Leo Castaneda Interview Transcript

What is your art and technology origin story? What brought you into this discipline?

I started at age 6 or 7 learning art in the traditional way, I grew up in a family of artists and architects. I began playing video games as a child. I had access to the same video games in Colombia as to someone in Miami or Japan.

I wanted to make a video game since 2009 in undergraduate at Cooper Union, but I didn’t know how to so I made paintings and drawings to build future characters and worlds. I saw figures in paintings like players in video games.

So you’re an Autodidact

In the digital front yes, I just went on Youtube and started learning. In Unreal Engine there’s blueprints which is like a node based visual coding language. That’s the only one I’m familiar with. I really want to take the time to learn the kind of traditional text based coding, the Matrix coding, perhaps online or through a bootcamp, but haven’t set the time yet.

Did you have access to classes that could teach you any of the things that you are doing or is it all off of Youtube and self taught?

Access online through Youtube, Udemy, forums and just trial and error

You went to Hunter College for your MFA?

…and Cooper Union for Undergrad, the closest thing there was photoshop and illustrator and some sound programs. I took a sound for film class and there was an after effects class I missed taking.

In my master’s program, there was someone teaching the basics of video game design for undergrad but…when I got there…well maybe I should have taken the class but I was already at the level of the class through online learning so I decided against it. I ended up taking a sound art class with an amazing artist, she would almost fit into the OG’s category (of digital art), her name is Constance DeJong . She did sound and performance art and was a friend/collaborator with Tony Oursler.

So you were with Tony Oursler? He was there too?

He wasn’t a teacher, he was a collaborator of the teacher who taught the Sound Art class.

Who else do you like who is an OG Artist?

Gretchen Bender, with her large video installations with hundreds of screens. Also the extra-extra-pioneer of the artist with the sculpture installations Nam June Paik. I’m trying to remember…I don’t know their whole body of work but there was a Janet Cardiff sound installation at the freedom tower in Miami.

Also the artists of the MUD Foundation, like Yucef. He falls into OG territory doing the interventions with the Atari systems before Cory Arcangel. Yeah. Also Alba (Triana) as well with her explorations of sound, vibration and magnetism, Jose with explorations of conceptual sound art/performance, and Rodolfo pioneering VR, surveillance, and internet based art.

So you’re like the young person?

Yeah, they’re all, like, ten years older.

Yeah and this is such a small space when it comes to time (of art history). It’s compressed compared to like, painting or anything like that.

Yeah the OG’s in painting are not alive. So, it’s curious that with just a ten year gap, that qualifies you.

Which current places do you go to? What are you reading or listening? I feel like as tech artists in Miami we need to spread the word about stuff more traditional artists don’t know about.

As in podcasts and such?

Yeah, like podcasts, etc. I’ve been reading Right Click Save a lot. I feel like we can be such loners, what would you like to spread the word about?

I find current artists mostly through instagram or word-of-mouth and seeing different shows that are happening around the world. Locally, it’s on their websites, maybe Superblue or something….

I was in a show in Switzerland in a place called Hek. I felt very honored because I’m in that age gap between the OG artists and the super emerging artists. Most of the artists that were in the show I knew about through the internet, Rhizome, Kill Screen which is another interactive art publication I’ve been following for a while.

My top three artists that like who work with a similar mediums are Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Lu Yang from China and Jacolby Satterwhite who went to the Fountainhead residency. Also love the work of Sondra Perry that exhibited at the ICA Miami.

I would say the top writer/critic when it comes to digital art (she did a residency at Oolite once too) is Nora Khan, someone who I’ve been able to meet here in Miami. She’s pretty awesome and yeah, through instagram and articles online I can follow her trajectory.

In terms of podcasts, the GDC podcast, Game Developer’s Conference which I’ve been listening to with my partner Lauren. That’s a video game conference in San Francisco. For a while I was trying to understand what the different abilities of anything could be in video games and learning more about science to expand, almost how Alba (Alba Triana) and other tech artists know a lot about science, so I was listening to The Science of Everything podcasts, um, what else, there is a podcast called Emergent Strategy. It was introduced to me through my partner Lauren Monzon. This year they did their first open-call for a program called The Praxis Projects which we participated as our new game studio Otro Inventario. Otro Inventario explores principles of sustainability and interdependence in games and game communities.

What other places like us (MUD foundation) and Locust Projects in South Florida do you recommend for people to go to see art similar to yours?

Interactive Initiative — it’s more game-focused than MUD but they are trying to do some of those educational aspects. Another one is 01 which is run by Willie Avendano. Then FIU has Ratcliffe Art + Design Incubator which has a printing lab and they are bringing in artists as well.

Where do you get your ideas from? What drives your aesthetics?

It’s more influences than mediums. My main inspirations are gritty science fiction video games but also Latin American abstraction and surrealism. My dad’s favorite artist is Roberto Matta so definitely him and then less surrealist but more on the epic side is J.M.W Turner. His storms feel similar to cinema. There is also Lord of the Rings and then the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion which when I was growing up in Colombia was semi obscure and philosophical. Now you can find it on Netflix.

You don’t really have humans other than the actual player, or do you?

Not at the MUD show but in the main video game that I’m making, the protagonist is a human-noid, like android/alien..a form that is bipedal with arms and legs. It’s called “The Other”. There are other figures but they don’t have hands, faces or feet, it’s more like a simplified form that is like the future form of a robot or a spectral being.

Not female or male? Like a middle?

Yes…because…as much as it is influenced from video games, it’s also trying to picture the evolution of the aesthetics of video games, where the games are more influenced by, “fine” art. Art has a lot more trajectory in exploring concepts of aesthetics that can be applied in a cross pollination of mediums. A lot of video games are hyper masculine or hyper feminine but the beings in the world, that I have been designing for 13 years, are very in between. Depending on which angle you see them, they feel a certain way, but they aren’t tied to a gender.

Hmm…

Yes, and also I try to create an expectation of hierarchy, with the Levels and Bosses title, which feels like “Kings and Kingdoms” but it has a more sustainable system. The world design is much more interconnected where the beings, the landscape, the technology are all interconnected and almost blend into each other, with patterns and forms that repeat across each other.

It happens in nature anyways, the loss of boundary of what is sentient and what is not.

Interview by Ariel Baron-Robbins, Sept. 1st, 2022

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Our mission: To facilitate educational and artistic projects where the internet, data, virtual reality, and art converge. Check out our website Mud.Foundation