Megan Daalder

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What Is My Work About? 

I am a multi-media performance artist, who probes and provokes the human desire for intimacy. I search for opposing points of view and then construct future-oriented narratives to forge unexpected relationships. I perform autonomously and collaboratively to create fictional, physical, and psychological events that challenge our concept of personal identity.

 

Artist Statement

I make multi-media performances that probe and provoke the human desire for intimacy and identity. For each project, I find a new context to develop and embody an unexpected relationship. Often, I embrace science and technology as vehicles for exploring subjective human experiences. Identifying a captivating subject and a tactful approach involves research, conversations with experts, and training myself in new skills. This process is an enormously important part of my work and allows me to respond dynamically to complex subjects, without being limited by a single medium. Through various modes of research I generate the experiences necessary to ground each project.

For the past year and a half, I dedicated myself to finding a grounded connection between biotechnology and environmentalism. I embarked on a long process of interviewing synthetic biologists, microbiologists, and environmental activists, and delved into a level of ecological thinking that wasn’t always obvious to me as a Los Angeles native. Although my goal was not to educate on these subjects, it seemed critical to gather many different points of view before clarifying my own. This process resulted in the concept for the Biomass, an 8-foot tall, bio-inspired sculpture animated by two puppeteers. The design of the Biomass was based on images of microorganisms that I recombined and enlarged to create an oversized tangle of multicellular ooze. With the Biomass as a compass, I wrote a series of songs from the perspective of Eureka, a woman living in the year 2100, after environmental collapse and the extinction of Earth’s many species.  Eureka’s first ever encounter with wildlife is the Biomass, an enormous synthetic organism. As a mutual curiosity deepens, both Eureka and the Biomass become more expressive and musically collaborative.

For the performance I played Eureka alongside two puppeteers, a musician, and a lighting designer in a garage turned art gallery. The goal of the production was to create a space for the audience to reflect on themselves as part of a biological community. How does the audience feel when Eureka, the pillar of human experience, falls in love and decides to merge with an alien species? The process of social and ecological influence has implications beyond the personal scale of the characters’ emotions. The performance does not take a position on whether biological technology is good or bad; instead, it serves as a reminder that our identities are embedded in a rapidly changing, living environment that deserves our attention and perhaps our affection.

The theatrical form of this work allowed me to broaden my artistic vocabulary to include songwriting, character development, staging, lighting, and large scale kinetic sculpture. Ultimately, these skills will add formal possibilities to my ongoing research into the expression of empathic potential.

My previous project, The Mirrorbox, was a great lesson in how visual experiences in intimate settings can stimulate empathy. This immersive sculpture developed from a desire to reveal the paradox of identity as mutually constructed in real time. The first iteration of the project was a public performance, for which I created a helmet with a half-silvered mirror that replaced my face with the faces of strangers. Later, I integrated lights that would allow me to reveal my face on the other side of the mirror. While testing this new development, a friend and I discovered that looking at a 50/50 blend of our two faces at close range for about ten minutes produced a significantly altered sense of our physical boundaries. This experience instantly became a scientific question for me: why was it so easy to create a bridge between identities? And more importantly, if it was so easy why do we tend to forget? I created a new helmet for two people and added a lighting program to create a constantly shifting blend of the two faces. I designed the object to look like a piece of futuristic technology on the outside, and be as immersive and intimate as possible on the inside. I created surveys to study what I called “the Mirrorbox effect,” and became a dedicated student of the experience. I filmed everything, including the Mirrorbox’s impact on people from Los Angeles, New York, Paris, and Wroclaw, many of whom reported feeling an increased sense of fluid identity. In the end, I met and collaborated with a neuroscientist at USC to perform a pilot study to try and scientifically validate the experience. I have since been approached by various individuals who want to  explore practical therapeutic applications of the Mirrorbox.

The need for creative tools that help us explore other people’s points of view, has motivated me artistically as much in previous projects as it has with the Mirrorbox and the Biomass.  In my video Painting the Town I dressed in a red leotard and red facepaint and danced along the sidewalks of downtown LA until someone wearing red walked by. Without any other criteria for engagement, I invited each red-clothed person into a dance that linked our shared color. In post-production, this common color would become a unified field of digital feedback. The more a pedestrian stuck with me, the more dynamic a shape we became. In an area where enormous economic gaps exist within a single city block, this process became an equally distributed opportunity for play.

In my Tribute to Karl Sims, a daily practice of challenging physical contortions allowed me to identify with non-human entities. In 1994 computer scientist Karl Sims developed artificial life algorithms for virtual creatures to evolve in simulated physical environments. He presented his research as a series of idiosyncratic block-like creatures with movement styles that don’t necessarily resemble anything devised by organic evolution. The desire to empathize with these creatures is clearly felt by anyone who has watched the documentation of their struggles, and I initiated my own evolutionary process in order to perform alongside the original archival footage of the creatures.

In all of these projects, a piece of technology serves as a reminder of our innate capacity to participate in a diversity of relationships. In my work, I try to encourage openness to new experiences with one another and the world around us. I believe that  creative production is one of the most valuable tools we have for continuously learning how to coexist.

