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Undergraduate Researchers

Patrick Rife, Visual Arts - Art History

The Cyclical Nature of Obsolescence

Faculty Mentor: Steven Bradley

This research grant will be assisting my funding in building a sculpture/installation that investigates our cultural involvement in the consumption and rejection of technology. My research will allow me to investigate the sculptural properties of vinyl LPs in their physical presence as well as investigating the sculptural abilities of the content that exists on each of the LPs. In addition to aiding in the development of this piece my research will lend invaluable insight into my continued work with sound and how it can be represented in a physical space. This piece aims to initiate a dialogue that will span both cultural and generational boundaries in an effort to find a middle ground and our cultural commonalities.

How did you find your mentor for this project?

Calla Thompson introduced me to Steve Bradley when she was the instructor for my VCII class. Steve and I met one day and had a conversation and really hit it off. It’s an interesting relationship because I have yet to take a class with Steve instructing, so it seems I have a much different relationship with him than many of the students in the program. 

 

How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?

I had the idea for this installation in June of 2008 and spent a few months just kind of thinking about it without really talking about it. My background is in sound and music production so as a person who has only recently come to work with visual art, the idea seemed more like a plan I would need to come back to and deal with when I was ready and could financially support the work. Nonetheless, I continued mentally sorting out the rough details. When school re-convened Steve and I got together and I kind of spilled a million things that had been fermenting in my brain all summer, and one of those ideas was this project. Steve had mentioned URA grants to me previously, but at those times I don’t think I was there yet in terms of having an idea that I felt strongly enough about to warrant pursuing the grant. After telling him about the project and the rough sketches I had developed Steve again encouraged me to apply for a URA grant to fund this work. So really the idea more or less showed up right on time for the funding to come through.

 

Is this your first independent research project?

This is definitely the first independent research project I’ve done with any real expectations at the end.

 

Do you get course credit for this work?

Yes, I will be receiving course credit for this work. I was able to set up an independent study that will allow time for me to work on the installation. The sheer magnitude of materials being used requires a tremendous amount of physical labor. I will be working with between 8,000 and 10,000 vinyl records.

How much time do you put into it?

Well the process is just now beginning to gear up. I collected about 1,000 records last week. I think that as the summer comes to an end I will be putting in at least 10-15 hours a week. It’s really hard to say because I will put in as many hours as it will take but I cannot in anyway predict how easy or difficult the process will be. I’m new at this and will have many decisions to make in the creation process to come.

 How did you hear about the Undergraduate Research Award program?

I learned about the URA program through Steve Bradley and my advisor Preminda Jacob.

What academic background did you have before you started?

I will complete my BFA with a focus in art history in December. I have been attending UMBC as a full time student and working nearly full time for the past 4 years.

 

Was the application difficult to do?

The application was not difficult to do, however it was an application, which means it couldn’t just be slapped together. It isn’t the kind of thing you fill out at the last minute. Writing the grant proposal was both a challenge and really inspiring. I am by no means a gifted writer. I tend to get my ideas out verbally in fits and starts, lots of rambling and gesturing with my hands, not the kind of thing that’s easy to convey in type. This is the area where Steve really helped out the most because he could sit in front of me and hear me talk about the concept and then sit and read my written explanation and help me fill in the gaps.

How much did your mentor help you with this?

As I mentioned before Steve played a really integral part of helping me develop the written grant proposal but he also really helped as a sounding board. Over the course of the last year Steve and I have met at various times and talked about this project. In these meetings we would kind of just brainstorm what the themes were and how they related to the larger concept.

 

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research? 

I absolutely recommend getting involved with research. There are a ton of really amazing opportunities available. The one thing I highly recommend is coming to the table with something that you really want to work on because if it’s something that is only half developed you’ll likely lose interest. The period over which this research takes place is a year, which is a relatively long time to focus your energies on a single project.

 What are your career goals?

Ultimately I would really like to find a place where I can make work, be it audio or visual, and have it be something I can invest a good deal of time in. I don’t need to be able to support myself from my work but I do need to find a life that will leave me time to create. I’ve been strongly considering a nursing degree as a healthy fall back. I also have an interest in graduate studies, possibly an MFA but I really need to get out and work for a bit before I have any insight into what I would want to focus on. I think the most likely scenario is that I will try and work as an art handler when I graduate in December. I feel like being a handler will allow me the opportunity to survey a wide variety of tasks and jobs within the art world that will hopefully suggest a graduate focus.

 

What has been the hardest part about your research?

There are a few difficult aspects of my research work. Although the grant is for $1500.00, which seems relatively significant, it’s not really enough for me to fund this project properly, so I’m needing to do a good deal of begging for material. With my need for 8,000-10,000 records I had to be realistic about not being able to pay for them. I think it will be tight using the grant for all of the other aspects of the installation that do not include the records. In addition to the records I need a fairly significant volume of materials that I will absolutely have to purchase. That being said, anyone who has any vinyl records they would like to donate to my project would be a helping me tremendously. Unfortunately, the only thing I can offer in exchange is to haul them away.

 

What was the most unexpected thing?

The initial proposal for this project called for one installation; one physical piece of sculpture. But now, after starting work on the project, and starting to have more physical time with the materials, I’m realizing that there are probably closer to 6 or 7 pieces that I’d like to create. It’s is a really good feeling to have your work take on a longer shelf life and to show a greater set of potential then you had initially expected, but it is also really daunting as that would send my need for records somewhere towards 60,000-70,000!

How does your research relate to your work in other classes?

One way specifically that this work has related to other classes is in the non-art aspects of the project. Although this is ultimately an art installation there are a tremendous amount of other issues that come into play. In regard to the physical sculpture, there are aspects of engineering and physics to get it to exist as a sound physical sculpture and then there are lots of technical things with a remote webcam and microphone and an internal speaker system to play the audio piece. If possible I would love to power the electrics via solar power. I will definitely need to reach out to people who are familiar with these problems.

Ultimately, I think my research really informs everything I do as much as the classes I take influence my research and life. When I take academic classes that are far removed from dealing with visual arts I am still in tune with the potential for borrowing ideas. In this project I am working with massive amounts of records, keeping a database of information about each one, and wondering what to do with the information. In summer session I’ve taken Statistics as a math credit without expecting much else. In the end I’ve inherited this new perspective on thinking about numbers and data and that translates back to my crux with the data from the installation. In the end, all of my experiences, classes included, influence my work in one way or another.