Viewing entries in



Ivy Ross is the Vice President of Design for Hardware Products at Google and has innovated team experiences and products across her ventures in fashion, jewelry, hardware, and user experience design. We sat down with her to explore the creative process, the role of intuition in business and innovation, and how human connection builds the landscape for collective potential.




Rimma Boshernitsan: Let's start with your childhood. What stands out as most formative?

Ivy Ross: I grew up in my father's house. He was an industrial designer and carefully designed every doorknob, every handle — everything. I grew up surrounded by details that broke conventional boundaries.

My father was very influential for me. He would encourage me to look at the subtleties of the world, to see beyond what it appears to be. He taught me how to abstract the tangible, to truly observe; not just objects, but people, too. I realized early on that there is design and intention in everything. I learned to notice the places where things connect, both within physical objects and in the way humans interact.

My father would take me to car shows when I was really young. I was so young and small that I was at eye level with the hubcaps. In examining how the hubcaps were made, how every hubcap was different, I would sink into a flow state. I would look at the way the spokes were connected, how it was polished, and how all the pieces came together so intentionally. I think that is why I became a metalsmith because it was the first thing that I spent so many hours deeply investigating.

My mother was a tap dancer and a violin player. She gave it all up for my father when they got married. Seeing this inspired me to say, “I don't ever want to be an acquisition.” I saw what she gave up and there were times when you could see in her eyes, what she wished she had.

RB: Your first professional design experience started in jewelry, or as you said, metalsmithing. How did this thread of interest develop throughout your childhood?

IR: As a kid, I would crawl into my dad’s office and play with different materials. I remember he had this chain-mail material. I took out my screwdriver and made a dress out of the chain mail metal. Some people were surprised, but I thought, “Here is this incredible material, what else could I do with it?” I just wanted to play with it, follow my curiosities. I wanted to see what would happen if I opened up the links and re-hooked them as I pleased. My exploration became a dress.

These early explorations continued to grow, and I was continually drawn towards becoming a jeweler because jewelry could be anything. Jewelry was used for magical reasons, such as talismans, and carries a rich history of decoration, adornment, and ritual. It could also be very graphic. I was intrigued by its richness and versatility.

RB: Do you still make jewelry?

IR: Not anymore. There are so many opportunities to explore, and when they present themselves I am become intrigued and must explore. For instance, I studied bio-geometry, taught by Dr. Karim, an architect and philosopher, and learned how shapes and forms express different energies. We worked with a pendulum to observe the difference of even the slightest shifts in angles, and how that would shift the energy given off. If I ever return to creating jewelry, I would be more conscious to incorporate specific geometry into all of the forms I invent.

RB: You’ve mentioned before how important intuition has been for your work, both as a designer and in your personal life. Have you always been intuitive?

IR: I think I have been. Once you see your intuition working for you — after you take that initial leap — you begin to develop the courage to live your entire life that way. It may seem illogical, but I’ve seen it work.

I breathe in both art and science. I am both logical and intuitive. So, of course, I go through pragmatic thinking, but after I have all the data, I have to trust the feeling in my body when I know things are true. It is a very certain sensation and while it can be frightening at first, I have learned to follow it.

Part of my intuition developed during my time in the fashion world. Fashion appears frivolous, but I have found it to be an intuitive cultural metrometer. It is often tied to the sociological currents of the moment, almost as a collective unconscious. When you're in the fashion business, you really have to listen to those currents to get a sense of what is coming, where materials should evolve to, and what people are going to be craving. To get there you have to take the facts, yes, but at the end of the day, you make intuitive calls.

RB: How has your sense of intuition changed the way you lead teams for innovation?

IR: My intuition allows me to see who people really are, what their talents are, and where their true gifts flourish. We often put people in organizational chart boxes, and we keep them there because they become an expert in the box we put them in. But we're all a product of our experiences, so as our experiences change, we change, and our talents grow. My sense of intuition has encouraged me to create situations or roles that allow people to shine in new ways, that in some cases, were very atypical.


I do this because true innovation cannot come from people being run through a routine process. Teams that push the edge of innovation are those that are designed to allow for creativity. And the best way for people to create is not when they are in the fight or flight zone, but rather when there is safety. It is then that the brain can be calm enough to explore.

I am reminded of a time I went into the Amazon jungle twenty-five years ago. I remember sitting on a log and looking down at what I thought was a vine covered in leaves, but as I continued examining the vine I realized that there were thousands of little ants carrying leaves on their back. The whole jungle was full of this extraordinary phenomenon. There was no machinery. There was no industrial revolution, but every species was taking care of their collective ecosystem. Everything was beautifully designed to do just that. I remember thinking, "Wow, if this is the model of life, why would we assume we know more than this?"

Moments like these throughout my life are what propelled me into developing the Project Platypus — a deep understanding that there is a different way for us to create that's more aligned with how nature creates.

RB: Would you mind telling us more about Project Platypus? What contributed to its development?

IR: Project Platypus developed in reaction to the burning need for genuine, playful, and thoughtful creation. In some ways, it started twenty years ago when I began studying sound vibration, prompted by common phrases like, “he's on the same wavelength” or “she's got good vibes.” I wondered if there was a scientific foundation to these sayings and experiences. I knew from working with teams that getting on the same “wavelength” enabled safe exploration, allowing people to get to new places together, to brainstorm creatively and truly innovate. I thought, “What if I could purposefully orchestrate a collective wavelength?”

