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Space Invaders: Inside Melissa F. Clarke's Brooklyn Studio

Melissa F. Clarke arranges the data of Antarctica and launches a Kickstarter campaign that will take her to Greenland to gather information for her new work After The Ice.

We’re fascinated by the artistic process and are constantly trying to peek behind the curtain to see how things are made. We’ll take you into the studios of creatives across all disciplines in order to find out exactly where and how they do what they do. Today, the South Williamsburg workspace of multidisciplinary artist Melissa F. Clarke.

Growing up in the Northeast United States, ITP grad and new media professor Melissa F. Clarke has always been surrounded by nature’s extremities—most notably the cold, snowy winters that are often apparent in her works. Geography, land, weather and the numbers and data behind these naturally occurring phenomena are major influences and components in her cross-disciplinary pieces. But what’s really interesting about her installations and multimedia projects, is that a certain project tends to evolve over several different mediums as the work progresses.


For example, her ongoing work Untitled Antartica, deals with gathering seismic data from beneath the ice, mapping and rendering real-time results as two video sculptures with accompanying soundscape, and a series of stills printed as silver gelatin prints.

Today, she launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a trip to Aasiaat, Greenland in order to gather data to create her next work, After The Ice.

Peer into the studio of Clarke with us to see what goes into creating her multilayered works and why you might want to help send Clarke to Greenland.

The Creators Project: This is a beautiful space… do you have separate work stations where you work on each component? Can you take us on a brief tour?
Melissa F. Clarke: So this area over here is where I mock up installation work. Right now I have the Untitled Antarctica exhibit, but there could be any number of installations in this area at any given time.

Do you always keep your studio this dark?
No. Generally speaking this curtain would be open and you can actually see the Williamsburg Bridge. I have this fantastic view.

Is the piece on the back wall just a projection? It looks 3D.
It is a projection but the projection is on the three-dimensional pieces of MDF board that I had fabricated. This is a down-sampling of the elevation numbers of the western part of the submarine terrain going into Antarctica. That's why you have very short ones and very tall ones.


How does Untitled Antarctica change each time you show it? Is it just natural because of the changing data?
The video is constantly changing, or theoretically constantly changing, so the visuals will always be different. The same goes for the glass piece as well. The next time that I show the piece I would like to go larger in scale for both, and for this piece suspend it form the ceiling instead of constructed as a table. I have to work on that. I'm working with some architects to figure out how to do it, because this becomes really heavy.

Interestingly enough, the glass is bonded with UV glue, which is kind of cool. It's very fascinating to do. I don't know if you've ever done Plexi before, but it's kind of obvious to me because it's the melting of two synthetics. If you do it with glass, it's really fascinating because you put the glass down at a perfect 90-degree angle and hit it with the UV light, and then it's just there.You always wonder how they make the museum boxes. So I consulted with someone who does stain glass and he's the one who told me about this technique. And then I hand cut the glass and took it to a place in Greenpoint and they made the perfect edges.

You're very organized.
I think when you're working with all these different mediums, you kind of have to be. For me, at least.

Here are all my lenses, capacitors, stuff for electronic art. I haven't been doing a lot of that lately.


Here are my tools—wires, glass, all my cables. Currently I have two computers, I used to have four.

Besides Max/MSP/Jitter, what other programs are essential to your process?
I use Processing, and of course I use Final Cut and all the Adobe stuff. I'm pretty much a Max/MSP/Jitter person at this point. It does everything I need it to do. I also use Peak for sound editing, but for making a live installation, this is the way to go. If I were to use something that was highly interactive, I might use openFrameworks or something like that. So far, for this stuff, I'm not doing a lot of interactivity so this works for me.

Do you consider yourself a composer?
Yeah, I've released some sound stuff. I might do something with data from Japan, and I'm going to the Arctic in August. So I'm going to release a DVD with a CD from that. I really love the pieces that are more generative that are also composing over time. It's a little more nerve-racking because you have those parameters. It's also nice just to create this thing that has these algorithms and it goes on to do something outside the composition. All of these things can happen without me forcing it. I like doing this generative work.

It's cool. It gives it an everlasting life in a way.
I like the sense of not having boundaries. But when creating this [sound] patch, I wanted to put more data and more data, but I had to restrict at points. But it can have this life and it's constantly changing.


Before the video is mapped [Untitled Antartica] just looks flatter. I also take stills from the video and then print them on a transparency and take them to my friend's dark room. He does traditional silver gels, old school style. These are all silver gels. I love the idea that I'm working in this really digital, modern sense, and then it's coming back to this old landscape. That's interesting with this type of print and the way I'm using these technologies together.

Will these be shown?
Hopefully. I feel like when I have people come over, they love the installation but they're like, "So much production!" And this is something that can easily be put up, it's a bit more accessible.

Is there anything missing from your ideal studio situation?
Today I realized I need a subwoofer!

Or rather, is there anything you'd have if money weren't an issue?
I've gotten really accustomed to cutting corners in certain ways and being okay with it, so I don't know. I would like to do commercial work less. I don't enjoy doing advertising stuff, but you have to. A lot of artists do it. It's extremely distracting.

I guess I would like to separate the kitchen from the work area. I would like to have a feeling of separation, because it's all one space. Sometimes I would like to eat and feel like I'm not in my office. I do my yoga in the installation area.

What else do you have coming up?
My trip to the Arctic is in August. I just launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds because I need $12,000 to go. [Read more about the trip and project here.]

All of your work revolves around natural disasters, no?
I don't know if it's that exactly, or if it's more metamorphous and change in nature and society. Often it's what brings you into focus with nature or things that are not of human design. Antarctica is this tremendous place of scale. For me, it's about growing up in upstate New York in my summer house, the lake right there that’s been carved by glaciers, and the awareness of this deep sense of time.

And then the amount of snow and ice I dealt with as a kid was pretty extraordinary, so I definitely have a thing for snow and ice. Hopefully I'm going to research it more in the next month for my trip to the Arctic. All of this work is seismic work, so it's all done using acoustic imaging by geophysicists to map the glaciers. So the next series with the Arctic will be done more with the ice part, more of the polar region.That's also very extreme—the two poles. It will be interesting to have covered both of them. I feel like I should visit both if I'm doing art about both.

All photographs by Shimpei Takeda.