What are you working on now and how does the piece in Conflux relate? What interests you in working in public space?
I tell stories of people and infrastructure. It’s a pattern-finding exercise, linking things together (that sometimes have no real link!) and thinking in metaphors. But I think expanding ideas out into new directions—even absurd ones—is a great driver of creativity, as long as it’s done in a setting appropriate to experimentation.
I’m not formally trained as an artist, but I have a background working with technology in research-driven settings—I’ve done design research at Carnegie Mellon, worked at advertising agencies, and now at OpenPlans, a non-profit that helps cities run better. My educational background was oriented towards technology and the public sector.
I consider my professional work to be a strong part of my creative practice. Conflux’s topic is public space, which isn’t the same as the public sector, but there’s certainly overlap, and I think this framing is actually quite novel among the group. I’m also focused on the transportation sector, which is very related to Conflux’s topic of moving through the city.
To tie those things together, I think there’s a role for art/design in the development of technology for the public sector—government agencies are so afraid to fail, and because of that, for me, it’s really highlighted the need for experimentation to happen outside the public sector at an appropriate scale and in an appropriate space. Once these futures are proven, then the ideas can trickle back into the public sector and become “institutionalized” as it were, as necessary.
It’s also highlighted the need for technical expertise and familiarity with issues in the public sector to imagine new futures for the public sector. I say this at the expense of coming across as an advocate of “expert decision-making”, but I want to draw a distinction between expert-practitioner and expert-engaged-citizen. Both are required—and we need to get both of those groups of folks talking to each other to generate new ideas/ways forward. I think community-based artists and designers are ideally suited to be expert-engaged-citizens at the very least, and hopefully (and in my case) expert-practitioner around these issues, too.
My work for Conflux is called walk-shed, and walk-shed is a tool that imagines New York City’s network of deployed sidewalk sheds as a consistent system that pedestrians can use to avoid the elements: sun, rain, snow, bricks. Sidewalk sheds are a perfect metaphor for both “open-source thinking” and the integration that I see happening more via technology: What is done at a local/personal level, the deployment of a shed for a facade repair project, can be seen and understood at a level up (the macro/city level) as a complete system—with an appropriate piece of technology, that story, that frame, becomes visible/understandable and the emergent system takes on a new quality—and perhaps a new use, as I propose.
Check out more: http://www.jeffmaki.com