This all informed my experiment with Project Platypus, which formally began while I was working at Mattel with approximately 300 people under me. I asked for twelve volunteers with whom I would start reinventing the creative process. At first, the entire project was ‘underground’ because I had to prove that it worked, even though I knew that it would before I even did it.

We utilized sound chairs designed to enable and enhance individual creativity by playing music encoded with binaural beats, the aural equivalent of an optical illusion, in an effort to affect an individual’s central nervous system. I knew that the times when I have my best ideas, the left and right half of my brain were working together, and so I thought, If the brain is a muscle, could we create an exercise to bring both halves of their brain together to increase creativity?

Creativity comes from trust and freedom and setting up trust between the two. The connection between people is what makes ideas spiral into a new place.

We then changed the conventional cycle. For instance, if we were given twelve weeks for our design period, I would portion off the first two weeks just to connect, create bonds of mutual trust and interest, and feed new input from a wide variety of disciplines into the system. I wanted to give the gift of human connection on the deepest level so they truly understood who they were creating with. Once the trust developed, we could be curious together and start asking questions that challenged our limits. Then we explored what solutions might be developed together.

RB:  Developing trust and connection has such a powerful ripple effect when such diverse minds come together. How have designed for this cross-pollination in your projects?  

IR: An example of Project Platypus in action is when we were working to develop a ‘funny’ toy. Instead of recycling all of our old systems, we tried to upend our process and restart with some of the deep questions underlying the product, for instance, “What is laughter? What is humor?” Within our initial two weeks of trust-building, I found a Professor of Laughter at UCLA, as well as Moisha the Clown, who taught people how to laugh in third world countries after war. I was aiming to curate an inflow to inspire the team with new information so that they could come out with new ideas. Because the bonds of trust had been developed and they had all learned together, there was no competition. It is in these moments that diversity within a team truly kicks in. You see that while every mind receives the same information, it is processed differently, has its own unique experiences, and is put through a distinct filter, which in turn collectively sparks something new.

Creativity comes from trust and freedom and setting up trust between the two. The connection between people is what makes ideas spiral into a new place.

RB: You frequently draw from new areas that inspire you. What are some of the underlying themes that connect your curiosities?

IR: The underlying theme of everything is human potential. Every curiosity is connected to my desire to understand the human condition and how we amplify our experience to become the best version of ourselves. What does well-being really look like in mind, body and spirit?

Happiness is following my curiosities enough to feel a sense of awe.

This question has propelled me to study everything, from biogeometry to energy medicine. I do not study these things because I want to be a doctor in energy medicine someday, but because by following my curiosities, I feel as though I am learning to put the mysteries of life together. In some ways I see my whole life as one big creative act.

My recent fascination is how powerful our thoughts are over our cells. My interest was prompted by a lecture I heard by Bruce Lipton, an American biologist, who was talking about epigenetics years ago. Yes, we have DNA, but that just means potential, right? Both positive and negative. Our lifestyle, our daily action, and our thoughts communicate to our cells and we change over time.

RB: What are the implications of this knowledge?

IR: I read an article 20 years ago that stuck with me. The most “genius” people in the field were interviewed — the most genius surgeon, lawyer, CEO — and what they all had in common was that they would spend time imagining the steps that would get them to the outcome they wanted in advance. For example, the surgeon would envision the steps of the surgery he was going to perform later that day while he was running in the morning, and the lawyer would see in his mind how he wanted the case to turn out.

It was clear that the act of imagining had an impact on the neuroplasticity of our brain. I've been fascinated ever since. I’m also smiling to myself right now because I see the connection; creative people imagine alternative possibilities. But the potential consequences of this understanding goes beyond simply being creative. We are beginning to explore how imagining possibilities has a true impact on how events unfold. You're creating new pathways of possibilities that bring a fresh approach to everything we do.

RB: It is exciting to imagine how this frontier will continue to unfold. To close, what is your idea of perfect happiness?

IR: Discovering something new or being in awe makes me happy. For me, ‘awe’ is when I discover a new aspect of an object, an interaction, a phenomenon. Its when I connect the dots. I'm similar to a little kid in that way. It can be very simple things or very complicated. Happiness is following my curiosities enough to feel a sense of awe. As long as I have those experiences, I can get through anything. I always feel like those moments of awe are inside of me.


Interview: In DIALOGUE // Alexander Rose & Phil Libin


Exploring the layers of human civilization, we sat with Phil Libin, founder and CEO of All Turtles, and Alexander Rose, Executive Director at The Long Now Foundation and the 10,000 Year Clock project, to discuss the tensions between long-term planning and the role of products in shaping our future. 





Rimma Boshernitsan: We start all our interviews by diving into people's backgrounds — how they grew up, where they grew up, and the relationships of their past. Alexander, we’ll start with you: what was your beginning like?

  Alexander Rose portrait by Christopher Michel

Alexander Rose portrait by Christopher Michel

Alexander Rose: I grew up on the Sausalito Waterfront. It is now a shipyard, but back then it was a junkyard left over from World War II. We were all builders, artists and people ‘in between’ that needed free living. It was an awesome place to grow up. I spent my childhood building infinite forts and finding parts to create whatever came to mind. When it came time to getting a formal education, I fundamentally knew I wanted to be an inventor. There's no inventing degree or school, so I got a degree in industrial design. I went to San Francisco State University (SFSU) for two years and took their Industrial Arts program which was a phenomenal blue-collar design program, with an amazing shop of tools like injection molding machines.

