Published Jan 21, 2020

An Interview with Seb Pines

In October 2019, InterAccess welcomed Sebastian Pines as its local Artist-in-Residence. Over the last three months, the artist has worked to develop a wearable jumpsuit that uses electronic circuitry to visualize their experience living with invisible disabilities and chronic illness.

The following is an interview between Seb Pines and InterAccess's Programming Coordinator, Megan MacLaurin.

MM: For those who may not already be familiar with your work, can you start off by describing your practice? What media do you prefer to work with?

SP: I have a background in many mediums with my main focus being textiles/craft and digital interactive art and I often like to work in fusions of the two usually culminating in wearable tech or alt controller games. I love the options that digital interactive art offers me but I also want tactility in my work and for it to have more substance outside of a computer so that's where my background in craft comes in handy.

MM: In November you led a talk as part of InterAccess’s Extensions, Prosthetics, and Symbiosis event titled “The Mal/functioning Artist”. Why is rebelling against functionality important to you?

SP: Rebelling against functionality is so important to me as it directly challenges the capitalist idea that for something to have any worth it must be at peak functionality, both technology and humans alike. Functionality much like ability is not a black and white binary, but instead a spectrum with a lot of nuance. Our bodies are often like machines in that they need maintenance and repairs, and sometimes they break in ways that cannot be fixed back to previous performance levels, but they still work and they still function, just maybe differently and maybe slower, but work nonetheless. Looking at the way functionality and ability are always prioritized creates a culture of replaceability and disposability, which with technology is wasteful and inconvenient but with humans is downright dangerous and inhumane. There should be as much love and affection for vulnerable bodies as there is for imperfect technology, so I hope through equating the two and challenging people on how they approach topics like functionality and how it replicates these ideas of replaceability and disposability that they may unknowingly carry over when interacting with humans, which ends up being incredibly harmful to those living with disability or chronic illness. 

MM: Can you talk a bit about the residency project you have been working on?

SP: My project, shrt C1RCU1T, is a wearable tech jumpsuit that is filled with intentionally malfunctioning tech as stand ins for ways that I experience my disabled body and playing with exploring how the disabled body would look as a malfunctioning cyborg. Moving down my limbs and back are LED strands that display a stuttering gradient between green, yellow, orange and red that tries to communicate my issues with chronic fatigue. Intertwined with those strands are haphazardly wired and embedded red LEDs on specific spots on my body where I experience consistent pain. I have a diagnostic display bracelet that flips through the diagnostic data that my cyborg body would need to output: pain levels, energy levels, motor system dys/function, heart rate instability, and one mode that just fills the screen with garbled nonsense making all data unreadable as its written over. I also have a hand rig that will articulate my left hand based on sensor inputs but does so in a way that makes my left hand completely unusable. This project is deeply personal in that I am trying to make as visibly real the pain I experience in my body everyday and hope that by seeing it others will get a better understanding of what it is like for me to exist in my body and how I am grappling with the reclaiming of the idealized posthuman cyborg from a crip perspective of already having my humanity come into question often in a deeply ableist society. 

MM: On January 28, you will be leading a workshop called Embodying the Mal/function in partnership with Tangled Art + Disability. What kind of activities are you planning? What will participants learn?

SP: For this workshop I am planning a brief introduction to working with physical computing and some basic coding and then discuss the similarities we can find between technology and the human body. We will work with making various small bits of tech malfunction intentionally through coding and think about the ways that we can embrace malfunction both in tech and in our own bodies to create and do interesting things. My hope from this workshop is that through exploring malfunction in tech in relation to the human body participants will learn to view technology and bodies differently and come away with a bit more compassion for both. As well learn the ways we can make malfunction fun and interesting and a thing to be celebrated rather than something that needs to be fixed. 

Embodying the Mal/function will be held on Tuesday, January 28 from 6-9pm at the 4th floor Commons at 401 Richmond St. West. Advance registration is required and is pay-what-you-can. To reserve your spot in this workshop, click here.

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