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Rays of Light: Interview with Digital Artist Kenneth Huff

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"2005.1" (Image courtesy of Kenneth Huff)

Having exhibited his artwork in more than 350 shows internationally, Kenneth Huff is one of the world's most renowned digital creatives--redefining the word fabulous. With an amassed portfolio of naturalistic permutations in prints, sculptures and time-based works, Huff explores organic forms found in the natural world--the ever present beauty in everyday surroundings. Of his sumptuous signature style, he says "Organic structures harkens back to the main point of my work--patterns in nature. Why I create is not about the technology, it's about the image."

Huff operates a website called Organik Constructions, and a blog named It Goes Boing. There he documents a chronology of works created, also sharing insight into his process.

Reflecting on the intent of creative motivations, on the site he writes "From the first time a finger traces along the spiral of a seashell, our lives are permeated with the joy of discovery. Forms, patterns and experiences are stored in our memories and become part of the fundamental cognitive framework through which we identify and classify the world."

Huff is currently exhibiting at ARS Electronica, and earlier this summer he was commissioned by the Salina Arts and Humanities Commission to create two projection-based installations in the downtown area of Salina, Kansas. In our interview Huff spoke about how the project came about.

He shared with me his love for language and words, and his visionary aspiration for creative possibilities in the not-to-distant future. He also talked about his role as a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

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"2002.11b" (Image courtesy of Kenneth Huff)

Max Eternity (ME): More than a decade ago I became aware of the naturalistic aspects of the digital realm, but some find this a difficult concept to grasp?

Kenneth Huff (KH): I don't. The way I've always approached my work, it's inspired by nature. The medium is in service and to the intent of my work. It's never been an issue with my work.

ME: Your website is called Organik, spelled with a "k" on the end. Why the name and the spelling, and what's the significance of incorporating organic structures in your work?

KH: The name was just a play on words. I love language and words, and I was just being clever. Organic structures harkens back to the main point of my work--patterns in nature. Why I create is not about the technology, it's about the image. I just happen to use technology. If 3-d wasn't available, I'd be working in clay or glass to format the patterns. I don't know if time based would be possible, that's different from any sort of traditional mediums.

ME: Must art be beautiful? Which of course begs the question, how do you define beauty?

KH: Obviously, it doesn't need to be beautiful. Beauty is one of those things that is defined by the viewer. I find I'm inspired by things I find beautiful. It's something that the individual artist has to define themselves.

It's not the way art is defined--it's the perspective of the creator. And as far as the viewer is concerned, it's something they have to decide.

At shows, I've seen how people react to my work. It's fascinating to me. I'm creating the work for myself, and I share the work. I don't get caught up in broad sweeping segments about what art is. I call myself an artist. It's been liberating to me.

2010.1 from Kenneth A. Huff on Vimeo.

ME: Tell me about your current installation in Salinas, Kansas.

KH: It's the installation happened earlier this summer. The Arts and Humanities Committee there asked me to come in and do some site-specific installations in the downtown area. The National Endowment for the Arts funded the project.

I was there for about a week, visited a bunch of sites and settled on two; one above a coffee shop, and the other in the museum where the Arts and Humanities Commission offices are. There, I prepared the window surfaces for the time based pieces of the site. The museum piece is much larger image, separated for four projections. It's one thing to see my work on the computer screen, but it's always important to me to see these things in context--to see it on site.

ME: In your role as a professor @ SCAD, beyond their college credits, what wisdom do you seek to impart to your students?

KH: The program that I teach is a visual effects program, oriented toward industry--film animation. I want students to see that these tools they are using, are to be used also for non-commercial purposes; to satisfy their own creative urges, not always in service to someone else's intent. I hope they get that from it. I hope too that they always remember that whatever the medium, it should always be in service to artistic intent. The medium shouldn't stand in the way of the message or intent that they are trying to implement.

ME: What means art today, is it the same as it ever was, or has something fundamentally changed because of digital technology?

KH: Artists have always used whatever was available to them, and at times they probably wouldn't consider it as art, as when art was more integrated in day to day experiences. I don't think anything has changed. Artists are simply using what technology is available to them. This has been going on for thousands of years.

What ever is available, artists will find a way to use it creatively. There's no fundamental difference.

One thing I think is terrific though, is that with the new technology, artists are able to communicate their work to a much broader audience. That to me is probably the biggest change. But artists in general...artists take advantage of what's available to them.

ME: What is something that people should know about you that they might see in your work, but not understand? In other words, how do you describe what you do, and how does that tie into you--the person?

KH: The biggest thing that I think that might be--the subtle thing--is that I'm driven by my curiosity of the world. And often times the pieces I create, almost always, are directly inspired by things I've seen or experience in the physical world. It's not always an obvious connection. I do try to keep the work fairly ambiguous.

My work--it's a combination of experience. But it's not arbitrary; they do have a basis in my curiosity, my desire to discover new things.

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"2001.1" (Image courtesy of Kenneth Huff

ME: Can you take a moment and talk about your creative process?

KH: Well typically, it starts from sketches; almost always--written about, beforehand. I go through a pretty long development process ahead of time, doing technical experiments; determining if the tools I have available will work, or if I'll have to develop my own tools. With time based work, it takes anywhere from a month to 6 months. I try to get to the rough outlines quickly, to prove that it's going to work. Then I start to define it. That process is very incremental, until it matches up with the initial idea that I had. Sometimes I shelve an idea until technology catches up, or until my skills catch up. If they are strong enough, I'll go back to those ideas and implement them at a later date.

ME: What does the future hold for art and technology, well as far as you can say? What's your vision?

KH: I've been working a lot recently on time-based work. So, let me put it in terms of what I would like to see happen there. I would like technology to come to the point where an entire place, a surrounding, where say, a massive wall could be used as a changeable display, not needing external projection; without obvious technology--seamlessly. I can see that happening within the next ten years, where images can be more incorporated in day to day experiences. Of course, this might create more art and more noise.

Artist show that any technology can be used to create something meaningful or to create noise. I would like to see more and more sophisticated technologies that aid in incorporating art seamlessly.

ME: Is there something I haven't asked about that you'd like to share?

KH: I've been spending most of the summer creating new time based works. Now I'm starting to show the pieces on Vimeo, so that people can get a better sense of the time based work, without being there in person. That's the next thing, rolling out more of my work on Vimeo, it's a universal platform.

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Salinas Kansas installation (Image courtesy of Kenneth Huff)