Galen is our artist in residence, and will be spending time weekly at the Museum prototyping and testing out ideas for
a series of works that he will be installing in SmartArt, our current science exhibit. He’ll install the first piece today at 4:00. As an artist in residence, he’ll be spending a lot of time at the Museum working on art with our visitors – click here for dates and times.
To get to know Galen and to better understand his work, I asked him a few questions – read on to learn more about this Smart Artist!
PS. If you enjoy live music, you may have seen Galen before – he performs music under the name Computer at Sea. He’s been featured on 207 and has performed at many venues and music festivals!
Chris: What is your medium? Galen: The work that I do generally deals with electronics and sound, which can mean a lot of different things. For some pieces I construct circuits from scratch, and for others I modify existing electronic hardware. I have a particular focus on repurposing 80’s era videogame equipment and musical toys.
Chris: What are the themes in your art?
Galen: A sense of play underscores much of what I do. I’m interested the intersection of the varying definitions of play- playing a game, playing a musical instrument, seeing a theatrical play. I aim to produce work that inhabits the boundaries of these different definitions.
Chris: When did you start making art?
Galen: Though I’ve been involved with music and writing for most of my life, I’ve only been creating visual art since early in 2007. I came to it accidentally, through researching handmade electronic instruments. One of the first circuits that I built was a low wattage amplifier, and once I wired it up I realized that I didn’t have anything to house the circuit in. I had that day picked up a vintage Bobsey Twins book at a thrift store, for no other reason than because it was an especially handsome old book. I hollowed the book out, carved a speaker grill in the front of it, and installed the circuit. That book inspired a larger installation piece where I constructed a small library of electronic books. Since then, I’ve been creating more complex circuits and more ambitious installations.
Chris: How did you learn your technique?
Galen: I’ve largely taught myself electronics through the internet and the library. Though I’ve attended a handful of workshops over the last few years in electronic techniques, I’ve learned most of what I know on my own, and usually under pressure. I found that the most effective way for me to really learn how to do something is to take on a project with a deadline.
Chris: What are the greatest influences on your art?
Galen: I’m influenced in no small measure by the recent past. Late 70’s and early 80’s science fiction movies played a huge part in shaping my imagination. The technology in those movies is, even at this late date, what I picture when I think of the future. The boxy monitors, large square light up buttons, and chunky tactile switches are never far from my mind when designing a piece.
Video games from the same era also exert a huge influence on my creative process. Like many folks born some time in the last 35 years, there are certain video game sounds that are hard-wired into my brain: the repetitive blip of Pacman devouring pellets, the vaguely ominous music at the opening of Donkey Kong, the crisp ring of Mario picking up a coin. I try to create sounds that hit the same spots.
Incongruously, I’m also drawn to office and library equipment from the first half of the twentieth century.
Chris: What interested you about working at the Children’s Museum?
Galen: I’m a big fan of both electronics and working with children. I’ve taught some electronics classes at Beth Van Mierlo’s incomparable Oak Street Studios and greatly enjoyed the experience. I see working with the Children’s Museum as an opportunity to reach a larger audience of kids.
Chris: What is your goal for the residency?
Galen: One of my great hopes for working at the museum is to, in some small measure, demystify electronics. The conventional wisdom is that you aren’t able to know what’s inside your technology. We are encouraged to think that our passive relationship with technology is the only possible relationship, which it most emphatically is not.
I’m excited about the prospect of passing on some of my enthusiasm and knowledge about electronics to children. If I can get just one kid excited about how an LED works, or what it takes to generate a synthesized tone than I’ll feel pretty successful about the whole project.
Chris: What motivates you to keep making art?
Galen: There’s work that you do because it’s your job and work you do because it’s important to you. For me, making art has always been in the second category.