After my two years at SFSU, I got into Carnegie Mellon’s Industrial Design program and completed it after three years. When I returned to San Francisco in the mid-1990’s, I started working in virtual world design for Chrysler and Marketing for LucasArts. I eventually got very frustrated that my 20-hour workday would only turn into a CD-Rom that was about as valuable as a coaster a week after it came out. Because of my mother’s local community and political involvement as a mayor and county supervisor, she connected me to Stewart Brand, the founder of The Long Now Foundation, editor of The Whole Earth Catalogue, who lived on a tugboat in Sausalito. She introduced us and we quickly became friends. I shared my frustration with Stewart and he was able to get me a bunch of great interviews.  

As a result, I was interviewing at Blizzard Entertainment (the World of Warcraft people doing video games). I thought, "Wow, this is going be the best possible video game job I could ever have." And then Stewart told me about The Clock Project. Back then the project was just a conversation between Danny Hillis, Brian Eno, and Stewart, but I just couldn't get it out of my head when I heard about it. By strange luck, there was a Board meeting a week after where I met Danny for the first time. It was then that he told me he had a funder for the first prototype of the Clock and asked if I wanted to help build it. I immediately said, "Yes, this is what I want to do. I don't want to work on video games anymore."

Originally, the plan was to just build a prototype of the Clock. We didn't know if anything would come of it, but we slowly emerged into a future-oriented space with The Long Now Foundation, and started building more projects from the springboard of the Clock.


RB: Phil, you immigrated to the states at a young age, what was your childhood like?

  Photo by Michael O'Donnell

Photo by Michael O'Donnell

Phil Libin: I was born in Russia. My parents are both classical musicians. My father is a violinist, my mother a pianist. I grew up without any musical talent at all. My parents, having figured it out early on, actually gave up trying to teach me music when I was about four. Russians do not teach a child music for their own good, they only do so if there is a chance that they would be a world class musician—otherwise, why bother?


RB: So they gave you books?  

PL: Yes, they gave me books! We moved to the U.S. when I was eight, and I grew up mostly in the Bronx in New York City. It was 1979. We were the only Russians in the neighborhood at the time. I got my first computer when I was pretty young and just hacked around on it without any particular plans. I thought I would do something involving computers but was not really specific about it. I started doing programming consulting work when I was a kid, and eventually started my first company in high school.


RB: Phil -- Sci-Fi has had a significant influence on your dedication to innovation and invention. How has Sci-Fi influenced your work?

PL: When I moved here I didn't speak any English. I was old enough to remember, so I remember not understanding anything and then I remember understanding it. I never took any formal classes but learned by reading comic books and watching TV. I was reading Thor, so all of my early English was influenced by how the main character speaks in comic books. I also watched TV, and since my dad used to really like Star Trek, I started watching Star Trek around that age.

The Sci-Fi that I gravitated towards was about long-term planning and thinking, but I never understood that to be my job until I read The Clock of the Long Now, by Stewart Brand. It was one of the most influential books of my life. I thought, "Wow, these people are actually doing it. It's all plausible.” There is no gap between where we are now and some point 10,000 years later. There is a continuation.

Planning for 10,000 years into the future is perceived as silly because it seems too arrogant, or conceited, or self-centered. What gives us the right to think that we can plan for 10,000 years? Yet that was the reaction that made it so important to me. People are saying that we're reaching too high, but there isn't even a bar yet. Someone has got to do it.


RB: What products have impacted you that embody this type of future-oriented, long-term planning?  

PL: The 10,000 Year Clock was very influential for me—practicing an understanding that we can’t assume there will be a continuity of arbitrary knowledge about what clocks are and how they work. What if there was a total collapse for a few hundred years and people reemerged without knowing about traditional clocks? Can you still have it make sense? How they tackled this dilemma was awesome.  

Another amazing product was The Rosetta Disk project, designed in an attempt to preserve language for 10,000 years into the future.

AR: We collected parallel information from several thousand languages and micro-etched the language into these disks using gallium ion beam, then cast that into metal. They used the same technology one would use for micro-circuitry, but used it to write actual text, not just 1's and 0's, not just dots and dashes. If you put it under a microscope you can actually read it. It has a data density that's in the realm of what we perceive as digital data, but it's all analog.

RB: Is it visible with the naked eye?

AR: Yes, we made a piece of jewelry out of it. You see a spiral text that says "Languages of the World," then it gets a little bit too small to read. You can see more with a magnifying glass, then with a microscope you can start to read all of it. We give people a little jeweler's magnifier so they can see the pages.

RB: Alexander -- what challenges have you faced while building the 10,000 Year Clock, and what do those challenges tell us about our society and how it might change? 

Whatever I create, what I want most is for the people of that future to think that we gave a shit.

AR: There were certainly many engineering and material science challenges, but the ones we struggle with the most are the aesthetic and experiential issues.  How do you make something visually compelling to someone 100 years from now?  How about 8,000 years from now? How do we make the whole experience transformational for the people that visit the Clock? Are we only designing the Clock for humans when we talk about these kind of time spans? In order to answer these questions for the project we had to both look into the past about what still compels us as well as take lessons we have learned from things that have failed to do so.

