Jazmine Yerbury: Digital Sculptures for the Information Age

Artist Interview

01.10.2017   - 31.12.2017

Danielle Reid discusses digital sculpture, DIY AI, accessibility, and the joy of using squishy, fleshy materials with SomoS’ Artist-in-Residence, Media artist Jazmine Yerbury.

Jazmine Yerbury artist presentation at SomoS

Part I

Can you give a brief introduction?

My name is Jazmine Yerbury. I am 31 years old, I am from Montreal, Canada. I have a BFA from Concordia University in Montreal, and an MFA in Digital Art from OCAD University in Toronto.

Why did you choose Berlin for an Artist-in-Residence stay, and even more specifically, SomoS? Is this your first time in the city?

I have been to Berlin three times before this AIR at SomoS, and had very different but equally great experiences each time. I felt there was much more to learn and discover in Berlin, so I decided to apply to the SomoS residency. I also applied to residencies in Florida, Portugal, and New York. I was accepted to 4 other residencies, but because of its length and the location SomoS seemed to be the most interesting in terms of logistics. But it was also the kinds of artworks that were presented in their gallery, which really drew me to the residency. A lot of what they were exhibiting was fringe art, whether in terms of themes or medium, a lot of what was happening there seemed to be emergent and poignant. I feel like the type of digital sculpture I make fits more into these kinds of contexts than a traditional gallery where you would find traditional mediums.

Part II

What is your preferred medium and what factors contributed to you choosing said medium?

I have mostly done oil painting since I was a child. I went to art school for painting and drawing for 5 years. And this is something I will always do I think, it comes quite naturally to me and the act of painting is a kind of meditation. However, more recently, in my final year of my undergrad I took a course called Robotics for Artists which completely changed the course of my future. I fell in love with the idea of making things come to life, of being able to play with your work and have it play back, have it respond to you in ways painting never would. I was hooked; after that I decided to do a Masters in digital art and design to get more access to the tools and resources I would need to pursue digital artmaking.

What are the techniques that you use for this medium? Are there any techniques that are unique to your specific practice?

I use low-fi homemade capacative sensors in my sculptures which are used to sense when and how hard a person has touched the sculpture. These sensors are one of the only ways to turn fabric into a sensor, my sculptures tend to be soft, made of fabric and faux fur or squishy, fleshy materials like silicone, lined with capactive sensors and stuffed with electronics. They are made to be played with, touched, squeezed and moved. The responses vary depending on the sculpture, but the responses range from visuals to sound to movement.

I also make more screen-based digital works which use either cameras or pressure sensors as the basis for interaction. Although I prefer the creative process of making a sculpture, there is a lot more room for visual exploration in the screen-based works I make.

What, or who, is your inspiration for creating these works?

When I was 18, I went on a school trip to New York City where I visited the Whitney Museum of American Art. There was a retrospective by an artist named Tim Hawkinson. That was the first encounter I ever had with kinetic or robotic art. He immediately became my favorite artist, and I became obsessed with his work. I still find his art fascinating and unique and I look up to him as an artist, the works are so clever and sometimes funny or smart.

I was also lucky enough to have two amazing professors for my first two digital arts courses in my undergrad. Both of these professors were inspirations to me, their work is incredible and their teaching style was so good, they could teach an amateur like me how to code!

What themes would you say are central to your work?

My work is often self-referential and addresses the medium with which it has been made. I think about how we interact with our digital devices and how we treat them as our slaves. Of course these are inanimate objects, such as smart phones, laptops, VR headsets etc, but when we allow the corporations who manufacture them to dictate how we use technology, we miss out on the other aspects of it. My sculptures have quirky, pseudo-personalities which respond to people’s gestures in unpredictable and unique ways. They are very basic in terms of electronics, yet they are responsive enough to give the impression of having some life force. It is that idea which really interests me; the talk of AI is always about these super high tech sophisticated robots, yet there are these homemade, or more low-fi machines which are being made all the time which are in no way useful. I am thinking about the democratization of robots, about giving equal importance to the unusual, less useful and more individualized machines as a reflection on how we treat each other based on our usefulness, skill level and ability to accomplish tasks.

What are your intentions behind the works you currently create? Is it a part of a previous narrative? Is it something new that is specific to the time you intend to spend at SomoS?

The work I am doing at SomoS is a continuation of the research I did during my masters. I want to continue making these robo-sculptures in an effort to make them more subtle, more responsive and more active with each new creation.

Does your work have a personal connection? If so, elaborate. How do you hope your work will be interpreted by a larger audience?

My work should be for everyone. I think that with digital art, the work is not a complete work of art until someone is interacting with it. Until it is activated by the touch or movement of a human, the work will be in a sleeping mode, not fully engaged. From what I have witnessed from past exhibitions of my digital sculptures, people are often surprised by the results, or sometimes confused or delighted. I have seen a broad range of affective responses in people while interacting with my digital sculptures, and I hope to push those encounters further and engage people for longer. For me, the more time someone spends with the work the more successful it is, I believe my sculptures have a learning curve and they require time to get to know them , to get to understand how they operate – just like getting to know a human. If someone takes the time to learn about the way the sculpture behaves, to get to know it, it is because they care to, they have the patience and curiosity to allow the robot to be itself, to be something other than a servant – and I think this says more about the person than the work.

Part III

What do you hope to gain from your time here at SomoS? Personal growth? Artistic growth? Something else?

I am happy to be at SomoS to be able to spend all my time researching and creating. It is a very liberating experience to be able to work as much as I want in the way that I choose. At the moment I want to expand my body of work and am looking forward to the opportunity to have an exhibition in Berlin.

Jazmine Yerbury’s media-art installations will be presented as part of the Mutable Self group exhibition taking place between November 28 – December 2 2017.

Jazmine Yerbury homepage

About SomoS’ Artist Residencies
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SomoS’ Artist-in-Residence Program offers cultivated, supportive and stimulating surroundings to international visiting artists, curators, researchers and academics wishing to realize an artistic project in Berlin. The residency, normally completed within three months, is focused on production, experience, critical discourse, networking, and local participation. Staying at SomoS, participants become a part of a thriving artistic community with an active exhibition and event program and will easily and swiftly become well-acquainted with the creative, networked city that is Berlin. More ->