SFPC Alum Interview — Shea Fitzpatrick
Q: What’s your name? Where do you come from? What were you doing before SFPC?
My name is Shea Fitzpatrick, and I live in Brooklyn, studied in Connecticut, and grew up in New Jersey (clearly I’ve never strayed far). I’m a self-taught designer by trade, a writer for fun, and a longtime artist and musician. I technically have an American Studies degree, but I studied a lot of art, poetry, and performance within that frame.
Before SFPC, I was a user interface designer with an art practice. I applied to the January iteration of Code Societies, led by Melanie Hoff, Neta Bomani, and Emma Rae Norton, because I wanted to be more cognizant of the implications of being a tech worker and the tools I use to make art. More recently I participated in SFPC’s first online Creative Coding bootcamp with Robby Kraft, Ilona Brand, and Zach Lieberman.
Q: How did you discover SFPC?
When I moved to New York, I stumbled into circles that had a lot of overlap with SFPC. I had previously met Melanie and Emma through separate channels–Melanie by way of Soft Surplus, a shared art studio they co-founded in East Williamsburg where I had recently acquired a studio space, and Emma through the first Computer Mouse Conference that she co-organized with Ashley Jane Lewis, who is TA-ing SFPC’s upcoming online class Teaching as Art. I met Ashley through a residency that I learned about from my high school friend, who happens to be in Soft Surplus and introduced me to Melanie–who, I should mention, is teaching the online session Digital Love Languages. That’s the level of overlap I’m talking about.
I was particularly excited about Code Societies because I already had a lot of respect for Emma and Melanie as artists/thinkers/people/facilitators (now Neta, too), and I was drawn to the hybrid of theory and practice (“code” all at once referring to computational codes, social codes, and legal codes). The online bootcamp was announced while I was trying to get my coding chops up for professional purposes and revive old creative code experiments for personal purposes. I thought, perfect.
Q: What did you get out of it? What were some exciting and challenging things about participating in the 3-week intensive and online bootcamp?
SFPC is designed to saturate you with things to think about and tools to play with in a way that can’t possibly be contained in a matter of weeks. The goal isn’t to absorb everything between the first and last class, it’s to plant a bunch of seeds so that when the class inevitably ends, you have this endless bounty of ideas and resources, and people to share them with. You’re overwhelmed, but never rushed. SFPC doesn’t really end.
It goes beyond that, though. A teacher of mine once said that so long as her basic needs are met, she orients herself with the question “How do I want to feel?” instead of “What do I want to do?” It’s given her a beautiful and unexpected life. There are so many more ways to conjure a feeling than to achieve a goal. It takes finality out of the question.
In this way, Code Societies acted as a benchmark. It gave me a new feeling of using my computer, of being in a classroom, of coding with others, of moving my body through a room. Then I thought, I’d like to feel this again. Knowing that a feeling can be accessed guides you in accessing and fostering it in the future. You may not know how or when it’ll find you again, but you’ll have open arms when it does. SFPC oriented me toward feelings I hope to have again.
Q: Any funny anecdote?
During Code Societies, we had an off-site class at Soft Surplus with Monica Mirabile and Sigrid Lauren of FlucT. After performing, FlucT guided us through a series of movement exercises that prompted us to consider how and why we move the way we move, how much of that movement we consent to, and how it feels if we choose to move differently. For the first exercise, Monica asked that we partner up and sit back to back so our heads touched. She then instructed us to — how can I put this — roll our heads around as if our brains were touching? (Cy X explains this much more eloquently.) She told us we’d do this for one full song.
I usually jump ship from a situation as soon as I hear “group movement exercise,” and physical contact with people I don’t know well is a challenge for me, so the idea got me strangely worked up. Here we are, skull to skull on the floor of a warehouse; I’m dreadfully braced for an 18-minute ambient piece, Neta’s in the corner getting this whole ordeal on tape, then Sigrid hits play and it’s what? Halo. This absolutely broke me. Whatever tumult I was feeling at the idea of intimately touching heads with someone was flamboyantly upstaged by the comedy of intimately touching heads with someone for the entirety of Halo by Beyoncé. Some people rose to their feet at the chorus, head holding head the whole time. The song ended. We laughed and we hugged. Everyone hung out after class, too, even though a lot of us had just had at least a 60-hour week. I think that night really opened the group to each other.