Ultimately we came to the conclusion that people 10,000 years ago are not actually that much different than they are today. Their hands are roughly the same size and shape, they care about beautiful and elegant things, they want the best for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.  We tried to make all our design decisions using similar assumptions about the people of the future.


RB: How do you reconcile the current speed of entrepreneurship and product development, particularly in Silicon Valley, with long-term planning?

PL: Well I think there's an easy answer and then there's the deep answer. The deep answer is Chapter 7 of The Clock of the Long Now. It's a chapter called "The Order of Civilizations" that describes how everything in the universe works in three pages. It's kind of amazing.

  An excerpt from The Clock of the Long Now by Steward Brand

An excerpt from The Clock of the Long Now by Steward Brand

AR: It is described through a diagram. I worked with Stewart and Brian Eno on it and it eventually became the diagram in The Clock of the Long Now. It illustrates the layers of human time, starting with Fashion, Commerce, Infrastructure, Governance, Culture and Nature. The deeper layers move slowly, like Nature, but the ones on the periphery are frenetic, experimental, and wild. These are the layers that incorporate fashion, art, and information technology.

PL: Yup. They go really fast.

AR: Which isn’t bad. What ends up being dangerous is when you do something like skip a bunch of layers and end up affecting the natural world, one of the slower moving layers, without paying attention to everything in between. For instance, when Maxam liquidated all of Pacific Lumber, they wanted to chop down all the old-growth redwood groves, make a bunch of money and walk away. They just took the Commerce layer and were trying to sell something that took millions of years to create and doesn't come back.

PL: Another problematic approach is when you try to lock those layers together. In the Soviet Union they'd make a five-year plan, and they would try to make Art move at the same speed as Culture, as if they could slow it down. But they can't be locked into place. The outer layers have to go faster.


RB: How does the concept of these layers relate to your current work the new AI startup studio, All Turtles?

PL:  The idea with All Turtles is to support the layers, from the top all the way through the bottom. The outer layers, the ones that spin quickly, get all the attention. They innovate. Yet the slower layers have the power to move the world. Young people focus on the fast-moving stuff, but as you get older, you're more and more drawn to the slower moving layers, like infrastructure. We want art to innovate quickly, but we also want to institutionalize the best of what we've learned so can penetrate into the infrastructure layer and throughout society.

The core idea of All Turtles is disrupting the organization of innovation. We're calling bullshit on this idea that you have to make a company to make a product, which has been entrenched for the past 50 years. Right now if you are a great painter, you just paint. You don't make a painting company. If you're a great writer, you write. You don't make a writing company. Yet, if you have a great product vision, you are instructed to raise money and make a company.

We are trying an alternate way to organize the world’s most brilliant people to make products in a way that does not force them to do the very inefficient step of linking it with a company first.


RB: If in 10,000 years someone found what you're both building now what would you ideally want their reaction to be?

PL: Ideally there would be enough continuity where they don't “find it” — they would have simply known about it the whole time. “Finding it” assumes that either something bad has happened or that we haven't done something important enough. Ideally in 10,000 years they would know exactly what it is.

AR: We certainly need a continuation of meaning. Even today, with instructions from IKEA that don't have words, everyone assumes, "Oh, you're going to put the instructions for the clock as diagrams, right?" Which makes us ask, "How well do those Ikea instructions work for you?" It turns out words are actually a lot better than diagrams. And that's concurrent time, just between a Swedish mind and my mind!

Whatever I create, what I want most is for the people of that future to think that we gave a shit. That we cared about them. I think that's the fundamental philosophy behind the Clock, an expression that we actually care about the future. Whenever I'm making design decisions, I ask myself, “How will my design decision make the people of the future think that we cared about them?”


Interview: In DIALOGUE // Erica Deeman


Erica Deeman is a contemporary photographer whose current work in portraiture upturns assumptions on identity, humanity, gender, and race.  Having joined us for a recent Dialogue: On Power, we explore the importance of reframing representation, historical legacy, and the redistribution of power.



  Photographer Erica Deeman by Anastasiia Sapon, San Francisco

Photographer Erica Deeman by Anastasiia Sapon, San Francisco

Ariel Cooper: To start from the very beginning, what was your childhood like?

Erica Deeman: I was born in Nottingham, UK. My mom is Jamaican, my dad is English. I went to an all-girls private school from a very early age, and wore a school uniform every day. I lived in a formal environment and though not clearly spoken, a feminist agenda was present. Since it was an all-girls school, the headmistress was, by her title, a woman, and the focus was on academic excellence. Art was not given a foremost position in terms of my education, but being an educated, intelligent woman definitely was.

AC: How do you see that experience translating into your work?

ED: A formal nature and presentation is a legacy of my education, and the concept of historical references can be seen throughout my work. Having been taught from an early age that you could do anything as a woman, the potential of women has been a theme running through my life, with my first body of work focused on the silhouettes of women.

There were very few references of African diaspora in my childhood, both historical or representational. There were maybe four other women of color in my school and that similarly reflected the society I was growing up in at the time. The history we learned was so blatantly focused on the European perspective. So the concept of historical representation is present in my work as I look back and review the visual stimulus we were given and try to articulate and place people who are not white Europeans.

  Courtesy the artist and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

Courtesy the artist and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

The history we learned was so blatantly focused on the European perspective. So the concept of historical representation is present in my work as I look back and review the visual stimulus we were given and try to articulate and place people who are not white Europeans.

AC:  As if you are creating a different type of history for people to look back on?

