Mat Rappaport, (BFA '95), is a new media and installation artist, curator, and educator who lives and works in Chicago, Illinois. He is an Associate Professor at Columbia College, Chicago. Follow Mat and his work at meme01.
Tell us about your current project.
I am currently completing a body of work exploring a never completed Nazi resort that was designed for working class Germans. The original vision of the site would have accommodated 20,000 visitors at a time and promised an ocean view from each of the 10,000 rooms. This was a radical idea in the early 1930's. After World War II, it was used by the East German Socialist Government as a military training site and is now under a unified Capitalist government, being redeveloped into condos and hotels. My work explores how political systems can be projected onto architecture while addressing how to convey the monumental scale of the site. The project includes an archive of photos, objects, an audio walk, experimental video elements, and a narrative documentary. I am in the editing phase of the documentary which is titled Touristic Intents.
When did you form meme01 and how did that come about?
meme01 is the web and social media presence for my studio practice. I have used the name since the late 90's, if you can believe it. At the time, I was interested in how certain ideas and images are virally picked up by and amplified by culture. meme01 is mirrored by socket design which captures the freelance and project work I do in design, motion graphics, and video.
And how about v1b3?
v1b3 is an artist-led, collaborative, research and curatorial project that explores the impact of media in the built environment through curated site-specific interventions, presentations, and published documentation. Since 2004, we have worked with over 100 artists in the U.S. and abroad on thematic video art collections presented on urban screens and festivals in the UK, Australia, and the US, site specific media art works, and most recently a series of artists catalogs that focus on artists using new media forms such as qr codes, augmented reality, and 3D printing. The most recent project, Art2Make, is sponsored by The College Art Association which sent it to its mailing list of 20,000. Simultaneously, there is a physical exhibition of the 3D printed sculpture at the Center for Book and Paper Gallery at Columbia College.
My principal collaborators are Conrad Gleber, Cezanne Charles, John Marshall, and Gail Rubini.
What was your focus at SMFA and were there any faculty members or courses that were particularly influential?
I came to the Museum School with a background in music and activism, and embraced the opportunity to work with as many faculty as possible. In the early 90's, the curriculum was completely open, and we could sign up for as many classes as we liked.
My focus at SMFA was pretty much everything 2D. I took Printmaking, Drawing, and Painting, as well as some film, photo, and electronic media. I spent a lot of time in the Print Studio. I would hang out there and work on sketch books during down times and class breaks. I eventually pursued my MFA through Printmaking, but didn't really produce prints. But that is another story.
I had many memorable teachers at the Museum School. There were so many idiosyncratic characters at the Museum School; both teachers and students. Faculty who were significant to my studio education include Henry Schwartz, Domingo Barreres in Painting, Rhoda Rosenberg and Bob Siegelman in Foundations, Skip Milson, Craig Dongoski, Wayne Hopkins and Peter Scott in Printmaking, and Bill Flynn in Drawing.
As important as my studio faculty were to my artistic formation, the art history and critical studies classes and faculty provided an essential framework for making sense of what I was making. I took a group of classes with Diane O'Donoghue in Western and Chinese Art History. As a young art student, I was drawn to her approach to teaching Art History, which included broad context for the topics presented and critical theory. I was fortunate to take the 1st Postmodernism course at the SMFA. The course was team taught by Susan Denker, Jim Dow, and Diane O'Donoghue; it was a mind blowing course that represented the first wave of this philosophy being taught in art schools. I later worked with Diane on a series of independent study courses that further explored Postmodern philosophy.
Not a short answer for what should have been a simple question. Ha.
Congratulations on your 2013 Traveling Fellowship. Where are you going?
The Travelling Fellowship is a great honor and came at an ideal time. During the research for Touristic Intents, I began to look at other initiatives to grant working-class people access to leisure time and more elite activities. As part of a new project about this topic, I will be travelling to Torremolinos, Spain where I will be looking at the development of mass tourism. Specifically, I am interested in the transformation of the town from a fishing village into one of resorts and timeshares aimed largely at the British market.
You're a working artist, you're on the faculty of Columbia College and you serve as Secretary for the New Media Caucus. How do you balance it all and what advice do you have for young graduates?
I am a big advocate of setting long term, mid-term, and near term goals and evaluating what it takes to achieve them. Make making a top priority, but also realize that part of any studio practice is writing grants, applying for shows/fellowships/residencies. I'd say 50% or more of my "practice" is spent writing. It is also important to participate in a scene and this doesn't have to mean the commercial gallery complex...there are multiple art worlds. My work with organizations such as the New Media Caucus and the International Digital Media Association [iDMAa] have allowed me to contribute to the support of the field while also broadening my relationships to other practitioners and theorists. It is one way that I have found community. And don't forget to manage your online presence(s). That is all part of it.
Our histories [work/exhibitions/grants] look very linear in hindsight, but in the moment, it always feels like barely managed chaos. Take a deep breath, pace yourself, and realize that the more work and projects you complete, the easier it becomes to take confidence in your process. And surround yourself with a few core peers and mentors who you can call upon.