 

CV

EDUCATION

2006-2009 Bachelor of arts, Design|Media Arts, University of California Los Angeles

2004-2006 Fine Arts, University of California Santa Cruz

AWARDS

2013 “People’s Choice Poster Award,” Entertainment Software and Cognitive Neurotherapeutics Society, LA, CA

2011 CCI ARC Grant, Center for Cultural innovation, LA, CA

2011 Top Prize (ex aequo) WRO 14th Media Art Biennale, Wroclaw, Poland

2008 Anna Bing Arnold Award Escrow Scholarship

2008 Elaine Krown Klein Arts Scholarship, Elaine Krown Klein Foundation

2008 Best “non-objective/abstract” short, S’Not Narrative Video Art Festival

2007 Distinguished Student Award, UCLA Design | Media Arts

SELECTED PERFORMANCES

2014 “Eureka and the Biomass,” Five Car Garage, Santa Monica, CA

2012 “Facial Recognition,” Performance at Liz Glynn’s Black Box Theatre, LA, CA

2011 “Analog DDR,” Body-Based performance Inspired by Machines, Anatomy Riot at the Alexandria Hotel, LA, CA
2011  “Tribute to Karl Sims’ Virtual Evolved Creatures,” WRO 14th Media Art Biennial, Growtowski Institute, Wroclaw, Poland

2010 “Tribute to Karl Sims’ Virtual Evolved Creatures,” Video Collide in 3D Space, 533 Gallery, LA, CA

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS AND SCREENINGS

2015 Studio 303 at Nuit Blanche, Montreal Canada

2014 LIFE TRANSMISSIONS, Guggenheim Gallery, Orange, CA

2014 The HTMlles 11, Feminist Festival of Media Arts + Digital Culture, Montreal, Canada

2014 Side Street Projects, ArtNight Pasadena, Pasadena, CA

2013 TEDx Gabriola Island Speaker/Exhibitor, Gabriola Island, BC

2013 Project Eureka: Prologue, UCLA Art|Science Gallery, LA, CA

2012 Mirrorbox Documentary screening, Mains D’Oeuvres Gallery, Paris, France
2012 Mirrorbox popup at Jack Hanley Gallery, New York, New York
2012 Video of the week on Scientific American Blogs, The Internet
2011 Young Presidents Organization, Patrick Painter Gallery, LA, CA
2011 Imagination and Medicine Conference, Pacifica Graduate Institute, Santa Barbara, CA
2011 Pillow Talk #3, Kyoto City University of Arts Gallery, Kyoto, Japan
2011 Freewaves ‘Out The Window’ Project, Los Angeles City Busses, LA, CA

2011 Little Tokyo Design Conference, LA, CA
2011 WRO 14th Media Art Biennale, National Museum, Wroclaw, Poland
2011 Sans Vous, Rien Ne Se Fera, Mains D’Ouevres, Saint-Ouen, France
2011 PhotoLA Opening Night Benefit, Santa Monica Convention Center, LA, CA
2010 Immaginare/Assentarsi, Palermo, Italy
2010 Ludere, Life and Environment, São Paulo, Brazil
2010 Art | Ark, San Francisco, CA
2010 CologneOFF, Cologne International Videoart Festival, Cologne, Germany

2010 Perform Now! Performance Festival, Human Resources, LA, CA
2010 D|MA2 Device | Machine Arts, CNSI, LA, CA
2009 Self Portraits, EDA: Experimental Digital Arts, LA, CA
2009 Collegial: A Painting Reapproach, Dortort Center for Creativity, LA, CA
2008 Under_, UCLA New Wight Gallery, LA, CA
2008 S’Not Narrative Arts Festival, Pomona, CA
2008 Coalesce, EDA: Experimental Digital Arts, LA CA

CURATORIAL PROJECTS

2011 Body-Based Performances Inspired by Machines, Anatomy Riot at the Alexandria Hotel, LA, CA

2010 Videos Collide in Real Life 3D Space, 533 Gallery, LA, CA
2008 The End of Money, Inmo Gallery, LA, CA

RESIDENCIES

2012 Artist in Residence for UCLA iGEM team lead by Christina Agapakis, LA, CA

2012 Mains D’Oeuvres, Paris, France

2012 Pieter Performance Space, LA, CA

2010 Real Presence, Belgrade, serbia

SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

2013 TEDx Gabriola Island Speaker, Gabriola Island, BC
2010 Guest speaker in Mark Allen’s Digital Media Class, Pomona College, Pomona, CA

2010 Guest Speaker at Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands
2010 Guest Artist at Art|Sci summer institute, California Nanosystems Institute, CA
2009 UCLA Arts Honors Reception Student Speaker, LA, CA

PRINT AND PRESS

2014  Los Angeles Times, “Moment of Friday:’Biomass Man’ creator Megan Daalder sees into ‘Black Mirror,” November 7, 2014, Carolina Miranda

2012 Motherboard, “Inside the Empathy Machine: Going Face-in-Face with Megan May Daalder and Her Mirrorbox”, August 29, 2012 by Claire l Evans
2012 Scientific American, Mirrorbox: The Story of How Art Became Science Video of the Week, July 20, 2012 by Bora Zivkovic

2011 Engine 28 Blog, Theater in Unusual Nooks, Crannies and Ballrooms,“ June 15, 2011 by Julie potter

2011 Main D’Ouvres Interview, May 2011 by Inga Lāce
2011 Gazetta.pl News, “After the WRO Biennale 2011: Award for a wave, boxes, and noise. A third ear,” May 15, 2011 By Agata Saraczyńska
2010 Little Paper Planes, August 20, 2010 By Amanda Hunt
2010 Another Righteous Transfer, April 12, 2010 By Carol Cheh