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The Digital Body Builder

DB: You've worked out of your studio apartment, in a refurbished warehouse at MASS MoCA and in a vacant floor at the World Trade Center, among other places. Where does the digital artist need to be?

LG: You basically have a bed, with an office around it.

SE: A lot of my friends laugh at me [about that]. I don't have a single picture on my wall. My computer equipment, during the heat of these projects, was spilling out everywhere. I slept right next to my computer, three workstations at one time. I'm surprised I didn't blow out electric sockets in a residential building. In the worst part of making digital art, you really become a slave to the computer's metabolism, and you have to be there, when it spits out its result. When I was rendering huge computer files [through the night], rendering these dancers out, I would have to wake up – it's almost like flipping burgers at night – it was like waking up to feed the baby.[You become] a life support system for these animations.

LG: We grew up similarly, coming from Queens, moving to Manhattan for art school, and never really living anywhere else. But lately, you've been talking about wanting to go to the country?

SE: I have these fantasies of being countrified. However, y'know, for someone who at times can barely expend more energy than a double-click to have food brought to my house…the idea that I would go out and chop wood, is kind of scary.

DB: Was your residency at MASS MoCA [two summers ago] like that? (Laughter)

SE: Actually, for an artist, it really had the warehouse and abandoned factory appeal. I was a little nervous, about whether I could handle being away from the stimulation, being away from the social life, but it had this sort of "Thoreau" appeal, that I would be in the woods, and I would be in nature, I would be away from the bloody heat.

LG: Can you see yourself living that life?

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Eshkar at World  Trade Center

study for new project

SE: I can't picture spending more than a few weeks or months out in another location because I'd probably go quite batty if I were out in the country for that long a time. But I could see doing it as a kind of writer's retreat.

DB: But you talk about different levels of isolation, going out there in order to work in isolation, and yet you've talked about people forming groups out there, to counter affect that isolation…

SE: It's a commune…

DB: Right. And then what you're really doing is trying to take a piece of the city to the country.

SE: Well, is the city the architecture and all the great restaurants…

DB: No, I'm talking about the community…

SE: The idea of a country studio: that's kind of shrugging at community, and that's saying: I need a more humane, solitary working process, because even though in my computer are the end products of a lot of collaborators, it's still a lot of solitary work, and I've often thought that it might be healthier, to be closer to nature, and a little more in touch with my surroundings. Ironically, at MASS MoCA, I met some digital artists, who had bought a place in Vermont, and were spending about 3-4 days of their week, doing their projects there.

DB: A group of people there?

SE: About three. And so, there I am, out in the Berkshires, and I've now met some of the most interesting New Yorkers I've met in a long time, and they are out in Vermont. So they are still interested in bringing the community with them. They want both. They want the community, the exchange of ideas, but they also want some kind of nourishing environment for their bodies or their souls, whatever it is they are getting in the country. But they don't want to give up community.

DB: Which is what the Hamptons, say, in the ‘50's, were about.

SE: I live right around Union Square. I find that, as a good antidote to isolation, since I do so much work alone, a little walk to the Union Square farmer's market is a nice reminder of the smells of upstate. And it's such an obvious pleasure that people are taking there, not only shopping, but looking at one another. So I have this sort of idealized pedestrian space there. I don't go there to get ideas or anything, but I do go there to kind of cherish public life. I love public space.

LG: It's funny, because it's a way of taking you out of Manhattan, but you are very much in Manhattan.

SE: It doesn't feel like a competitive space where, say, everyone's pushing through the subway trying to get to their goals. And it's also without barriers. No signage, except for the prices of fruit and so forth. Now, for someone who talks about isolation, I'm incredibly guilty of being ‘self-employed guy,' who goes completely off peak. I only go to the supermarket when I know that there's no one there.

DB: That's one of the great benefits of being self-employed.
The irony I'm seeing in this is, you were talking about the fact that you work a lot, in isolation, and so therefore, you could be out in the country, because you might not need the interaction…

SE: I might as well be.

DB: And yet, because you work in isolation, you find you have the need to do something like go to Union Square, just to bump into crowds. And therefore, you couldn't be in the country, because you wouldn't have that.

LG: Well, you have farmer's markets and things like that in the country.

DB: But not the density. We started on this by asking: where does the digital artist need to be?

SE: You would think that somebody really interested in technology, in animation, would find themselves in the West Coast, either in the Bay Area or in Silicon
Valley or even in LA, if they're interested in entertainment technology. Now, people like us who are working where art and technology meet, it really could only have happened in Manhattan, where Merce Cunningham, quite literally, is ten blocks away and you can have these chance meetings. People have to be face to face for a collaboration to work. And although we've entertained the idea that we can work long distance and we can work with collaborators in Silicon Valley, it's only by being in a city such as this one that I think any of these things happen. And it's the only way we've ever gotten work done. I've needed the noise.

It's another approach to design, about choice and chance. When you are searching for inspirational images, when you're trying to solve a design problem, the web is one way to go: search for WWII helmet, search for "ostrich," and find things in a query manner. But when I go into the Strand [Bookstore], and start to wander around, things start to speak to me.

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