This year MCN celebrates its 50th anniversary. Just as MCN has established a network of established and emerging professionals, #MCN50 Voices brings members together, old and new, near and far.
Johann Diedrick, Senior Developer at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Tina Shah, Senior Developer at The Art Institute of Chicago, decided to do their interview as a creative exchange.
SO… How did you get into museums?
Johann: I’ve always been working in cultural spaces, since it aligns with my own art practice. I was introduced to my current job through a friend who introduced me to my current manager, who is also an artist working with sound. There was an opening in the Digital department, so I applied and got the job!
Tina: It was the year 2008. I had recently moved to the LA area. I was teaching at a private college. I loved teaching but did not agree with the institution’s policies so I quit. I didn’t know LA very well so wasn’t sure where to look for a job. I started thinking about places I had enjoyed visiting during my time thus far, and I thought of The Getty and the beautiful sunset I had witnessed during my last visit there. I immediately went online and checked out their website, coincidentally they were looking for a developer and as luck would have it, I got the job! The rest is history :).
Artists at Work
For our interview, we decided to pass images back and forth about our daily life at the museum and what it means to be a creative person working in an institution about creation. We talked at length about what inspires us and how we struggle to find time for our creative activities while working full-time. Each of us is able to find ways that our museums can inspire us still, and we can use that inspiration to fuel our creative energies. Over the course of eight months we communicated via image and text in order to document our work and creative lives. At the end we worked on an artwork together. Below is a visual journal of our correspondence.
Monday, March 6, 2017
Johann: How do you start your day? Mine begins, one way or another, by swiping my Met ID badge. This machine is the one near our digital department offices. It’s the one I use if I come in the building through the main entrance into the great hall, up from the steps on 5th avenue between 84th and 81st street. If I come in through our 84th street entrance, I use another machine located in the labyrinth-like passageways underneath the museum. Thinking about how you start your day? How did you get started at museums at all?
Friday, March 24, 2017
Tina: Hi Johann! SO… I start my day by getting off the train, usually running late and trying to walk up this little mountain as fast as I can. The museum is right in the heart of what we call ‘the loop.’ This is walking up Monroe St. and Michigan Ave. To the left you could catch a glimpse of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate! Once I reach the top of that little hill, I get a good view of one of our gardens. In the summer it’s especially beautiful!
Tina: And have yet another little mountain to climb 🙂 How did I get into museums? I’ll have to get back to you on that soon!
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Tina: Degradation of an image. Kinda like a memory. How are you?? Where are you? What’s inspiring you these days?
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Johann: Hey! I have been in Japan for the past few weeks – sorry for the bad communication! I’m doing well! I’ve been teaching workshops here for 3 weeks and I’m heading back to NYC on Sunday. These days I’ve been inspired by this environment.
Johann: This is the Kamo River in Kyoto where I’ve been doing sound recordings. For me the sound recordings are like photos to remind me of a place and its unusual things. (For a month I did a residency in Kyoto, Japan, where I taught sound art workshops.)
Monday, May 8, 2017
Tina: Hi Johann! That image is beautiful. Sound does take me back to so many memories. Hearing a car with a bad engine drive by takes me back to riding in a rickshaw in India. I value these precious memories and want to do as much as I can to preserve them. My thesis project in grad school was actually about memories being triggered by color – I’ll send you a YouTube link!
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Johann: Ok! Send me the link when you can! I’m now back at The Met from travelling around.
While traveling I was doing sound recordings and drawings from the places I made the recordings. I’m also interested in how we document places, things, events, experiences, etc… It’s hard for me to know how these will remind me of memories down the line though. It’s still too early to tell.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Tina: I bet those drawings will stir up memories later. Are you adding descriptions to the drawings too? I guess you could say ‘metadata’? I’ve been archiving my daughter’s drawings, and works of art. I find her creativity so interesting. On the back of each drawing I add her description of the work and the month/year. Recently she and her grandma found one of the archives and had so much fun going through it! Especially my daughter Soma. She was flabbergasted by what she was doing in preschool and kindergarten :). She’s finishing up 2nd grade now. I just finished my first oil painting class, had done a lot of acrylics before but not oils! Here’s my last painting, of my daughter:
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Johann: I want to install the drawing with sound recordings that I made at the site that I drew them. I have been doing the same with photos and recordings for a while, and I’ve always wanted to introduce drawing into my work so I’m trying! Here are what those other works look like:
Johann: Now that you mention it, I did add dates to the back of the drawings! Some of them got titles too. That painting is awesome! I did a little painting in high school but I was never drawn to it. I think I want to stick with drawings for a bit. Speaking of which I was inspired by a few I saw at the Cy Twombly show at the Pompidou in Paris in March:
Johann: When was the last time something at a museum inspired you to make?
Over the course of the next couple months, we decided it would be fun to collaborate on an artwork. We had a Google Hangout and checked out some digital options to make a work online but we were not satisfied with what we found. We decided to send a work back and forth to each other in the mail and to use whatever medium we each wanted. We exchanged addresses and…
Monday, August 7, 2017
Johann: Shipped! Should get there by the end of the week
Tina: Awesome!! Can’t wait 🙂
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Tina: Still haven’t received it!
Johann: Yeah I’m thinking it got lost 🙁 I’m going to call them and see what happened. This sucks lol
Tina: Did you take a pic? Or maybe we just do this electronically. Draw, scan, send; print, draw, scan, send?
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
Johann: I didn’t take a pic… but I made a new one this weekend. Hopefully you can work with it? I can try scanning that at work tomorrow too.
Tina: Beautiful! Yes, if you can scan, that would be great!
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Johann: Did you get my email with the scan?
Tina: Yes! Will do something with it soon
Description of work/process
Johann: This was may be the third watercolor painting I have ever made. I wanted to play around and explore with colors, so it’s a simple color study with watercolors, which I made on a camping trip.
Tina: Initially I had planned to print out the image and draw on it with black ink. I doodle and draw with black ink often so that’s what came naturally at first, but then I wanted to see if I could replicate the way I draw in Photoshop. I started to do this and began to experiment with the various editing tools and filters. What I ended up with looks very different from what it had started to look like initially!
From the Editor: Can you both comment on any connections between this artwork you made together and your careers? I am thinking about collaboration, process, and things turning out differently than intended.
Tina: Initially I thought we’d have more time to work on our piece. We had planned to send our work to each other via mail more than once. However, with the mail getting lost we had to make do with what we had. We decided to make another work and send to each other electronically. This change in plan also affected my personal approach to how I would contribute to the work. In a sense, I had to be ‘agile’ to this change and to the limited time we had. In the end, I’m disappointed that our original plan didn’t work out but I’m not disappointed with the end result of the plan that did happen. I’m glad that we were able to collaborate on a work of art, and each of us was able to explore, not as planned, but in unexpected ways which made the entire process even more interesting!
Johann: I think that in a lot of situations, you have to work with limited time, limited resources, and unexpected circumstances. Being able to be adaptive when things don’t go as planned is part of the work I do, both creatively and professionally. I think we were able to create something new and exciting given both of our schedules (something we have some control over) and the original artwork getting lost in the mail (something we have no control over). I’m glad we were able to create something together and share our creativity together!