visitors to have a few moments of exploration and play, and to potentially see how their actions scale and shape their environment.
In your multidisciplinary practice you’ve worked with a variety of mediums ranging from creative computing, photogrammetry to physical fabrication. What forms does your art practice could take?
These days I’ve become increasingly interested in speculative, critical, and industrial design. I’m also a hobbyist woodworker with dreams of making instruments and modular flat-pack furniture. I think in all the mediums I’ve explored working in, the connecting thread is interaction design. My interest in woodworking too was brought on by a belief in the capacity of furniture (and sculpture more generally) to promote particular types of interaction within a shared space — a theme that is prevalent in much of my digital work.
Stephanie Andrews is a creative technologist, creative code educator, immersive experience developer, independent fabricator and local maker. Much of her art practice is centered around developing curious compositional methods and participatory installations that foster collaboration, communication, empathy, creative agency, and imaginative play.
The End Of You is the culmination of a year-long collaboration between Gray Area and Gaian Systems, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, to explore the potential of immersive art for social impact through the Experiential Space Research Lab. The open call for participation, Reworlding: The Art of Living Systems, invited artists to propose novel experiences to cultivate planetary thinking.
The Experiential Space Research Lab is an initiative by Gray Area studying how artists can work with immersive environments as critical thinking tools. The Research Lab supports a diverse team of artists exploring the potential of immersive art as sustainable creative practice, and as a tool for engaging with our world. Through research, field surveys, prototyping, and the production of new works, the Experiential Space Research Lab will ultimately develop a playbook for artists interested in creating immersive digital art experiences.
This interview was conducted by Miriam Abraham, Gray Area’s Creative Development Intern. Portrait of Stephanie Andrews by Hannah Scott.