PROFILE | Daniel Shanken

We interview artist Daniel Shanken about his degree show at Goldsmiths MFA 2012, and what he has coming up for the new year.

Your degree show at Goldsmiths was a wonderful mix of work that interacted with one another - with lights switching themselves on&off, a chair sparking with electricity, and a walking sculpture. Where do you ideas come from?

My final show at Goldsmiths was the solidifying of a lot of my past projects and ideas into one lubricated space that was slippery, in that it was not completely graspable, directing the viewer to many places at once.

At the time, I was researching different ways of breaking down ingrained patterns and assumptions, through the overloading and amalgamation of contradictory, familiar, and violent content.

For the show I was interested in using those ideas to play back an abundance of information and stimulation that gradually transformed the space into a sort of background against which another designation of meaning could emerge. I wanted to turn the physical space and its contents into a sort of dissolving view that hopefully oscillated in such a way that it cannibalized on its own ability to generate meaning, and a clear notion of linear space.  

The individual pieces also reflect these ideas, acting out patterns of interference that elevated/degraded the images or video clips that were attached to them. Most of the pieces started with a photo or video taken from a pedestrian perspective that were then driven to redirect the relationship with the content, as a whole.

So is it fair to say that the behaviour of the audience, once placed in this environment, is part of the work?

Yes, I think this space and most of my work relies on an audience to some extent. Although some people will see things that others won't and the timing of the work is spaced out enough that some people might not see anything happen and just walk away. I think that is ok and I am interested in the fact that people will come away with different things, be it excitement, boredom, or even distress. Some of the pieces, like the electric bench and the high intensity lights during the video, affect people differently, more so than the vacuuming photograph. Some people will actually yell or hit the works and sometimes this reaction is contagious - I have seen multiple people smack the electric bench on a few occasions.

Are you interested in the physics/engineering of making these works - or is your interest more in their relationship to each other, and to the audience?
Making mechanized time-based objects is something I have been doing since I was a kid, as my father was an inventor and we used to make robots and things like that all of the time. I feel like that part of it, making things that take on a life of their own, incorporates something performative that has the potential for many outcomes including failure, in itself, or the possibility to affect other people by putting them in a different space, one that can transform with the works themselves. The disruptions that are scripted vibrate the banalities of the static space that precedes and follows them. The mechanisms that are visible propel the imagery but hopefully blend in enough that they do not take over. Also, the 'cause and effect' nature of the work is reflected as much physically in the engineering as in the effect they have on the audience, so, I think in a way there is a relationship between the two, in that one informs the other.

What influences you most?

A lot of my work uses devices from sociology, hypnotherapy, and also scripted spaces in the retail and corporate environment. I am looking to the work of Milton Erickson, Harold Garfinkel, and Victor Gruen, among others. All of these people have dealt with the scripting of or manoeuvring around a critical space, making it into something that is more about plunging you into darkness to see, rather than showing you something directly.

Do you have some new projects coming up next year?

I am currently working on some new pieces for a group show organised by N/V_PROJECTS opening on January 10th 2013 at the Dye House, Peckham. I also have a solo show in the works in May at the Victorian Vaults and a few other projects in development.

Daniel Shanken

Posted on
20 December 2012