Andrew Demirjian is an interdisciplinary artist who works with remix, rhythm and ritual. Demirjian’s work playfully upends cultural obsessions of self-improvement, optimization and efficiency. He creates unconventional environments for critical reflection where layers of language and sound shape space. Andrew’s work is often presented in non-traditional exhibition spaces and takes the form of interactive installations, generative art, multi-channel audiovisuals and live performances.
Andrew’s work has been exhibited at The Museum of the Moving Image, Eyebeam, Fridman Gallery, Transformer Gallery, Rush Arts, the White Box gallery, the Center for Book Arts, The Newark Museum and many other galleries, festivals and museums. The MacDowell Colony, Nokia Bell Labs, Puffin Foundation, Artslink, Harvestworks, Rhizome, Diapason, The Experimental Television Center, The Bemis Center, LMCC Swing Space, the MIT Open Documentary Lab and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts are among some of the organizations that have supported his work. Andrew teaches theory and production courses in emerging media in the Film and Media Department and the Integrated Media Arts MFA program at Hunter College.
1. Tell us a little about your background and your trajectory as an artist/ scholar.
I came to art from the field of music and was lucky to have been signed to two record labels and tour all over the country. I loved working with language and rhythms but felt really limited by the structures of the music industry like song formats and rigid configurations of live music environments – the stage/audience dichotomy. Much of my work since then has been focused on finding new ways of organizing language, sound and the body in space.
I also like to use programming to work with words, where parsing texts by different syntax, grammars or phonemes can allow you to listen to a collection of voices and hear something new. It is kind of like finding different musical scales or modes with archives of text.
As a scholar, I like to bring these interdisciplinary approaches into the classroom. So, in my undergraduate Creative Code class, students are learning the fundamentals of programming while creating generative poetry, music and drawing projects. This article I wrote recently for the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy goes into some detail on a module for that course that may be of interest for NMC readers. I also teach graduate classes that focus on working with words as an artistic medium (a new class called Language to be Looked at and/or Things to be Read) as well as sound installation and multi-modal remix.
2. What are some of your main influences?
My practice is very interdisciplinary, I’m really tuned into architecture and the body, sound in space, poetry and language – the intentional and unintentional detritus of all of these in the world are equally inspiring. Just being in a space and listening without any preconceived objectives can be inspiring.
One of the nice things about teaching is you can become inspired your own creative thinking through research on a topic, so you are constantly expanding your frames of reference. For example, when developing the Language to be Looked at and/or Things to be Read course for the IMA, I got to go deeper into the work of people like Caroline Bergvall, a.rawlings, xtine burrough, Monica de la Torre, Himali Singh Soin, Kyle Booten and Lillian Yvonne Bertram. Each approach opens new possible doors and interesting combinations.
I tend to like artists who are formally experimental but have some kind of grain of voice in their work that still feels human like Jennifer Walsh or Eric Baus. On the computational poetry side of things, I can’t wait to dig into Nick Montfort’s new book Golem. Although our work is different, I love how his books operate on multiple levels, you can kind of feel a type of consciousness arise between the printed word and the code that generated it that I find compelling. And, like musicians that you follow over time, you feel like there is a conversation between their new and old work, you see their shifting engagements with the world that are present in each new project.
3. New Media is …….
New Media is a program that continually generates definitions of new media 😉
4. What is your typical day like?
My days vary wildly, but I like to start off with a short 20 minute vedic meditation, then shift into a short yoga and pilates, to just connect with my body before the onslaught of the day begins.
If I’m teaching, I’m usually making some kind of update or tweak to a class, bringing something new in, changing something that I didn’t feel worked well the last time. I like to try and have one day in a week that is open. I feel like the neo-liberal world of maximizing efficiency and endless precarity is something we all need to keep at bay for our sanity.
If I’m not teaching, I try to spend some time coding, learning new techniques or sketching some new computational poetry piece with NLP and Python and then later in the day tackle whatever project I’m currently developing. For me, working in programming is like a little bit of Zen, a small controllable universe amongst the chaos of life, it is a strange pleasure.
