Amy Alexander

What are you most trying to accomplish in your work? 

I make art projects, but many of them are also “inventions” in some way. They’re speculative -- what might happen “if” -- but they also exist in the here and now. They’re technical, though not hi-tech -- they mainly use or repurpose common consumer technologies. And they usually comment on some aspect of contemporary tech-influenced culture -- for example, the blurring of boundaries between work and personal life, or between exhibitionism and voyeurism. Speaking of boundaries: I think there’s often a perception of hard lines between criticality and fun, art and entertainment, etc. Why should that be? Sometimes my projects show up in an art museum, sometimes they’re in a nightclub, sometimes they’re on the Internet, sometimes they’re on the street.

What do you think sets your work apart from the work of others in your field?

I like to make a fool of myself! This may be apparent from some of my performances… But perhaps a more pertinent example: I’m a wannabe turn-of-the-20th century mad scientist. If I’d been around back then, and far more clever than I am in this life, I’d have been one of those people who tried to fly by sticking wings to their arms. I mentioned that my projects are usually some sort of invention -- but they’re the kind of invention that puts things together that don’t normally belong together and often ends up looking silly. The thing is: the people way-back-when who stuck wings to their arms might have looked a little odd too, but some of them were able to fly for a bit, and their work contributed to the development of the airplane. So there’s often a point to allowing yourself to look silly (assuming you survive.)

What or who inspired you to get into your field? Do you have any individuals or groups of people that you credit with helping you achieve the goals you set out to accomplish?

I was inspired by a lot of artists and musicians -- the performative part of my work comes from having focused mainly on music growing up. And I was definitely inspired by those old-time inventors as a kid, though I didn’t realize that until recently. When I was studying film/video in college and grad school, my instructors helped me figure out how to combine that “inventor” impulse with my film work, and that eventually evolved into what I do now.

What role has serendipity played in the turning points in your career? 

I think serendipity always plays a big part, whether we admit it or not. Lots of people work hard and have good ideas - but things pan out for some and not others. That’s true on a societal scale, but to some degree, also on an individual one: you can work equally hard throughout your career, but sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t. Or sometimes, they just change direction. For example, the convergence of the Northridge earthquake and an injury to my hand a few weeks later had a lot to do with my transition from traditional film/video to computer-based art. Computers ended up being more accessible for me to use for awhile than cameras, and once I got in, I decided to stay. I could regale you with more of these fascinating anecdotes, but… Point is - of course you do things on purpose. But also, sometimes the universe nudges you in one direction or another.

What have been the greatest challenges that you have encountered in your career?

I’ll go with the obvious one here. Because although we may hear about it a lot, I think it still warrants plenty of discussion: Yes, it really is challenging being a woman in a tech-related field -- and of course it’s difficult for women in many fields. As a female tech artist, you get skepticism from a couple different directions: A lot of people think of you as an artist but find it hard to imagine you have any programming or technical chops at all. This even happens within art fields, since so many tech artists are male. On the other hand, some people see a technical female as such an anomaly, they may overestimate you as a SuperTech Woman. Which is in some ways a flattering overestimation, but also flattening; it’s difficult for people to envision you beyond the stereotype of “tech nerd.” So in the end, you have to just keep doing what you do and let people focus on your work. ”Artist whose medium is technology” is still a new idea for most people to understand anyway -- whether the artist is a male or female.

Do you believe leaders and innovators have certain qualities that they all share? If so, what?

Maybe some enterprising leader/innovator is hard at work building an application that will analyze all the world’s leader/innovators to determine these qualities. This leader/innovator will then a) secretly use the results in an attempt to rule the world b) quietly sell customized results to corporations and governments for a hefty fee or c) release the results and the methodology to the public, allowing “everyone” to become a leader/innovator. In each case, what are the possible outcomes, and what defines or determines success for our enterprising leader/innovator?

How would you most like to change the world through your work?

It’s an easy bet my students’ work will change the world more than mine will. And one of my favorite things about students is they’re not embarrassed to admit they don’t know everything. Information comes at young people from a whole different set of places than it did back when “media literacy” meant deciding whether to believe the textbook, the newspaper or the 6 o’clock news. Students now have a healthy skepticism. They know not to believe anything at first blush; they know they have figure things out. And they know they have to figure out *how* to figure things out. That kind of openness combined with critical thinking is what’s really going to change the world.

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