Experiencing Turbulence: A Conversation with Dan Tapper

July 25, 2017

Throughout August the CMC will be hosting Turbulent Forms, an exhibit and installation from Toronto-based artist, Dan Tapper. The pieces will explore the universe through chaos and cosmology as they are inspired and derived from physical data gathered by space organizations and physicists. I spoke with Dan to find out how he interprets and represents this information in the project, what audiences can expect, and a bit more about his work.

CMC: What was your initial motivation to settle in Toronto? What strikes you about the community of artists you have met here compared to the UK?

Dan Tapper: I first moved to Toronto in 2014, I picked the city partly at random—it was between Toronto and Montreal and due to my lack of French and partly because I liked Scott Pilgrim I chose Toronto. I was more interested in cities towards the East Coast of North America as I had been living and traveling in West Coast America where everything is very spread out. The fact that I can travel from Toronto to different states and provinces quickly was appealing to me and also the wide range of arts, culture and education situated in Ontario and Quebec.

I actually had some difficulty adjusting to the city at first but what won me over was a really unique and exciting calendar of events and activities. From my perspective I have found there to be a lot of interesting niche art communities—I have also found a lot of cross pollination between these groups which has benefitted my interests and has inspired me to explore new fields such as small gauge film making and cameraless image making techniques.

CMC: What are the origins of Turbulent Forms? How does it build upon your previous works?

Dan Tapper: Turbulent Forms was first developed in 2016 when I was given the opportunity to put together a solo show as part of the Hamilton Art Crawl. At that point I had been working on sound (specialising in recording electromagnetic sound produced by the Earth's ionosphere as well as man-made electromagnetic activity), generative art made from code and I had an ongoing interest in collecting and working with data and exploring the creative licenses that are often taken in the representation of data. I had been working in each of these areas in a quite compartmentalised way but could see correlations and crossovers between each practice- particularly an ongoing fascination with physics, space and chaos. Turbulent Forms gave me the opportunity to create a show drawing from all my work and curate it in such a way that the correlations between each piece were clear. I also developed a new film work called Heliosphere which was my first piece directly connecting sound, digital art, moving image and data—journeying from the surface of the sun to the outer reaches of its influence.

This show was a great platform for me to apply for funding from the British Council and Arts Council England to develop it into a more cohesive exhibition featuring entirely new work created from a process of research and development combining all the areas of my practice that were previously separate.

CMC:How are Turbulent Forms and NOVA connected? Is it the creative method, inspiration, something else?

Dan Tapper: NOVA and Turbulent Forms are connected in several ways. To me they inhabit a shared universe of ongoing research, development and artistic creation. As pieces of work they stem from similar methodologies—harvesting information from space and creating physical experiences to explain phenomena and inspire engagement with a subject or idea. The pieces are presented in very different ways however—the images from Turbulent Forms are navigable by an audience who can engage with the image and audio works in a self-lead and personal way (through headphones and accompanying documentation). NOVA is a new work where I am experimenting with immersive experiences that can be explored from many angles—mapping the history of recorded supernova activity through light and sound.

CMC: How do you think about audience in a space? One of the striking things about the presentation of some contemporary music is the desire to strictly control the listening experience. With an immersive installation, as you point out, the audience has a different level of agency. How does this inform your decisions in regards to arranging objects and sounds in space?

Dan Tapper: I think a lot about how an audience navigates a space in terms of what will draw the eye and ear. The Turbulent Forms works exhibited in the CMC building are static with accompanying compositions and sound works which can be engaged with in any order and as long as each audience member wants. Positioning certain pieces at specific points in the gallery allows me to set up a sort of flow and add narrative and order to the experience.

I like the point that you make about agency—in this exhibit I bizarrely feel that the NOVA installation is more strictly controlled in terms of audience experience than the Turbulent Forms works which invite a lot of self direction and agency to explore. The installation is in a space of its own and this allows me to direct the experience in more specific ways—there are many ways to view and navigate the installation each creating a different impression but by placing the audience in a very specific, possibly unusual space I am attempting to create a scenario where people can step outside of themselves and approach the work from a view point drawn from immersion.

