This month in the Concept Shop we are thrilled to welcome artists Alex Miller and Alex Nagy for art walk. Yes, they're really both named Alex, and yes, they get asked that a lot (see interview). The real question here is how did two people named Alex come to form the artistic collaboration that is SPACEFILLER. Keep reading for a glimpse into the brains of these self-proclaimed computer nerds whose dream project includes developing a line of children's toys and making beats for Jay-Z.
Myriah: How do you explain what you do to people unfamiliar with your work?
Nagy: As artists, we use models common in math and science to create installations which allow participants to bend and break the rules of our natural world. By using projected light, sculpture and interaction we create environments that abstractly resemble bits and pieces of the natural world distilled into a simplified simulation.
Myriah: How did you come to work with your medium?
Miller: We’ve both always been computer nerds, so it’s natural for us to use computers and electronics to express artistic ideas. I studied computer science in school, and Alex Nagy is currently studying electrical engineering. So in a sense, it's just what we know. But I think the medium aligns with our artistic goals: to create immersive interactive environments.
Over the past year, we’ve focused a lot on a technique called projection mapping because it allows us to take our computer programs and bring them into the physical world. We're applying this projection mapping technique in our piece for MOO-YOUNG. We love the happy accidents that occur when working with projected light!
M: Where does the name “SPACEFILLER” come from?
Miller: The name means a few different things to us. Firstly, it's a self-deprecating joke. Like, "Oh, our art is just there to fill space." That's kind of all art is, right? I think our aesthetic can come off as overly serious sometimes, so it's nice to have that subtle joke embedded in our name.
Now to get serious though. The name is also a math reference! There's a famous mathematical simulation called Conway's Game of Life that consists of a big grid with patterns of white and black squares. The rules of the simulation determine how the patterns evolve over time, and different patterns can have different behaviors as the simulation evolves. One of these patterns is called a "Spacefiller". It's a pattern that just explodes and fills the entire grid, totally taking everything over. Conway's Game of Life has always been fascinating to us, so it was nice to reference that.
We went on to discover that the term "spacefiller" has other meanings in math too, and these alternate definitions ended up serving as inspiration. So in a way, choosing that name has had a feedback effect on our art!
M: Do you refer to yourselves as artists? engineers? programmers? mathematicians? All!?
Miller: Although we have an interest in all of these fields, as SPACEFILLER, we're artists first. We're definitely not good enough at math to be called mathematicians in any way, even though it inspired us.
M: What do you hope to accomplish or make people think about through SPACEFILLER?
Nagy: Our focus is to use our love of math, science and design to create accessible ways for people to share that joy without having to know any of the inner workings. Most of all, we aim to cultivate an environment of exploration and fun!
M: Where do you draw inspiration from? What inspires you the most?
Nagy: I draw much of my inspiration from science fiction, specifically the Cyberpunk and Biopunk genres. I'm specifically interested in how digital culture and new technology influences the evolution of our social norms.
Miller: I'm inspired by Wikipedia, science textbook illustrations, early internet culture, the rave scene in The Matrix, playgrounds, and my friend Steve Geluso who makes crazy computer art.
M: What do people ask you most about your art?
Miller: "Are you really both named Alex??" Yes, we are!
M: What is your dream project?
Nagy: My dream projects include planning a mini golf course, designing a jungle gym and developing a line of childrens toys,
Miller: I definitely also want to make a jungle gym, or maybe a skate park. I also have a recurring dream where I make beats for Jay-Z, so that too.
M: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Miller: My dad is an artist, and he's taught me so much about the artistic process — it's hard to narrow it down to one piece of advice. But one thing I've heard a lot from various people is this: you need to start with the viewer experience and work backwards from there to develop the necessary technique. Don't start with technique and develop the viewer experience based on what you can do, because then you focus too much on technique and lose sight of your artistic vision. Of course this is just one way of thinking about process, but I think I'm only now starting to internalize that piece of advice. It's hard for us because we love technical details so much!