Another 100 Colorado Creatives: Joel Swanson

#84: Joel Swanson

Words and letters and the physical act of writing elegantly float through Joel Swanson's world, where he explores and deconstructs their shapes and meanings in stylish installations. And he's a busy man: Swanson started the year with a well-received solo at MCA Denver; now he's off on a roll of group shows that will take him through the summer. And then there's his day job in academe at the University of Colorado, where he runs a program as tailored as his own work to the contemporary thrust of fine art and graphic design.

We asked Swanson to take the 100CC questionnaire; following are answers as elegant and timely as the work he creates.

See also: 100 Colorado Creatives: Beau Carey

Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?

Joel Swanson: Stanley Kubrick. He was as much an art-maker as he was a filmmaker. Kubrick was a master of composition and truly understood how to manipulate film as a time-based medium. He was never afraid of making his viewers wait, which makes us really have to engage with his work. The themes in his films seem to become more relevant over time, not less. I would have loved to collaborate with him on some type of filmic installation that blends my love of text with his mastery of imagery.

Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?

N. Katherine Hayles is a professor at Duke who writes extensively about media theory and electronic literature. Her work on the materiality of language has been foundational for my artistic practice. I first had the chance to take a seminar with her while I was in graduate school at the University of California San Diego. Hayles's writing is insightful and although deeply theoretical, it is approachable and relevant. Her most recent book, How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis, explores how digital media actively shapes our cognitive processes neurologically, biologically and psychologically. Continue reading for more from Joel Swanson. What's one art trend you want to see die this year?

Allow me to punt on this one. There will always be artworks and practices that I find uninteresting, but I could never localize that to a particular trend. I think any material, process or practice can be successful if used in an interesting and fresh way. 

What's your day job?

I direct, and teach within, the Technology, Arts & Media Program at the University of Colorado. This interdisciplinary program integrates technology, creativity and critical thinking. Our program recently reached over 800 students. I have a passion for teaching, and this position allows me to teach design, typography and critical theory, all of which play major roles in my artistic practice.

A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?

After the requisite solving-world-hunger thing: I would address the rampant abuse of adjunct instructors in higher education. I see this happening so frequently: talented teachers and artists driving hundreds of miles a week trying to cobble together a decent living by teaching one-off courses at different institutions. I'm not saying that all these positions should magically turn into tenure-track jobs, but if you are teaching a full load and doing a good job at it, you should be getting a decent salary with benefits.

I would also like to see more inventive approaches to tenured positions, like having different types of tenure, perhaps one that focuses more on teaching and one that focuses more on research and creative work. Continue reading for more from Joel Swanson.  What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?

I would encourage people to buy art from local artists. This is one of the best ways that any community can support their local art scene. Buying art is the most direct way to support an artist and therefore, an art community. Supporting institutions is important and necessary, but don't forget the artists themselves. And Denver is a great place to buy art because there is a lot of really strong -- and affordable -- work. Art is a great investment because it will only appreciate over time.

Who is your favorite Colorado Creative? Much of my work is based in text and typography, so I deeply appreciate strong design. My favorite right now is the design team Berger & Fohr, Todd Berger and Lucian Fohr, from Boulder. They do this amazing work that hovers in the tenuous space between art and design, which makes their work really interesting. Continue reading for more from Joel Swanson. What's on your agenda in the coming year?

I am in a show with Laura Shill and Adam Milner at the Firehouse Gallery that opens on Friday, May 9, and I am also in a show at DAVA that Viviane Le Courtois curated about the history of communication that opens on May 16. I also recently joined the cadre at David B. Smith gallery, so I am developing some new pieces for a group show this summer that I am really excited about.

Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in 2014?

I just saw Tobias Fike's solo show at David B. Smith last Friday. His methods are conceptually rigorous, and he has this remarkable ability to integrate humanity, narrative and humor into his work. Conceptual work runs the risk of being overly dry and academic, but his work is richly personal and emotional, without being sentimental. I always look forward to what he will come up with next, and I think he will start getting noticed more locally -- and nationally.

See work by Joel Swanson in A Recognizable Disguise, which opens Friday at Firehouse Art Center in Longmont and Madelife in Boulder and runs through June 13. Learn more about the artist online.

Throughout the year, we'll be shining the spotlight on 100 superstars from Denver's rich creative community. Stay tuned to Show and Tell for more, or visit the 100 Colorado Creatives archive to catch up.

To keep up with the Froyd's eye view of arts and culture in Denver, "like" my fan page on Facebook.

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