ED: Yes, using the framework and the familiarity we have with historical visual references such as portraiture, and re-articulating that for the African diaspora and for people of color.

AC: You mentioned you gravitated towards marketing with a desire to be a creative. How do you see your education in Public Relations informing your work?

ED: Advertising is about a single, clear message that people can understand. With art, you have a little bit more room for interpretation. In some ways, the wider the interpretation, the better the art. The more concise the interpretation for advertising, the better the advert. I understand that repetitious, visual recognitions are crucial to getting your message across. Because I work in series, I create environments where the only thing I'm changing is the person within the portrait. The idea that you can create something that is instantly recognizable as belonging to a campaign or a brand — I definitely still have that within me.

The only difference is that I've given my work a bit more room for interpretation. When you create an ad campaign, the logo has to be the same size. I can see that the spacing and design of my images is very similar, it's almost like there is no real change in dimensions. In some ways, it replicates the way people look at people of color. My work builds off the idea that we group things and we generalize. The work fits into that expectation, but forces you to kind of look further.

AC: This visual recognition is evident throughout your work, with the concept of the silhouette being very prominent. What drew you to the silhouette, and how has that evolved throughout your art career thus far?

ED: The first time I invited a woman from the African diaspora into my studio, the image that I made was a silhouette. I wasn't there to make a silhouette. It's something that I saw. There is a historical importance -- the silhouette is a mass medium that people use and formulate identity from. This is important in the context of my work because women of color were never really included within the silhouette.

It [the silhouette] is strongly linked to features in character. Physiognomy and the legacy of pseudoscience is still within our psyche somewhere. The reality is that we can look at someone's face, or we can look at the shape of a feature, and think, “That person is dishonest, or honorable, or a criminal,” or all these different elements and assumptions. We still have a resting bitch face. We have people that alter their faces to be perceived as more favorable. The silhouette is a tool to enhance and open up that dialogue. With my work, I have the opportunity to give more detail and humanity to my subjects.

AC: Re-envisioning the silhouette to include all the nuances that exists, rather than just an outline or a shell.

ED: Exactly. Through my own experience of moving to the States, I felt the expectation that's placed upon you because of the color of your skin. It's been very important for me to think about how I could open up a wider visual narrative for people of color, for women from the African diaspora, so they could be perceived with more depth and with more character, and with more adjectives used to describe us.

AC: Could you share a bit about the relationship you have with the subjects you photograph and how you choose whom to photograph?

ED: Many of the women I found were strangers from the street. When I started making the work in school, I waited outside in areas of high foot traffic in search for women of color. It isn't important for me to have a deep connection with somebody before I make an image, but it turned out that many of my subjects became friends and helped me find additional people for more photographs.

It is an interesting experience to ask somebody for a formal portrait, because firstly, it is very formal, and secondly, there are so many expectations around beauty, and what it means to be in a portrait within such a formal setting. There's always going to be a problem with beauty, and how it's defined, and I enjoy challenging and asking those questions -- what does it mean to be beautiful within a photograph, and how is it measured and owned?

I realize that within portraiture, I am making the images. It is my interpretation, and a photograph or a visual representation could never really, truly supply any real information about who a person is. So, in a way, my subjects are my great vessels in which I can deliver my message.

AC: Similar themes of authority and representation were prominent in our recent Dialogue: On Power. What reflections do you have on that conversation and how these themes relate to your work?

ED: History is very important for me. As we get access to more information, it's very clear how history is articulated and how it can be re-articulated and redressed. For me, in my work, art has power. It's very important to look at who is making the work, and who is in front of, and the vision of the work, and how that has formed representation. In connection to our dialogue, we all have some measure of power. With my work, I'm trying to re-contextualize it on gallery walls.

We can look at how power has been distributed, and we can use that information as a springboard to create a wider, more sympathetic narrative. I think one of the great successes of the movie Moonlight, is not necessarily this great, dynamic storyline, but just the possibility of emotion for the characters involved. Emotions that challenge us all to think in a broader way. I think that's very powerful. There is power merely in the act of transforming a thought into a deeper emotion that could make one stop for just a second and think, "If this woman can look like this on the gallery wall, maybe she could be this in normal life,” or “maybe he could have so much more depth than what I've previously expected.”

We have people that alter their faces to be perceived as more favorable. The silhouette is a tool to enhance and open up that dialogue. With my work, I have the opportunity to give more detail and humanity to my subjects.

Within a photograph, and within visual depiction, there is power. There is the power to elevate, and there is the power to denigrate. I think that within this environment and within this body of work, it's definitely an empowering, shared moment. Using the portrait and its historical ability to elevate and position, especially within the gallery setting. Within a walled, framed environment that has always been its intention.

AC: You just mentioned creating a more sympathetic narrative. How did that desire influence your creative decisions for your new series, Brown?

ED: Brown came from the expectation about my own heritage. I am biracial, and I have always found that people expected my dad to be black and my mum to be white. It's the other way around. In this series, I wanted to explore that expectation of the black man.

An image can challenge a legacy of physiognomy, this idea of "othering," and the elevation of European features. The portrait has provided a way to understand someone and depending on the depth and environment we assume, "This person looks a particular way, which means this person is fantastic, and great, and all of those wonderful, positive characteristics." But then we've seen other photographs or depictions and assume, "This person is obviously a criminal,” or "This person is dishonest."

