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An interview with Derek Larson.

Derek Larson is an Assistant Professor of Art in Animation, 4D Design, and New Media at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. He was awarded the 2014 SECAC Artist's Fellowship, and he presented a portion of work based on his current research at the annual SECAC meeting in Pittsburgh in October 2015. I spoke with Derek in July 2015 about his work and inspiration as he was building a new body of work with the support of the SECAC Artist's Fellowship.


Congratulations on winning the 2014 SECAC Artist's fellowship. Can you describe your submission to the fellowship and the work that proceeded from it?

My proposal outlined a project that deals with design, color, composition, and a lot of foundational theory. I am taking some of those ideas and conducting a study that falls in line with current psychological research. I am using eye-tracking technology to build surveys so that individuals at my university can take these visual surveys and then conduct tests after they look at a certain set of images. So for the SECAC show I'm going to use some of that data and make new paintings that incorporate the eye tracking technology either literally--a few of the paintings will have eye tracking hardware so that the viewer can interact with the painting itself --and then there will be a few paintings without the hardware based on some of the data that I have found in my study.


What will that eye-tracking hardware actually do?

Well, it tracks a person's pupils and locates where they are looking within a given area of the work, so that information is able to be calibrated. Right now I am using it on my laptop, and I have test subjects. What is happening is that the subjects look at a certain set of images and then they are given two tasks. One set of images is supposed to favor one of the tasks, while the other set of images favors the other task. One of the tasks involves creative thinking and the other task is about error checking. So without going too far into it, it is based on psychological research regarding the Isen Quadrant, where if you speed up the searching of looking at images you can enhance someone's ability to potentially come up with more creative solutions, or you can also make them more prone to finding errors. I set up two tasks in my study with imagery meant to put the subject in two of the four areas of the quadrant (B or C.) If you speed up someone's visual searching with High Arousal and Positive Valence (B), they may become better at completing creative tasks. While someone viewing images that create Low Arousal and Negative Valence (C) may be better at proofreading and error checking. There's current psychological research on color and shape to support the kinds of compositions that may put us in certain mood states. The creativity in my study, beyond just collecting data, is in the creation of images that might induce certain mood states. So if you yourself wanted to perform a task in just, say, proof reading a paragraph, you may want to put to put yourself within a specific psychological project and you can actually improve at error checking. Based on these ideas, you can potentially affect someone's visual performance, you can speed it up and they can perform better at certain tasks.

This is very interesting. Will your work based on this research be featured at the 2015 SECAC conference in Pittsburgh?

Yes. The project is ongoing, so it won't be complete in Pittsburgh, but what will be complete is a set of paintings that potentially interact with the composition in these ways.


So this is part of a bigger project?

Yes, I'm planning to keep doing tests over the next year. There is a great deal of visual research being done in psychology right now that has to do with color and shapes and test performance based on looking at certain images.

So how did you get to this point, how did this psychological element emerge in your research and visual testing. It seems like you have been working with technology for some time in your work.

I've been working with different technologies for a while and I think it started five or six years ago. I was working with video and thinking about sculptural space and trying to think about video and this very flat space in a gallery and so it becomes pretty much a painting or sculpture. From there I began thinking about alternating spaces and the universal plane and that's when I really started to rely on technology as this other element to these formal questions I had. Then I started playing around with the eye-tracking hardware and learning how to program and that led to thinking about composition. I began by tracking the movement of 100 people and trying to get an average and that was not really that interesting to me, maybe it would be to other people to see but it doesn't really mean a whole lot. And then I started to find out that there is a great deal of current psychological research that deals with colors and shape, and that led to my current project.

Changing gears a bit, I see from your C.V. that you received your BFA from the Herron School of Art and MFA from Yale. Can you talk about how and if your educational experiences set you on this track or influenced what you are doing now?

Herron School of Art was great because it was so traditional and formal. I double majored as a painter and a sculptor and during that time going back and forth every day, it really challenged me. I actually became one of the few students there working in installation and it was a such nice way to cover 2D and 3D issues. In graduate school, I continued making the installations but started using more and more technology, including animation. I was in some ways trying to incorporate moving paintings and time based knowledge within these installations. That led to working with motors and kinetic sculpture. And so now, teaching new media in Georgia and using all of these technologies it has been a great addition to the conversation, and that conversation, to me is one more element to add to existing ideas and issues regarding color, mainly because it brings in this idea of virtuality or non form. So that is why new media is so exciting to me, it really immediately addresses concerns in art that relate to our everyday, in terms of looking at screens and the way we communicate, so for me, it is about art and painting and composition and color, but it's also about the sense someone has after viewing it.

It all seems so relevant to the contemporary moment and you might even tap into things that someone might not realize without the technology, science, and new media.

I think that if a lot of the technologies existed in the fifties, I'm sure that Josef Albers could have tapped into it. He was so mechanical in the way he created his painting because he was applying paint in a very mechanical way and if he had also had the technology that would have allowed him to study and scan where the pupils were on his compositions then he would have used it.

You seem to maintain an incredibly active exhibition schedule, how do you organize and prioritize your time?

I don't actually travel a lot during the school year. A lot of the things I do can be sent as video, or single pieces in a group show. With teaching, including my students directly in my own creative process allows me to find a balance. I have found it to be a perfect blend of research and teaching, and students can see the results. I think that's the ultimate combination for successful teaching and research when it can overlap in that way. I'm actually teaching my first installation and interactivity course now and we will make these installations that involve technology and a little bit of performance and my students are excited and don't exactly know what to expect.
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Author:Stephens, Rachel
Publication:Southeastern College Art Conference Review
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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