Artist Mark Koven Makes Waves Using New Media and an Old Vehicle
For Mark Koven, now beginning his third year as assistant professor of Art at UNC Asheville, the work is about involvement—with students, with the community, and with those who experience his art.
“I look at art not just as an end product, but as a process and an interactive experience for the viewer,” said Koven. And Koven is not content to restrict that interactivity to those who encounter his sculptures and new media installations.
He works with students across disciplines in conceiving of and constructing new works. He has also collaborated with the City of Asheville to create Easel Rider, the new mobile art lab that puts the means of artistic creation into the hands of people young and old all over the city. The project debuted last spring, appearing in many different neighborhoods and festivals, and on “NC Now,” UNC-TV’s statewide public television news magazine. A 1984 Chevy truck formerly used for bread deliveries, Easel Rider is stocked with a bevy of traditional art supplies, and it’s also rigged with a 4,000-watt generator, a computer controlling a complete sound system and a projector that can blaze light images 400 feet.
Koven and Diane Ruggiero, Asheville’s Cultural Arts superintendent, dreamed up the mobile art lab, and Koven, who makes extensive use of digital technology and mechanics in his art, was tapped by the city to help equip the truck. “My process involves others,” said Koven. “I want to be involved in the community, and I encourage my students to get involved off campus as well.”
“Swing Turbine” (AKA “Play Generation”) is a great example. A joint creation of Koven and UNC Asheville art and engineering students, the work was unveiled in New Orleans last April, and Koven hopes to find a venue for it in Asheville. Viewers power this sculpture by using their own kinetic energy to make it spin, generate electricity, and create a light show. Sarah Sanders (class of 2011), then a mechatronics student, worked with Koven from start to finish on instrumentation and design to make the installation come to life.
“Swing Turbine” caused a stir at its debut, according to NolaVie art reporter Georgia Kennedy, who wrote, “Grown people were spinning around … jumping for joy, with crazed, happy expressions, wondering, ‘Why don’t we always do this? What is the role of art?’”
That last question often arises with Koven’s work, with its accent on tactile and auditory experiences. He is presenting installations that generate sound this fall at ReVIEWING Black Mountain College 3, the annual conference exploring that college’s intellectual legacy, which this year will focus on the work of pioneering sound artist John Cage.
“Sound is one of the most interesting materials to use in art, with its ability to get you to recall things instantly,” said Koven. “You can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears … it’s almost insidious. But now with the Internet, Facebook and texting, you don’t even have to have sound. I want to use sound to bring people back to the reality, the physicality of the corporeal beings that we are.”
Koven arrived in Asheville in 2009 not knowing a soul, but it didn’t take him long to have an impact on and off campus, and he prizes the connections he’s making with the city and with students. “The first two years here, I’ve seen some amazing work here by students,” said Koven. “It’s a group effort among them and faculty. What I like is what happens afterward. One of my students who graduated last year is now working with the City on its art programs. Another is now taking classes at Chapel Hill so that he can be certified to create prosthetics. Another art student is taking classes in engineering to do more with electronics. It is exciting to work with students to help them develop the sense of agency, of responsibility, so they can do and instigate things.”
When it comes to being active professionally, Koven leads by example. Since 2000, he has shown in more than 70 exhibits from San Francisco to New York, from London to Taiwan, and his creative energy and demand for his work have stayed strong. Just in the past year, he has exhibited at Kawliga Studios and Ironworks Studios in New Orleans, the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art, the New York Hall of Science Museum in Queens, N.Y., Parallax Space in Lincoln, Neb., Punch Gallery in Seattle, ArtSpace Visual Art Center in Raleigh, and four different venues in the Asheville area. Your next chance to experience Koven’s art will be at ReVIEWING Black Mountain College 3, October 7–9.