Briefly describe the work that you do.
My work can range from the experiential and participatory to the passive spectacle. It ranges from historical photographic processes to video projection, from screen-based interaction to flipbooks, and from appropriated source material to curated collections of other’s works.
Earlier this year, I premiered an interactive work called “Mirror Minus” and this past June, I relaunched “Sole Connection”, an online collection of participant submitted images and stories inspired by the concept of “walking a mile in another’s shoes” (http://SoleConection.tumblr.com).
At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?
Wow. This is a tough question. I don’t know if I’ve ever made the decision to become an artist. If I have, then, it’s only happened within the past few years – long after having attended and completed graduate school. For me, the MFA program was meant to be a means to an end – achieving the credentials to teach photography on the college level. Being an artist snuck up on me when I wasn’t looking.
By contrast, creativity and the arts have always been part of my life. Throughout my youth and in my schooling, arts of all types held equal importance to sports and academics. So, while I can’t say for sure when I decided to become an artist, I’ve never considered not being creative.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
The two main components of my work (photographs and computers) have been there as long as I can remember. I have vague recollections of my 126 and 110 cameras and dropping the film off at the Kodak kiosk in the mall. I remember being enthralled with my grandfather’s Polaroid cameras. I received my first SLR during the summer before my 10th birthday and stepped into a darkroom for the first time that summer as well.
Our first computer was a Timex Sinclair 1000. My father’s business had an IBM desktop. We were encouraged to play with both. By the time I was in 3rd or 4th grade, there was an Apple ][ in every classroom. In 6th grade, we were learning to program in BASIC. Eventually my parents bought an Apple ][c for the home.
Though both of these elements were present in my life, I never considered that they could have any connection. I loathed my electronic imaging class in college, convinced that Photoshop was for nothing more than adding filters and effects and anything of substance could be completed in the darkroom. After taking a book arts class, I got a job in the conservation lab at the university library and later went on to manage it. My photographic work started to become more traditional, embracing darkroom techniques. All the while, I was becoming more interested in early social networks and chat rooms. I was exploring web design and some aspects of database programming. The more entrenched I became in each medium, the further apart I kept them.
Shortly before I left for graduate school, the library began exploring digital archiving (i.e. scanning Special Collections materials and making them publically available online). Questions of the stability of digital storage materials were at the forefront of the literature passed around our department. And these questions were still on my mind as I began graduate school. By the end of my first year, I was committed to damaging digital image files in order to present them in the hopes of making a statement about the fragility of data. I found myself falling in love with the underlying construction of the digital image. It is this formal exploration of image construction that has been at the heart of my work for nearly a decade.
What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?
In his famous article, Art and Objecthood, Michael Fried decried the minimalist movement as one that was principally concerned with the materiality of objects and their relationship to the spaces that they occupy – in other words, objecthood. By contrast, Art, by his definition, required an aesthetic experience where the materials themselves were only the means to the end – the communication of an idea, of a form, of an experience, of beauty. But regardless of their standing as art or object, the minimalist work of these literalists, as Fried termed them, challenged the relationship between the viewer and the art object or at least required the viewer to consider that relationship.
It is the literalist relationship to materiality and the post-digital rejection of the absence of objecthood within artwork that frames my investigations. It is that questioning of construction that opens up a line of communication between that which we take for granted and the means by which it comes into being. I am an educator at heart and an academic by trade. More than digging into something so that I can understand it, I find that I want to know the details of something so that I can share that which I already enjoy, that which I am passionate about.
This pedagogical imperative brings forth the process-oriented elements of my practice. Yet, that process is often a solitary exploration even though the presentation is public. My classroom experiences and engagement in community art activities have reinforced my desire to build community within my practice and has lead to process-based curatorial projects such as Palimpsest and community-building participatory projects such as Sole Connection.
We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?
I’ve often been known to say, “creativity breeds creativity.” By being around other artists and around art students, I am able to keep my creative energy flowing even if I’m not putting into my own work.
It’s rare that I can sit down and have a daily practice as an artist. I think it’s a great, in theory; but, for so many of us who divide our time between our own studio practice and another vocation/avocation, it’s not practical. I do the best I can to carve out one day per week (more during the summer) to experiment, make work, apply to exhibitions, and reflect on what I’m creating. My work tends to build from an idea in a previous project or concept I’m lecturing about in class. The most important aspects for my studio practice, then, are keen awareness everyday and reflection upon it.
What artists living or non-living influence your work?
This really depends on which body of work I’m focusing on. While I was focusing on my “Experiments in Reductive Video”, I found myself influenced by the works of Eadweard Muybridge, Étienne-Jules Marey, and Harold Edgerton. I’m also inspired by the work of Jim Campbell, Paul Demarinis, and Jason Salavon. As I move into my next set of explorations, I find myself thinking about Tim Hawkinson’s machines from the early 2000s.
So much of my work is also about the materiality of the medium that I find myself thinking to the proto-photographers whose explorations into chemistry and light led to the development of photography and to abstract expressionists and minimalists who let their medium dictate the work and our experience with it. I’m also inspired by the history of appropriation within artwork and the importance of building upon that which has come before and that which is culturally relevant. I enjoy reading Cory Doctorow’s writings on BoingBoing.net and support Creative Commons. I look to the traditions of the Dadaists, Raushenberg, Lichtenstein, and Warhol as well as more contemporary mainstays such as Sherrie Levine, Christian Marclay, Barbara Kruger, Craig Baldwin, and Negativland.
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?
I really enjoy the “finer things” in life (when I can) – good food, good wine/beer/bourbon. And because of this, I’m also learning to love the gym. My wife and I are trying to build travel into our lives as well. This past January we spent a week in Iceland. But we also find enjoyment visiting locations within just a couple hours of home.
I enjoy the simple things as well. I take pleasure in mowing the lawn and turning the compost pile. I like lazy Sundays, laying around and petting the cat and contributing far too many pictures and videos of her to the Internet. I enjoy sitting around the fire pit with good friends and hosting gatherings in our back yard.
Of course, most of my time and energy when I’m not making art is devoted to my students. I love sharing my passion for photography, video, animation, interactivity, abstraction, etc with them and helping them get started on their path as professional artists and designers.
Steven H Silberg is an image-influenced, material-based, cross-media artist with a background ranging from photography to book conservation. Working in image, video, and interactive installation, he engages each medium as a literalist. For him, the structure and process leading to the image is as important as the composition and content. By highlighting the construction of the image, Silberg allows his viewers to both engage the work aesthetically and engage with the technology creating it.
Created in Baltimore, his work has been enjoyed regionally, at venues including Baltimore’s ArtScape, the University of Maryland, and the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts; nationally, at the University of Texas, Dallas, Missouri State University and Orange Coast College in California; and internationally at the Finnish Academy of Fine Art and the Third Beijing International New Media Arts Exhibition and Symposium. Silberg was selected as the Winner of the Washington Post’s 2010 Real Art DC competition and selected as a 2012 Semi-Finalist for the Bethesda Trawick Prize.
Silberg received his MFA from MICA in 2004 and his BFA from the University of Delaware in 1997. He is a Lecturer in Foundations, concentrating in Photography and Video, at UMBC.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.