For the Brown series, color was incredibly important for me. The backdrop is a color that is very close to my own skin tone as a way to insert myself into the image. Obviously, I am within the image because the portrait is a shared moment, but I wanted to have some kind of physical element of myself within the image. This particular color opens up a narrative about color and definitions. I also used a very formal portrait style that we are used to seeing, but not with men of color. Not with men from the African diaspora.

Another creative decision I made was the naked torso, which speaks to the idea of removing clothing as the key identifier and class positioning for these men. I wanted the viewer to look at the faces within a repetitive environment and try to understand who they are against the beautiful color that is emanating.

When people create work, especially photography, the assumption is that the person creating the work has all of the power. I return back to that word, because the assumption is that you, behind the camera, are in the strongest position. But with this body of work, it's not always true. There is so much of me that I have to give in order to create something that we share together. The process is completely shared in terms of that power dynamic. We are definitely making something together.

  Courtesy the artist and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

Courtesy the artist and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

AC: What are you hoping to bring to your next body of work?

ED: It's always about evaluation. I'm always asking, "How am I evaluated?" In everyday life, I'll walk into an office to look at some prints, and someone's going to say hello to me, and within that split second they are evaluating me.

My practice is centered on evaluation. That is the concept that I always bring to the work. When you look at this person, right now, what are you thinking? How am I being perceived? How am I perceiving the person that's in front of my camera? How is the person in front of a beautiful, framed piece of work in a gallery wall evaluating this person? That's where I am. That's me. I'm always there.

AC: Is there anything you want to share about your current shows at BAMPFA (Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive) and your first show with Anthony Meier Fine Arts?

ED: Other than that I'm super excited about it? No. This will be the first time that so many of my portraits will have been placed on the wall -- over 30 of them. I feel that it's going to widen the narrative of these men and women, and I’m excited to be in both Berkeley and San Francisco!


Edited by Brianna Colburn & Ariel Cooper

Interview: In DIALOGUE // Shantell Martin


Shantell Martin is a British visual artist whose work is a meditation of lines. Creatures, faces, and conversations emerge in Shantell's stream-of-consciousness pieces, as she combines fine art, technology, and performance art. In our conversation, we hear about the evolution of her work, the exploration of identity, and her latest collaboration with a team of MIT neuroscientists, decoding the artistic process into a creative DNA. 



visual artist, shantell Martin on her creative DNA

  Photo credit: Catalina Kulczar

Photo credit: Catalina Kulczar


Rimma Boshernitsan: How did you grow up, and what made you pursue Art as a medium?

Shantell Martin: I grew up in Southeast London, in a place called Thamesmead, built in the late 1960s. It was meant to solve a lack of housing at the time, a place for people of different races and economic status to live together, but it didn’t really work.

It ended up being a predominantly white, working class place. Being mixed-raced meant that I stuck out. I didn't look like anyone around me at school, in my home, outside of school, which contributed to me becoming an artist. If you look like everyone around you, there is more pressure to fit in. But if there's something different, you're given a passport to be the different person.

At that time, I didn't know art was a thing you could do. Art wasn't around me — there were no galleries or museums. I didn't know any artists and I didn't know it could be a career. I did art instinctively. I think I got into it because it was the one thing someone taught me I shouldn’t do. I remember one of my teachers said, "Don't apply to art school, because you won't get in." And because I have a bit of a defiant nature, I said, "Well, this person thinks I can't do it, so I'm going to apply to art school."

Once in art school, everything shifted. You could be different, and it was celebrated, rather than rejected. It also was a revelation to understand that what I was doing naturally, was actually art.

RB: Did you realize that when you were in art school already, or was it before that you came to that realization?

SM: Going to art school made me realize that I was much more confident than many people around me. I think this was a side-effect from growing up in Thamesmead. You had to have a touch-look on the outside, otherwise people would beat you up.

I went to Camberwell College of Arts and did a one-year foundation there, graduated with distinction, and then went to Central St. Martins to do my 3-year BA. I graduated with first class honors. It was good because it reflected how hard I had worked, but also hard because it put pressure on me for the final assignment.

Before art school, I could fail and it didn’t really matter because there were no expectations. Now, I was at the top of my year and suddenly felt a lot of pressure, as if everyone was asking, "Well, what are you going to do?" I felt that people now expected something from me.

RB: Was it pressure from yourself, or did you feel pressure from others?

SM: It was internal. I never had people expecting me to achieve great things or waiting to see what I do next. But it was hard to quiet the voices that say, “you don’t deserve this.”

At that time, I was academically successful, but I didn’t understand what success in life really was. There were all these eyes watching me, but I didn’t even know my next step. It brought up internal conflicts within myself.

As I look back at some of my old work, I think, "Wow. Who is that person?” Outwardly, I was very confident, but internally, there was a deep sense that I didn’t deserve my accomplishments. As I’ve gotten older, these conflicts have subsided. I work hard. I understand that we're all unique in what we are able to give to the world. We have to discover what it is, and we have to work at it. It takes a lot of practice -- but if you work hard enough, you should feel like you deserve to give what you have and receive in return.

RB: What inspired the use of markers over other tools; lines and drawing or painting?

SM: I’ve tried everything, but I've always gravitated toward drawing, even when I was young. Anyone can pick up a pencil or a pen or a marker and draw. It's the most simple, accessible form of art.