CMC:You have always struck me as a rather curious figure: someone who easily navigates a range of spaces and communities devoted to experimental art making. Whether that is through your involvement with InterAccess, New Adventures in Sound Art, Pleasure Dome, or living with choreographers and dancers. That fluid relationship with experiencing and making art runs counter to the totemic and often exclusive nature of artistic disciplines. Can you comment on how you define your artistic practice, and how your practice mingles with artists outside of music and sound?

Dan Tapper: In some ways I think that this is one of my strengths as an artist, while in other ways I have found it to be detrimental—as a young artist I have sometimes found it hard to market myself as what I do cannot always be defined under one category. I wouldn’t particularly claim to be an artist practising in a number of different areas—I see it more as being an artist working through a particular viewpoint or viewpoints and applying this to my interests. I feel that although my work tackles a lot of different styles and subject matter there are common underlying themes—these themes often are me trying to understand a particular process or idea or explain an abstract or mathematically complex concept in a poetic way. This underlying thread has always been something that I have been able to see in my work but I have been systematically working towards creating projects such as Turbulent Forms that combine these ideas and present them cohesively to an audience.

CMC:Tell me more about your Farside residency from earlier this year.

Dan Tapper: I proposed an interactive sound installation called Threads, this was granted a residency at Farside as part of the FAIR (Farside Artist in Residence Program) and made possible through a grant from the Ontario Arts Council. The idea behind Threads was to build a musical interface that grew over the structure of an architectural space meaning that the audience had to interact with the installation just by traversing the studio. The piece was inspired by mushroom Mycelium which is a mass of interconnected thread like structure called hyphae and how these interact over an organic network. For the duration of the project I held open studios and public performance sessions where people could see the growth of the instrument and interact with it.

CMC: Apart from the printed images we will see as part of Turbulent Forms, you also make your own prints by hand—lino cuts, I believe. Visually there seems to be a recurring interest in geometric patterns, and movement within a physical space represented two-dimensionally. Are you interested in tackling a creative question from various angles, or am I trying too hard to impose some equivalence here?

Dan Tapper: I have explored making woodcuts and Lino cuts using my generative art images as source material. I make the print plates by etching my blocks with a laser. I find this process exciting because I have never been particularly dexterous with a pen or chisel and this allows me to form very detailed and complex patterns. What I’ve done so far is quite far away from being exhibit-able but it’s something I find very enjoyable and allows me to experiment with more traditional art making techniques such as block printing. The images I choose to use come from my work and there is an ongoing interest in pattern and the distortion of geometric grids.

CMC:Can you tell me more about the Clangers? Is there any way that your current interest in space and cosmology does not derive entirely from that lovable show?

Dan Tapper:The Clangers is a children's television show from the 60’s that follows the lives of a group of knitted mouse like creatures called the Clangers. They live on a tiny planet far away from earth and their food is administered by a soup-guarding dragon. The Clangers communicate solely through sounds made by a slide whistle. I came across it in my late teens—although I had been vaguely aware of the show as a child. What struck me about it was the beauty and care that had gone into world building and creating a soundscape for that world. Music is a really important part if the show with the Clangers harvesting water from musical clouds or exploring off world with DIY flying machines that also operate as music boxes. I also responded to the fact that although a children's show its message was not dumbed down using language that is complex and tackling deep and pervasive themes such as alternatives to capitalist societies and human greed. I would say that it is very much a formative influence to me in terms of how I try and communicate my work—trying to tackle deep issues conceptually or investigating scientific processes and communicating this in a simple to understand and accessible way.

You can can visit the CMC during August to experience Turbulent Forms, and join us for the special launch of NOVA featuring new works and performances by Dan, alongside Allison Cameron, Mehrnaz Rohbakhsh, and Bekah Ann Simms.