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Sean Hottois, Maker of Makers

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


New media has become a catch-all term in contemporary art, including everything from the use of the internet and websites, robotics, and holography. While always used to describe advanced technologies being appropriated into the arts, the term also has A historical context reaching back to the earliest modernist inclinations influenced by photography. New Media can be both an exciting and stigmatic context for an artist to exist in, since curators, critics, collectors and dealers are all still trying to adjust to the concerns surrounding the work like archival qualities, provenance, uniqueness and market value. But this has always been the case and similar to the 1920's original rise in film as an artistic media, the art world slowly but surely adapts to avant-garde practices, and crafts a curatorial space and critical language to handle it.

As the concept and definition of new media expands in the contemporary art world, there has been a stronger and more prevalent movement toward interactivity, robotics, the question of physical animation within art, and the process and quality of artifacts which in turn create aesthetics products. Sean Hottois' work cuts to core of these issues with pieces like "Howard Hughes and Paula Dean" and "Art-Bot Admires Kinkade," which are not only active and animated, but also produce elements of traditional art like image making and performance.

Sean Hottois, currently the Assistant professor of Communication Arts and Graphic Design and Web Design at the School of Creative Arts, at the University of Saint Francis, spent most of his life in New Albany, Indiana, just outside of Louisville, Kentucky. There he grew up in theatre through his parents, his mother an actress, his father a lighting designer. "Some kids work on a farm, other kids, like me, would be cutting out a thousand fake cobblestones for theatre." After receiving undergraduate degrees in both graphic design and interior design from the University of Louisville, Hottois continued his education with an MFA in graphic design from Fort Hays State University, Kansas. Upon graduation Hottois moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in 2006, getting additional teaching experience and navigating a new culture for two years, before returning in 2008, where he found USF's SOCA through the College Art Association.

Hottois' exploration of new media fine art is an extension of his photographic practice and his history with theatre and its use of scripting, multiple agents collaborating to produce a final piece, and multiple media in the creation of a final product. "Abu Dhabi Pastiche" is Hottois' first foray into interactivity and automated pieces, using Arduino micro-controllers, and a simple program ran through a laptop. "Abu Dhabi Pastiche" is a combination of two photographic images of an oil tower and a Mosque, like transparencies, which are colorfully lit from within. The piece "comes to life" with proximity of the viewer to the piece. The Arduino computer is an ideal tool for the artist because it is easy to program through a laptop, and it processes and produces information easily. Hottois sees both his work with arduinos and web design as being comparable to the script writing in theatre, and specifically web design as being akin to directing for global audiences. By adding micro-controllers, Hottois sees these processes as being translated from the digital world into the real world. "Abu Dhabi Pastiche" as an example, contains five micro controllers with one measuring the distance between viewer and the piece of art, and the four others working as a team to produce the light show.

Pieces like "Howard Hughes and Paula Dean", and Hottois' "Art Bots" take this machination to a further degree, bringing the computers out from backstage and making them the actors themselves. In these pieces, Hottois' work takes on a number of new positions in context to the art world and to the viewer. His audience becomes both a spectator and a collaborator, activating the piece, but existentially, in the same way that an artist can make art in seclusion, but it is not validated without a social component. Hottois plays with this even further, referring to his creations in the third person and explaining their motivations, "Art-Bot uses the magnetic field as a muse and then selects a color to use." To reference Sherry Turkle, a pre-eminent thinker of our emotional connections to computers and electronic media and professor at MIT, Hottois' practice is, "making the computer a second self, finding a soul in the machine…" however, unlike a internet based social bot program or an emotive robotic face, Hottois' work enforces the existence of a maker, instead of substituting the human relationship to the hardware as Turkle suggests.

Ultimately, Hottois' work is as ephemeral as it is industrial, in that his pieces can only move and exist for so long before joints wear out, wires snap, and the systems which he has created begin to degrade. This doesn't both Hottois however, as he sees his work in a theatrical sense, where it must be experienced first hand to be fully appreciated, and like Jean Tinguely's metamachanical constructions of the past, their self-destruction becomes an integral part of their conceptual structure. Outside of the normal considerations of Western Art's needs for conservation and eternal presence, Hottois' work speaks to the scientific eventuality of Entropy, the religious and cultural infatuation with eschatology, and the phenomenological considerations of the art audience. Almost poetically, Hottois' piece "Howard Hughes and Paula Dean", a pair of programmed, agoraphobic sculptures, which were on display at the Auer Center for the Arts, were accidentally destroyed by a viewer who knocked their pedestal over. Being that there programming dictated their agitation due to the presence of a viewer, it is interesting to note that their last action was to simulate a fear of people, while they were being knocked over by their own audience.

Sean Hottois is a maker of makers. His art form allows him to distance himself from the issues which he is interested in exploring, allowing him a keen objectivity and novel approach to aesthetic production. By creating small, empathic machines, Hottois notes that he is learning through his art, and seeing the world in a different way through them. This is certainly also the experience which his work instills in his audience as well, as both the art world and the general viewer must learn to see his work in context to the art world and in relation to themselves.

To find more information and documentation of Sean's work, visit www.seanhottois.com.

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