After art school I moved to Japan, a country that is very craft-based. There you see generations of craft mastery. One family makes swords, another has mastered ink-blots, or calligraphy, and they do these crafts with such skill. They master it. Being in Japan, and experiencing its culture, I thought to myself, "If I'm going to master one thing in this lifetime, what could it be?"

   Photo credit: George Evan Andreadis  

Photo credit: George Evan Andreadis 

I thought, "What if I make a line, the most accessible element available to all of us, and master that? What if I take a single line and make it look like me? What if I take line and make that my fingerprint, my identity?"

...I thought to myself, “If I’m going to master one thing in this lifetime, what could it be?

RB: Do you feel like your work evolved tremendously after you came back from Japan?

SM: It's a mixture. When I moved to Japan, I was young and no one knew me. I didn’t speak the language and I wasn’t trapped by certain stereotypes of who I should be. Being there, gave me space to ask, "Who am I? Who do I want to be?"  Without a confirmed identity, I could explore. The entire experience was really valuable.

My work in Japan was predominantly digital. I was half-doing these very detailed drawings with pen and paper on one side, and then on the other side, I got into live-performance and drawing live. I would draw under camcorders, and do visuals in clubs to alongside DJ's, dancers, and musicians. I would connect my computer to a drawing tablet and then connected that to a projector.

The great thing about having hours and hours to draw in a club, digitally, to music, is that you don't have time to think about what you're doing. You don't have time to hesitate, you don't have time to be anyone else. You just create a line.

Just imagine you've done that for hours in the club, and then you pick up a marker and you put that marker in your hand, and you're like, "Oh wait. I can just draw. I don't have to think about drawing, and I don't have to look at what I'm drawing, and I don't have to stall or hesitate about what I'm drawing, because I did this for so many hours in the club." It works with a pen in my hand on the wall or on a car, or on a shirt, or on a face, so the work I did in Japan really laid the foundation for what I do now.

RB: Would you say that your work while in  laid out the foundation for the work that came out of artist residency at Autodesk, Pier 9?

SM: Yeah, I think my residency at Pier 9 was an evolution. When I got to Pier 9, I was comfortable with my line. But I had to ask myself, “How do I continue to grow? How can I get uncomfortable again? How can I be vulnerable again?” So I started inventing tools which allowed me to draw two lines, or bold lines, or multiple thickness of lines at the same time. The work that I did at Pier 9 evolved out of trying to get uncomfortable again.

RB: Did the residency at Pier 9 change the way that you connect with other artists?

SM: Yes and no. When I got back from Japan and arrived in New York, I would visit galleries and they would say "We love your work. Where have you shown?" and I'd say, "Oh, I haven't," and they'd respond, "Oh, well thank you, but no thank you."

It was a catch-22 — if you hadn’t had your work in a gallery, others assumed you couldn’t sell your work, and wouldn’t take the risk of giving you a show. It was all about commerce. So I had to take galleries completely out of the equation. If galleries weren’t a platform for my art, I would create a new platform.

Now, I’ve built a career on being an independent artist. I've shown at institutions, at museums, I lecture, I teach, I travel, I produce my own shows, I work with brands. Yet I’ve continued to work against the boxes people try to put me in. Why do people put artists in a box? Well, because it's easier to sell. I think we need to work on combating the perspective that art is only for people who can spend money on it. I’m on a journey to make people feel welcomed into the world of art. Art has such a huge benefit to us as a people, and we need to make it more accessible, not exclusive and elitist. It it a movement, and it is growing.  

RB: Would you say there's one person or several people that have inspired your work? Or has it been something internal?

SM: It has been more internal, especially since most of my work is spontaneous. It's intuitive. Yes, there is a layer of process and practice underneath, but the bottom line is, I am meditating through drawing, through spontaneity. It takes a lot of intention to be intuitive. You have to allow yourself to open, to draw it all from the inside out.

I am inspired by external forces when I see people who are committed, working hard, being compassionate, and selfless. When I see those types of people, I think to myself, "Wow. I want to be more compassionate like that person," or, "I want to be more forgiving like that person." They are values we can all aspire to.

RB: Has it meant anything for you to have people watch you as you work?

SM: Immensely so. It is important to have people watch what I do for a number of reasons, mostly selfish ones.  First, it keeps me honest, and it keeps me working. If I'm by myself, it's easy to get distracted. But when people are watching me, I remember who I am — an artist. I have to do what I do. Secondly, I am passionate about engaging with my audience. Rarely is the audience involved in the practice of creating the art. Usually the artist will work in a studio and then their work turns up framed in a gallery. The engagement opens up possibility. Perhaps I’ll get inspired from an interaction.

Also, I feel as though there is a collective magic in our joint creation. When you have a final piece of work, everyone will engage with it in their own way, bringing their own emotional baggage in their perception. But when the work is actually being produced, we all share that experience. For me, that process is the work, that moment when the drawing unfolds and people join me there.

RB: It sounds like the evolution of your work has changed your perception of connection.

SM: Definitely, connection is sharing, and if I can share my moment of what I do, then I'm connecting with people, and visa versa.

RB: What’s next for you?

SM: I'm working on several things at the moment. I have a show at Albright Knox opening early next year. It is after the Picasso show which is pretty exciting.

An ongoing project that I'm excited about is a collaboration with a PhD Neuroscientist, Sarah Schwettmann, from MIT. She's in the Brain and Cognitive Science (BCS) department. Turns out that we are asking very similar questions in our work, such as "where does the creative process come from?" and "what is our creative fingerprint?"