Q: Is there an interesting observation you made?
I often think of how Code Societies valorized awkward silence. On the first day of class, we had a conversation about mindful participation, and Melanie shared a metaphor from guest teacher Dan Taeyoung: think of class time like a pizza. If there was one pizza for the whole class, you wouldn’t eat 90% of the pizza, even if you were ravenous. More likely, you’d hang back and wait for other people to wander toward the pizza before taking any pizza at all. The question became, how would we act if we treated sharing time in a classroom like sharing a meal?
In practice, this created a lot of awkward silence, because, well, everyone would wait for someone else to take the first slice of pizza. But, in practice, it wasn’t that awkward. We had talked about the silence collectively, and when it arrived, we knew it had a purpose. This silence shifted the flow of discussion from repeatedly circling between the same uninhibited people (an environment I think most of us have either experienced or perpetuated) to giving everyone time to process their thoughts on complex and personal subjects and arrive at questions at their own pace. It didn’t value active participation over passive participation; disengagement was not assumed in silence, but rather generosity. These moments of hesitation made room for a far greater range of personalities and perspectives than other classroom environments I’ve experienced. The organizers and students did a really wonderful job of fostering that over the weeks.
Q: What kind of projects are you working on?
For a few years, I’ve experimented on-and-off with creative coding and 3D modelling software to make abstract comics and animation. I’m really inspired by the process, particularly for making print work–I’ve felt myself settling into a style as a visual artist–but I’ve struggled to make this work consistently and have grown less comfortable with the tools as life and other projects have taken precedence. SFPC’s online bootcamp was perfect because it was appropriate for people who weren’t totally new to coding but could use a refresher, and Robby walked us through a bunch of starting points for manipulating other media with code–fonts, images, sound, video, etc. I’m equal parts visual artist and musician, so aside from reviving my visual art practice, I’m hoping to take advantage of openFrameworks to merge sound and image in ways I haven’t in the past.
Q: What do you want to be doing 5 years from now?
The other nice thing about emotional goal-orientation, even if it’s a little corny, is that it demands far fewer presuppositions of how the future is going to work than doing-things goal-orientation, which is helpful when all of your presuppositions of the future are in shambles, as they currently are. So for now, I’ll speak to how I hope to feel in 5 years. I hope that I approach my curiosities critically and explore them playfully. I hope my relationships encourage and check me as needed. If I have excess, I’ll share. I hope my creative outlets continue to exist within social outlets. I hope I have better respect for my limits and view my mistakes more affectionately. I hope I’m proud of what I can do without ever assuming I know best.
Q: Any advice for people who are considering applying?
First off, you could pay any dollar amount to learn from and be in the company of these people and it would be a steal. The teachers at SFPC are all-in, and you often have a bunch of them. If you have the means, that’s not something to pass up.
Most importantly, if you are a person who interacts with the world and relates to other people in a technologically mediated way, you have something to give to SFPC. You don’t have to know how to code to take your curiosity about technology seriously. The very essence of SFPC is the understanding that not everyone has had the same access to tools, experience, money, time, or benefit of the doubt in art and technology spaces. It confronts that imbalance and invites you to help re-code it. No matter where you’re coming from, people at SFPC will learn as much from you as you learn from them, so long as you give them the chance.
Teacher: Melanie Hoff
Application is now open until June 1st, 2020
As our daily activities and closest relationships become increasingly bound up with corporate systems of surveillance and exploitation, let’s explore and cultivate code as a love language that can be gentle, healing, and intimate. How do we want to live in a post COVID-19 world, and what role do we want technology to play? Digital Love Languages: Codes of Affirmation is a class about building poetic tools for online communion through a re-introduction to computers. This class is also a call to action for expanding computation’s capacity for fostering interdependence and emotive expression.