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Static Media, Kinetic Ideas: Q&A With Hunter Jonakin

<p>Using mediums and media as a means to an end.</p>

Kathleen Flood

Multi-media artist Hunter Jonakin’s latest installation and arcade game Jeff Koons Must Die!!! intrigued us so much because it craftily critiqued the art world through an interactive, and unwinnable, gaming format. We decided to get in touch with the artist, who’s currently finishing his MFA in Studio Art at Florida State University, to talk more about his observant and critical body of work, which spans multiple mediums.

The Creators Project: You come from an indie rock background. How did you end up transitioning from music to visual art? Do you still play music?
Hunter Jonakin:
I have always been involved in visual art and I have been drawing and painting since I could walk. Music came later. I bought my first guitar at the age of seventeen. I spent my entire paycheck, which I had earned by flipping burgers at Wendy’s, on a used Silvertone and a tiny amplifier. I haven’t been in a band for a few years but I do still play music. I recorded several tracks for the Jeff Koons Must Die!!! piece.

How does being a musician inform your art? What can you express visually that you can't with audio, and vice versa?
To me, it is all art. Primarily, I use media as a means to an end. I think being a musician gives me an extra set of skills that I can utilize to further certain ideas, but audio is not so far removed from the visual. Either medium can range from abstract to completely familiar and representational. Ultimately, for me, it all comes down to the needs of the individual work and which format, or combination of the two, will resonate the most.

Scalar Field: These Go To Eleven

The scope of your work encompasses the mediums of gaming, sculpture, large-scale installation, drawing—and you also take video of a lot of your artworks. Do you feel like you gravitate towards a specific medium to express certain points?
Yes. Some mediums are static, some are kinetic, some are interactive, and they all convey specific ideas to me. I always use materials as a conceptual component in my work. For example, interactive media engages viewers directly and can be very immersive. This format provides a more direct path to gaining empathy from the viewer, whether it is referencing shared memories, or ideas. Even if the viewer is ideologically opposed to the piece, there is a willful engagement regarding the interaction. This can be very powerful.

In your artist's statement, you say your work deals with the themes of memory and loss. Is the artistic process purely cathartic for you? Do you think these characteristics are amplified by the state of modern disposable media?
The artistic process is not purely cathartic for me. I do gain some comfort in making work, but creating art is just as much an investigation and a learning process as it is an emotional outlet. Loss and memory are very general terms and that’s why I like them. The advent of the internet and disposable media has drastically altered everything and has probably shortened our collective attention spans considerably. But, it is a loss that should be considered collateral damage in the war of information. Fifteen minutes of fame has become fifteen seconds. But, that same fifteen seconds will be forever archived. The internet is now our collective memory and it is ever-evolving. It’s an interesting conundrum to ponder whether new technology is corrupting our “natural” social tendencies. I prefer to think of it as more of a social evolution than a decline.

Psychological Topographies: Temporal Fingerprints
“A crinkle-cut fry is not a lethal weapon.” Graphite and charcoal on paper.

In your description of the exhibition Psychological Topographies: Temporal Fingerprints, you say you want the viewer to interpret the works for his or herself. How much do you trust your audience to interpret your concept from the work, or your works in general?
I don’t dwell on the viewer’s interpretation of my work too much. After a work is “released into the wild” it is free to be interpreted any way that the viewer sees fit. Another person’s viewpoint regarding a piece is just as important as mine even if I disagree with their take on it. In a perfect world, I would love for my work to be communicated perfectly to all viewers, but I know that this is an impossible notion. Individualized opinions about art allow for discourse, which is an essential component in the evolution of art. Personally, I enjoy knowing an artist’s intent regarding why a particular piece was created because it usually adds to the work in some way, whether it be conceptual, historical, or simply anecdotal. But, some people only need the visual information from a piece and I think that is fine as well.

"Utility Harness For The Tortured Artist"

The "Utility Harness For The Tortured Artist" triggers pain when the wearer smiles. Is this commentary on the idea that one must suffer to create good art?
Yes, but it’s also a comment on the cyclical nature of creating work and the pain and joy involved in overcoming obstacles. The piece was a collaboration with Jordan Vinyard. Jordan and I share a love of challenging processes and neither of us is ever fully engaged in a project unless it presents some kind of technical investigation. We created this particular piece with that idea in mind.

A lot of your projects are collaborations with other artists. What is it like to unify a vision on one project when several different voices are involved?
Collaborations are never easy but, sometimes, the work you create as a group can exceed anything you could make on your own. It’s a tricky process and one that almost never goes as planned. Most artists that I know (myself included) are control freaks, to a certain extent, and this fact can lead to tension and disagreements. But, ultimately, collaborations provide an excellent opportunity for growth and can also be the impetus for amazing work.

Jeff Koons Must Die!!!

We really enjoyed the video of your arcade game Jeff Koons Must Die!!! You say that it's unwinnable, because it "acts as a comment on the fine art studio system." Could you expand a little bit on that?
The game is unwinnable because life is not always fair. Museums, galleries, academia, and the powers that be are imperfect bureaucratic systems that function very well at their best and incredibly inefficiently at their worst. This inconsistency can disenfranchise people and lead to alienation. Jeff Koons Must Die!!! is intended to be ethically ambiguous and, in the end, to implicate us all in the carnage.

What role do you think the internet plays (if any) in breaking down this bureaucratic system?
As far as political bureaucratic systems, I think we are seeing the role of importance for the internet increasing on a daily basis. All we have to do is look at how many politicians are trying to create a kill switch for the internet in all of their respective countries (the United States included) and realize what an efficient and powerful tool for social organization it truly is. Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook alone have been instrumental in recent political shifts. It is a very exciting time.

Do you have any plans to make Koons available to play online?
At this point, no. My intent is for the game to be housed in an 80s style arcade cabinet. Depending on whether there is a demand for showing the game, I am open to constructing multiples of the machine and producing a small edition.

Finally, can you give us any insight to any current projects in the works?
I want to make some more video games but I would like to experiment with cabinet construction. I’d like to delve into more hybrid territory where the cabinet is sculptural and the game is interactive, but much more abstract. I’m always working on several things at once, so we’ll see what is finished first.

Photograph of Hunter courtesy of Brennan Vance.