Thursday, October 27, 2011

Andrew Sempere: Artist/Design Researcher/Trustee Of The Boston Awesome Foundation

Andrew lives and works in Boston MA, as a full time Design Researcher for IBM's Collaborative User Experience Group / Center for Social Software, an instructor and artist. He holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Masters of Science from the MIT Media Lab. Andrew is also a trustee of the Boston Awesome Foundation.

Andrew's works have been seen at venues around the US and Canada, including the Bumbershoot Music Festival, Siggraph, Boston Cyberarts, and the 7th Manifestation Internationale Vidéo et Art Électronique.

What is the current project you are working on?

Right now I am working on some "serious games" for my employer, IBM Research. I was part of a team that included myself, a researcher at our lab and two amazing interns from the Carnagie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center. The games are an attempt to introduce game concepts to some basic work processes (training on new software, thinking differently about time management). This is a "hot thing" right now, but a lot of companies are applying "gamification" in a pretty shallow way to processes that are really just work and should stay that way.  Fish oil is fish oil no matter how much sugar you put in it. But games and game design has a number of concepts that work well if you look for how they can complement what you're doing already.

 How do you measure success?

There are lots of different kinds of success. I'm pretty hard on myself to be honest, and I don't' think most of what I've done is successful, but that's not very satisfying. If I can change one person's perception even just a little bit, then I'm happy. This is especially true for my art projects. A lot of people react to new and unfamiliar situations with bluster. Some kind of atavistic reaction, they get cranky, puff up and tend to dismiss things out of hand. One of my favorite stories was when we were performing The Jackal Project on Newbury Street in Boston. A man came by and pretty much demanded, loudly, "what we thought we were doing here."  I spoke to him for a bit and invited him inside to a workshop where we were hacking old toys into strange sculptures. He ended up spending three or four hours and left with his own sculpture and a big smile. That was a success.

(more on the jackal project

 How do you handle rejection?

Emotionally, I react to rejection that way everyone does (even if they don't admit it). I hate it! Why can't the world see what a genius I am? After that passes the truth is that if you aren't being rejected, you aren't trying hard enough. There is a myth around creative work in particular that it just appears, fully formed and wonderful, but it's really a long, difficult process, and rejection is part of this. If an idea is rejected it's not bad, it's just not ready yet, so I put it on the shelf and keep it for later.

What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on?

Very hard to count. Lots :D

What exactly is The Awesome Foundation?

Here's an article in the Globe

The Awesome Foundation is not an actual foundation, but it's very much a real group. The idea is pretty simple: there are awesome things happening in our community that need a little bit of a kick. Not a lot, just a little... in our case it's $1,000  and as much good word of mouth as we can provide. The money comes out of our pockets and goes directly to the recipients, there is no paperwork, no contracts or official agreements, it's basically just a gift. There is a group of about 10 trustees (in our case we have 12, it's a long story), each of whom provides $100 into the pot. We grant one award per month. The devil is in the details, of course, the trustee meetings are long and involve a lot of back and forth, but it's one of the only organizations I've been a part of where the meetings are not formalities -we really *are* debating what is awesome. For me, this is the best part of being involved - getting a chance to see all of the wacky wonderful ideas that people come up with and meet regularly with a small crew of folks who want good things to happen around them.

 What is your role in The Awesome Foundation?

I am one of the trustees of the Boston chapter, so I put in $100 a month, attend the meetings and do my best to promote the projects we select.

 How would you describe the art "scene" where you live?

I'm speaking mostly about art and technology - I'm sure it's different for painting or ceramics, or other practices, but I find

Boston a strange and often frustrating town with respect to the art scene. We are sandwiched between New York (which has a ton of diversity) and Providence (which is cheaper and has more space than Boston, so it supports a lot more alternative art spaces) Which is not to say that Boston doesn't have an art scene, it does, but it's a lot smaller than you might think. In addition, it tends to be dominated by the schools in the area - so there tends to be a micro-scene around the music schools, another around the technical schools, another around the art schools. It's a little strange to me how balkanized it is, but I think in part it's because space is so damned expensive in this city. In cities like Chicago, or Detroit or even Providence, it's relatively easy to find a large industrial space and turn it into a gallery. There's a little more breathing room. As far as I know, for the last ten years or so, there has been exactly one gallery in the whole Boston area that does anything regularly around art and technology. It's a good gallery, and I'm happy it exists, but we need at least ten more. For now I mostly show outside of Boston, even though it's my home and I love it.

 You could go back in time and see and piece of art being made. Which  would it be and why?

So many to chose from! I'm going to cheat a little - it's not a piece exactly - but I would love to spend a day hanging out in NYC in the late 60s. I'd love to visit Warhol's factory. I'd love to hang out at the Chelsea hotel, have dinner with Patti Smith, see Velvet Underground perform. This is almost cliched now, but the thing is that "scenes" are only scenes in retrospect - I think it would be amazing to see that from the inside, on the ground, as it unfolded, before it became a "thing." In art school, as a designer trying to make art and an artist trying to be a designer, a good friend gave me a copy of "The philosophy of Andy Warhol: from A to B and back again." She still calls me "A" and I call her "B..."  but that book helped me see that you could play on the boundaries. Not copying Warhol, it's been done and it's tired, but trickster in that way. That would be fun.

Do you believe in life on other planets?

It seems unlikely that earth is completely alone in the entire universe. If the life on other planets isn't as intelligent as us, we'll probably enslave it. If it's smarter, it's probably a good idea for it to hide. That's how I imagine it - aliens hiding on the backsides of planets, watching YouTube and rolling their eyes at us.

 What's your favorite movie quote and why?

I love movies, I really do. I almost never watch TV, but there was a time I was watching at least two feature films a day. Not that much anymore, but I still make heavy use of my Netflix account. Even so, I'm not sure I have a favorite movie quote, that would be really hard.

 Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you for the interview :D