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1283 interviews since 2009

A picture of Jenny Odell

Jenny Odell

Conceptual artist

in artist, mac, teacher

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Jenny Odell, and I used to call myself a digital artist, but I think I might actually be a conceptual artist. I'm based in Oakland and I teach art at Stanford.

What hardware do you use?

Because I seem to spend 80% of my life commuting on public transportation, I have all my stuff inconsistently synced among my computer, my school computer, and my computer at Facebook (where I'm an artist in residence right now) -- all MacBook Pros. Wherever my studio happens to be at the moment, I keep a 22" Cintiq monitor to cut things out on. I also have a regular Wacom tablet that travels with me when necessary.

At home, I have a big, cheap Dell external monitor only because I tend to have a million windows open at the same time. I use an Apple Magic Mouse I found at the dump and which connects to my computer as "Laura's Mouse." I also rely on a pair of Bose noise canceling headphones my dad gave me six or seven years ago that have been slowly falling apart. Currently the foam is exploding out of the left ear, but as long as I can still smush them against my head, I will wear them.

To take pictures (usually of trash, as part of The Bureau of Suspended Objects), I use a Canon EOS Digital Rebel, a Sunpak tripod, and some unglamorous box lights. To type up the Bureau's research, I use an electric blue Royal manual typewriter from the 1960s that was recently brought back from the brink by the only typewriter repair shop in the South Bay.

At Facebook, I've been using a risograph machine, sort of like a cross between a photocopying and screen printing, since you can only do one color at a time. Someone told me the other day that it's so named because "Riso" means "ideal" in Japanese, but that seems hard to believe after wrangling with the printer's mysterious needs and requests. Lastly, I want to give a shout out to my very satisfying Alvin Draf-Tec 0.5mm mechanical pencil, which I use with a regular black spiral bound notebook.

And what software?

Photoshop is my mainstay, for cutting things out and making animated GIFs. I use InDesign to make books sometimes. I've played around in p5 a a bit, and lately I've been rendering some 3D blobs in Blender. I use Dropbox to (attempt to) sync things among my several computers. I often give talks that have a lot of GIFs and videos, so Keynote's been useful.

What would be your dream setup?

My friend and fellow artist Liat Berdugo recently observed that screens "ask the body to be fixed in space"; my teaching mentor Camille Utterback has also noted that digital interfaces aren't very generous or forgiving to the human body. Basically, my dream setup exists in the far (or maybe not so far?) future, where I don't have to sit crouched in a vise-like position, poking and clicking at things all day. Is there a way to make digital art by running around outside and doing cartwheels? I really hope so.