Tech+Art Podcast: Ari Melenciano

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"It’s going back-and-forth of creating items that allow artists to realize their artistry in ways that they wouldn’t have before by removing the beginning steps of learning technologies"

OVERVIEW

Welcome to the new Tech+Art Podcast!

Join us on this adventure as we meet & speak with: artists, makers, researchers, designers and creators from all background and fields.

Our objective is to understand their creative perspective, dive into their workflow & creative process, be inspired by new ideas and their work – and stay one step ahead of cutting-edge industry developments.

IN THIS EPISODE...

In this episode, we’re chatting with the incredible Ari Melenciano.

Ari is an incredibly talented Brooklyn-based creative technologist, artist, researcher, humanist and educator who is passionate about exploring the relationships between various forms of design and the human experience.

She’s undertaken several incredible projects including the launch of Afrotectopia, a new media arts, culture and technology festival designed to recognize and highlight the contributions of Black artists, designers, technologists and activists. You can follow Ari’s work online:

There’s a full list of all resources mentioned at the bottom of the post!

Question 1: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What did you study and how did you get started?

[…] always had an inclination towards technology – but not really in a way where I wanted to be like a computer scientist or an engineer – but much more of just loving tech because it could allow me to realize my art in a lot more immersive ways, and not just be what I thought was just a stagnant piece of art, where it’s just crayon on paper, but more like I could make a movie or make beats and music in garage band. That was the intro for me for loving art and tech, but more of being the end user of tech.

[…] That was kind of the mindset I had and I didn’t know how to get into that world. But eventually I found this graduate program at NYU called Interactive Telecommunications, where we bring together art, design, technology and engineering and think of ways that we can create very interesting, out-of-this-world objects, experiences, exhibitions – whatever it is. And so there, ever since being in that program, my mind has been blown of all the things you can do with creative technology. And I’m finding myself no longer being this end user that’s using technology that other people have created, but I’m actually building my own. Whether it’s products or objects or exhibitions or software – whatever it is, I’m finally able to build my own things and using design and art all along the way.

Question 2: How did you end up getting into art / creative technology / design?

[…] I think just seeing the relationship between what something could be – if it’s just a still item – and then seeing it translated into something else moving and much more immersive. For me, it made me unsatisfied with traditional fine art.

Question 3: What is your creative process like?

It’s always different, but it’s also always like ‘I’ll see what I get when I’m in the middle of making it’. It’s hard to plan what will happen. But generally it starts with a vision. […] And being in ICT where I get to learn about electric engineering and ways that I can use sensor, and digital fabrication to kind of build these things that I’ve always imagined. I was able to finally translate that into realizing a dream that I’ve had for so long […]

It begins with a lot of reading, a lot of different books and conversations and internet searching. Eventually it takes its form in its most appropriate way – but it’s about figuring out how to synthesize a lot of information in ways that everyday people can feel like they can digest it.

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Question 4: What has been your most ambitious project to date?

The camera was ambitious because for one, that was my first semester of school and a lot of the courses going completely over my head; so it was hard to imagine me being able to create the camera.

But I realized that the camera was just one of the most important projects I’ve ever done, because in realizing a dream that I had for so long and didn’t know how to complete it and was asking for help from other people, and it was just taking forever to build.

Being able to sit down and use the little knowledge that I had – but enough knowledge to know what I do know and what I don’t know – allows me to learn on my own a lot better of how to build this camera, and knowing ok what questions do I need to ask Google […]

And it also was big for me because it was just such a moment to realize something that you didn’t know was possible.

[…] With tech being a focus, we’re not considering black people. And how these things are actually impacting different communities in ways we’re just not discussing and how harmful that is.

Also seeing the power of what we’re doing in tech spaces, and how so many people could use this in much more interesting ways if they just had access to it. So it was solving a lot of those problems.

[…] So that passion and just really wanting to make that happen – all the work, it didn’t seem like it was that much of a big deal, cause at least it would solve all of these major problems. Going into it and seeing it unfold

Question 5: What’s missing in the industry at large? What do you wish existed? What would make you more productive or fulfilled as a creator?

Time. Is a big thing. Of just never having enough time to learn all the things I want to do and being able to realize projects that could use those. So, I don’t know how to answer this question. But I think a big thing is just time.

Opportunities for people to just not have any thing else to do, and not figure out ways to sustain themselves financially and just have the time to really dive into these projects […] just to be given that space and time to build […] people of all different backgrounds and socio-economic statuses […].

[…] I still think even the open-source community is very exclusive because it requires you to be able to read code or understand different parts of technology that can be very difficult for the average person to understand. So I think the open-source community is a great sort of mindset, but I feel like the way that it’s executed, it’s still very difficult to enter.

So thinking of different technologies that could allow us to get into tech where we are able to realize our idea with a bunch of technologies, software, machines – but not needing to know how to code or know certain languages. I feel like it would allow for so much innovation, because that’s what stops so much.

Question 6: How do you approach creating the stuff that is missing to see your vision be fulfilled?

Often times I’ll create tools for other artists to make their art – but then that’s maybe not the entire direction I would like to go in as an artist. Maybe it’s not so much of creating a business […] I don’t want to be consumed by the business side of things and logistics side, I just want to create.


But seeing that there is a need for tools to be created, that could allow people to realize their artistry in ways that are less limiting of not knowing certain techniques or technologies. So for me personally I feel like it’s kinda both. It’s going back-and-forth of creating items that allow artists to realize their artistry in ways that they wouldn’t have before by removing the beginning steps of learning technologies – but also feeling like I just need to create and learn myself and not build tools – but build art pieces.


Considering how for me representation, for me, is such a big thing. And growing up and thinking that and reflecting on that, a lot of the reason I probably wasn’t interested in this computer science world or engineering world was because I never really got to see people that look like me doing this kind of work. I didn’t see a black girl or latina girl doing creative technology – ever. And I still rarely do. And so growing up and never seeing that you don’t really feel like that’s a place for you. It’s not really a world that you can enter or do the things you want to do.


And also as an artist, I didn’t really see technologist embracing art and doing creative things growing up. So for me representation and showing people that no these worlds exist, that these people are doing this kind of work – inspired creating the YouTube channel. And showing, at the most fundamental levels the ways that you can use simple lines of code to realize art pieces, that would have been much more difficult to use outside of programming. So I think also it’s just that, of exposing the possibilities within the fields that you’re in and ways that you can use it to champion different issues and forms of expression.

Question 7: Where do you think the creative coding industry is headed?

I’m hopeful of it. I’m hope that the work that things Afrotectopia and that a lot of other organizations and platforms are doing of just elevating a lot of people who generally don’t have access to tech and embracing the digital divide and combating it can realize a lot more innovation in ways we haven’t seen today.


[…] I’m hopeful that with the work that’s being done now, getting more kids in the door that generally are represented in tech companies today, will just allow for technology to be this much more beautiful and inclusive thing. And then also, the companies that we’re building are more mindful about who were impacting and not be so negligent […]

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