Every couple of weeks I try to have one morning or an afternoon that I take off completely. Sometimes by not having an agenda and going wherever the mind/body wants to go you get to where the productive/deadline person ‘has’ to go in a way that reframes whatever the goal was that you thought you had. You see something that looked important and consider it from a different perspective that shifts it entirely. Deep creativity is valued in our culture, but there is nothing that is set up to help provide people with the time for creative work. So, I need to insert nothingness into my existence periodically to get perspective and clarity if that makes any sense. Sometimes just the idea of taking a morning off or an hour away from answering emails to read something that your excited about can realign your mood.
5. What are you working on now?
I just finished a new piece that was part of a collaboration with engineers from Nokia Bell Labs. I was with a cohort in the Experiments in Art & Technology at NEW INC that was working in partnership with Canberk Gurel, Michael Baldwin, Ethan Edwards and Danielle Mcphatter in the Murray Hill office. It was amazing to be in such a historic place and work with an amazing group of people. They have a division there that is experimenting with new possible uses for drones and one of the things I saw on a tour early on was a drone with a megaphone attached. It was a project that was prototyped as an emergency early warning system in Sendai, Japan in case of a natural disaster like another earthquake or tsunami.
My project, called recalibrating, is about an emergency response drone that scours the landscape looking for human life in a world where people are mysteriously absent. I was reading a lot about AI at the time and extrapolated a speculative fiction story that explores notions of artificial curiosity and machine self-actualization through the lens of non-human consciousness, languages of communication and the poetry of interfaces. The piece, along with all of the work from the cohort, is on view in the First Look: New Art Online series from the New Museum and Rhizome. I’m currently working on developing a multi-channel audio installation version of the piece which will be featured at Harvestworks on Governors Island this summer.
Also, If you are interested in locative artwork, I’m on the editorial board for a new Audio AR ‘zine called (RE)VERB that is dedicated to spatially conceived literary creative projects. The ‘zine exists as a mobile app where literary/sonic artworks are publicly available and written specifically for locations determined by writers/artists across the globe. I’ll send an announcement out to the NMC when the call begins for that opportunity, please submit your ideas, we would love to hear from you.
6. Do you have a collaborative idea that you want to get off the ground?
I love to collaborate with different artists. Last year the painter/ceramicist Dahlia Elsayed and I worked on an installation for Transformer Gallery in Washington, DC. For this project, we collaborated with fourteen other painters, sculptors and new media artists to activate different sections of the space. It was great to work with talented people like Rashin Fahandej, Farhad Bahram and Lara Baladi and I would love to develop a more fully integrated co-creation process with artists from the Southwest Asia and North Africa (SWANA) region and diaspora. I’m interested in collaboratively developing an alternative to the historical narrative of colonization, crisis and territoriality portrayed by Western media of the region.
7. What is the most recent thing you’ve learned?
This is a great question. Here are some new things I’ve been learning from different fields. I’ve been reading bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress, I think there will be an NMC discussion of this text sometime soon, I am looking forward to that and applying these ideas to emerging media classroom spaces and exercises. I was recently playing with some acrostics using Natural Language Processing and python, there were some fun technical and aesthetic challenges there that I liked. For the Nokia Bell Labs piece, I was spending a lot of time going between Max, Ableton, Premiere and After Effects. There was a cool technique I didn’t know existed, where you can select two adjacent clips in a Premiere timeline then right click them to create a transition composition in After Effects, which came in super handy under a tight deadline. Also, I like when theorists try to define or provide insights into our current moment. I thought these two articles read side by side kind of had some intriguing resonances that I’d like to keep pondering. The first is Kyle Chayka’s article ‘How Nothingness Became Everything We Wanted’ and the other is Caroline Busta’s article ‘The internet didn’t kill counterculture—you just won’t find it on Instagram’.