This project is an attempt to decode the creative process into its core elements, similar to how we think of human DNA, in hopes of finding the fingerprint of each particular artist.

For example -- In my artistic process, I start with a single line. I think of it as the DNA. Once I’ve finished that line, I see the negative spaces and depending on its shape, I either see a tree or face. It is almost as if the drawing is completed in my mind before I’m finished. But I was curious to examine if seeing a completed image from this one line, will allow me to see something similar in two weeks? In a year? So we sought out to have artificial intelligence learn my drawing to see if we could discover a creative fingerprint of Shantell Martin.

Imagine if we’re able to collect the data of an artist throughout their entire career to see how they evolve.

A lot of this process starts with data collection, which tracks the trends of my work across hundreds of pieces, so we can start to build out the DNA. We can synthesize all of this to show that, for example, 98% of the time I will put a face in a particular shaped negative space. Eventually, we want to set up an experiment to test if someone who has never seen my work before would drag and drop similar elements into the lines I create. Is there a pattern? If it is the same as me, am I still unique? How does my “fingerprint” play out here? Or how is collective consciousness tied into this process?

This is all just the first stage, but at some point we could create a software which allows people to try this out for themselves, ending up with their “creative fingerprint,” or perhaps I could devise a tool for myself to record all the data from my drawing.  

I wish I could go back to when I was young and weird and start recording data then. We can't do that, but what if I could have a device that captures and analyzes the evolution of my line for the rest of my life?




Liat Segal, a multidiscplinary artist and former researcher at Microsoft Innovation Labs in Tel Aviv, joins us for our second installment of 'Five Questions With...'

In her work, Liat harnesses information, software, electronics and mechanics to build installations and machines that connect the physical world with virtual ones. Observing inconsistencies and dissonances that rise when personal lives meet ever-evolving technological environments, Liat questions issues such as intimacy vs. alienation, privacy vs. over-exposure, identity and originality as they reflect in technology.


In dialogue // LIAT SEGAL

  Photo Credit: Liat Segal

Photo Credit: Liat Segal

Rimma Boshernitsan: Tell us a little bit about your background, where you grew up and how that influenced your current work?

Liat Segal: I was brought up in Israel of the 1980's. I was a middle child with two brothers. My parents are both self-made people ("Life Hackers") who creatively built their own trajectories. Their way taught me that boundaries are a mental state and that I don't need to perceive definitions and instructions too seriously. I learned that it's more fun when problems are looked at as riddles, forming constraints that invite creativity.

As a child, I used to build physical structures, and what today I can maybe call 'installations', but I also always had a passion for science and technology. So when I needed to choose what to focus on during my studies, I chose computer science and biology. Only later, after finishing my master degree and while working in the hi-tech industry, I started playing with electronics and made projects that got more complex with time. Then I very quickly understood that I found my medium as an artist. 

Today I create with technologies, whether traditional and commonly used or state-of-the-art, use them out of their original contexts and give them new and intimate purposes. The final artworks consist of several dimensions; a physical structure, motion and mechanics, electronics, software and data. The act of building the machines and activating them is significant to me. I feel that the technical choices I make affect the final artwork just as much as the touch of a painter affects a painting. 

RB: What turns you on creatively, spiritually and/or emotionally?

LS: I love the concept of serendipity. Serendipity is a fortunate discovery that is made unintentionally, without searching for an answer to a specific question, but rather by being perceptive to the occurrence and development of events. A known example for serendipity is the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming. After being away from his lab for a month, Fleming returned to find that his bacterial cultures had been contaminated and destroyed by a fungus. In many labs prior to that day, bacterial cultures had been contaminated and thrown in the garbage, but Fleming saw the potential and kept the cultures. The discovery of penicillin occurred due to a flow of accidental events and because of Fleming’s attention, observation and his ability to "catch the chance."

As an artist and as a person, I feel that it is important to be able to recognize and be inspired by meaningful patterns and to make significant links within the flow of accidental occurrences. This depends, to a great deal, on being present and observative, a task that is nowadays becoming more and more difficult. 

RB: What was the impetus for you to start your artistic practice? 

LS: I've created for as long as I can remember. However, it took me many years to start calling what I make 'art'. One of my earliest memories is of a 'Rube Goldberg Machine' filling my childhood bedroom, which I built around the age of seven. As I grow, my narratives, tools and environments change, but the same forces that got me to create, are still ones that drive me in my work today. 

My artistic practice got a major boost when I found the expression medium that gives me most passion and inspiration. Then, for the first time in my life, I felt that I was in the right place.

Who are you most inspired by? 

LS: I am inspired by 'border-less' people who make things in their own way; by people, who in the face of obstacles can take a breath, observe what is in front of them and start playing to create something completely new. I'm inspired by people that have the ability to turn 1+1 into 3. 

How would you want to be remembered? 

LS:  New. I would love to be remembered via analogue memories rather than just digital ones.




Liat graduated her M.Sc studies in Computer Science and Biology and the Interdisciplinary Program for Fostering Excellence at Tel Aviv University. She worked as a researcher at Microsoft Innovation Labs and taught at the Bezalel School of Arts and Design at the Hebrew University.

Liat's recent works were exhibited at the Israel Museum Jerusalem, Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt, National American Jewish History Museum Philadelphia, Hansen House, Jerusalem, the Amsterdam Light Festival, Jerusalem International Light Festival and others.