Member Spotlight: Xuedi and Pedro (Backslash)

We are designers, artists, and educators interested in the relationships people have with technology and how the invisible agendas of those technologies shape our lived experiences.

Our creative practice inhabits the chaotic boundaries between digital and physical and tackles the social and political challenges of designing for and living with emerging technologies. We see technology not only as a medium but as a tool to investigate and be critical about the effects of technology itself on society. It’s our belief that creativity should be merged with technology not only in the name of innovation and capitalism but to stimulate human potential and to improve human relations.

Our work has been exhibited around the world and is internationally recognized in publications such as the New York Times, CNN, Fast Company, Wired, ELLE, Huffington Post, ARTE, Core77, KUNSTJAHR, Vice, and more. Our research has been presented at The New Media Caucus at College Arts Association, SXSW Interactive, Laboratorio Arte Alameda, Open Hardware Summit, Radical Networks, and Hackers On Planet Earth.

1. Tell us a little about your background and your trajectory as an artist/ scholar.

Xuedi: I was born in China and grew up in upstate New York. My art education started quite early while still living in China. Going to weekly drawing classes at the local youth center was a very fond memory. I received an architecture degree from Pratt, where I learned strategy, design research, a way of thinking that is centered around humans, and got to hone my skills in making digitally and physically. That’s also where I was first exposed to the possibilities of emerging tech in the creative space. I was really interested in what interactive media could be in a physical context.

Pedro: Before coming to NYC, I spent 10+ years working with art direction, design, and visual effects. I grew up in a small town in Brazil, so art for me was a mix of the classics that I would see in books at the library and local artisans and naïve artists that would exhibit in local fairs. I think deep inside I always thought of myself more of a designer or an inventor than an artist; designing, tinkering, and building things. Maybe I didn’t know what to call it at the time – New Media Art seems like a good fit.

We met each other while working towards our masters at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. We quickly discovered our shared passion for exploratory design and hands-on experimentation to dissect and think about complex ideas and we have been collaborating ever since. ITP is often described as a school for the recently possible and it gave us the space to combine our passion for interactive art, new media, and design to our curiosity with the many complicated social, cultural, and political facets of emerging technology. 

2. What are some of your main influences?

Our creative practice is research-driven and we are interested in the social and political challenges of designing for and living with emerging technologies. We strive to gain a deeper insight into how our decisions and technologies can shape social values.

Something that we are continuously influenced by is the frugal innovations and creative appropriations of available resources. This alternative engineering can be seen as a science and an art form, resulting in smart improvisations that stretch the intended purposes of objects. We are inspired by the resulting social constructs, and subcultures that have developed around these non-eurocentric views and relationships to technology.  Some of these are known as Jugaad in India, Gambiarra in Brazil, and Shanzhai in China

3. New Media is …….

…a liminal space. It is a space that encompasses the old and the new, a space of transformation, a space that is incomplete by nature. The transitory atmosphere motivates us to keep learning, teaching, exploring, and defining what it means to be social beings in this new space. 

4. What is your typical day like?

We typically split our time between teaching, personal research, and consulting/commercial work. When there isn’t a pressing deadline for client work, we have days dedicated to teaching and course work and days for design and research for current projects and future ideas. Our work and research usually take us to different places, but right now during the pandemic, it’s all being done online.

On our project days, we are doing a mixture of writing, research, learning new tools, sketching, design, and physical/digital prototyping. Like many creatives, our research seems to seep into every part of our day from the media we consume to what we see while out for a walk. We never really take a break from learning and collecting inspirations for our practice.

5. What are you working on now?

Currently, we are in the weeds preparing for the fall semester. COVID has brought significant challenges and we have been working all summer to ideate and strategize for the best learning experience possible with the current constraints. 

An ongoing research has been educating ourselves about the new technologies being implemented against protesters, paying close attention to the major movements around the world this year like the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and the BLM protests in the US. We are also working on new research that investigates the relationship of social-political conflicts and environmental justice.

6. Do you have a collaborative idea that you want to get off the ground?

We are currently writing proposals for a new media project in collaboration with communities in the global south. This project will explore the possibilities for more visceral interactions with people & their local ecology, bridging the gap of communication between humans and the biosphere. We are interested in understanding the cybernetic nature of humans and their built environment, how people change and are changed by their social and ecological surroundings, and how these factors might express differently in an urban, suburban, or rural setting.

7. What is the most recent thing you’ve learned?

We love learning and being inspired by nature and biology. Just last week we learned about a small but mighty builder, the bagworm caterpillar. After they hatch, the caterpillar will build a cocoon to protect itself, but they reinforce the cocoons with sticks, leaves, moss, whatever plant matter is available in their environment. The resulting architecture range from a neat pod of twigs to remarkable miniature log cabins carefully designed in a meticulous mathematical pattern that spirals to a pointed tip. These are also mobile, the caterpillar will carry the houses around with them as they feed and add to it as they grow. They are like an ingenious mashup of hermit crab, architect, and Katamari!