Digital Artist Shantell Martin: Rethinking The Box

Posted May 4

Digital artist and VJ Shantell Martin has performed her iPad-spun light shows at a pretty diverse range of locales — from New York’s MoMA to an episode of Gossip Girl. Next stop on her busy agenda? The third edition of O Music Awards Unboxed.

Sunday night in New York City, Martin will be providing original, live stage graphics — via her trusty tablet — at O Music Awards Unboxed, a New York-based live series that brings together music, technology and art. At the event, she will be collaborating with Brooklyn band Not Blood Paint, as well as Pyyramids (Tim Nordwind from OK Go’s new band).

Although this show is sure to be a buzzmaker, Martin has been making waves with her innovative approach to artistic expression for years now. Making use of digital technologies, remaining open to a world of possibilities, adopting new mediums from car doors to clothes to people, and collaborating with other art-forms to tread boldly into the unknown territories between them.

The relationship between artist and viewer is something that fascinates Shantell. Her art is more of a performance — expressing (and archiving) the mood of the moment — than a veiled process that leads to a final product. She often draws live in front of an audience (as she will this Sunday), her work projected up on a screen and accompanied by musical collaborators to induce a state of what must be mass synesthesia among those present. The audience isn’t safe from the spectacle, either, as the light of the projector displaying the evolution of the work plays over the crowd, they become part of the artwork, moving and interacting within it.

The O Music Blog had the pleasure of chatting with Martin about her work and its evolution. Check out our Q&A below:

I understand you’re fairly well traveled – are you based here in New York now?

Yeah, I’m based here in Brooklyn. I moved here from Japan – I was there for about 5 years – and now I’m here in the States. I’ve been here for about 3 years, but I travel a lot for work, going to festivals and running lectures… so I’m based here – but I’m hardly here!

Where do you draw your inspiration?

People ask me this quite a bit – it comes from the positive people and environment I surround myself in. I like to eat, think, and drink – I like being around people who are positive and positive about my work, and that feeds back into what I draw on.

You often work with musicians in the live creation of your works – how are music and visual art connected for you?

The movement in music inspires the language I use – I feel a lot like a dancer when I work with music. It took me a while to get to the point where I could stop thinking and just draw what I feel from one moment to the next. I get to the end of a performance sometimes and look back at the piece I’ve done and wonder where it came from!

Is there a difference for you between music performed live and recorded music?

Totally different. The whole vibe of the room in a live performance, where the performers are improvising, is something that really affects me. When I draw at home, I’ll put on the music I have around my place – usually a bit of techno, and the lines I end up with tend to be smooth. On the other hand, I’ve collaborated with some really avant-garde music live where I end up with lines that are fairly angular and jagged… and at a live show there’s also the sound and feel of the people in the audience that affects what I draw.

When you’re putting together a new work, do you have a clear vision of what you want from the completed work before you begin? Or is it something that evolves as you go?

After looking back over the works I’ve done the years, I have realized that I have a particular artistic language, and certain shapes will draw me in different directions. But I’ll usually start with some simple movements, and then those movements might suggest an eye, or a building, and then it goes from there.

So where does your artistic language come from?

Anything and everything around me. It might be something going on in the world, or in my life. It all comes out in what I do.

Making a living as an artist can be a pretty tough slog – have you got any advice for young up-and-comers struggling to find a way to make it happen?

Well I was very fortunate coming up – I ended up at one of the best design schools in the country, did very well in Tokyo. The main thing is you have to stay driven. Be convinced that the quality of your work will win out. Good art will always have someone coming back – they’ll tell their friends and you’ll build a following.

What’s on the horizon – what are you focusing on for the future?

I’ve been working with a great cellist, Anna Callner, in a group called MNP – My New Project [check out this great short video here!] – and it’s been great to work in the same group for a while and build something like that. I’m fairly busy, but over the next couple months I’ll be giving a lecture and demonstration at the Tekserve Creative Friday on May 11th, then heading to Austria for the Spring Festival from May 14th to the 20th, and then the Eyeo Festival from June 5th to the 8th to lecture and co-teach with Zach Lieberman – the smartest person I know!

You are busy! Well thanks very much for your time and looking forward to Sunday!

See you then!