10,000 Touches: An Interview with Daniel King

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I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and attended high school with artist Daniel King. I caught up with him recently to see how his artwork has developed over the years, to hear what life is like in Columbus these days, and to learn about his experience at Ohio University.

Nancy Zastudil: What was your introduction to Columbus, Ohio, and its art scene?

Daniel King: I grew up on the south side of Columbus and from an early age understood something about the art scene. I had a unique access point to art, artists, and galleries because my father is an artist and professor in town. At opening receptions as a child, I could fill a paper plate with food and slip beneath a table and there draw upon my own imagination. As an adult I am not enamored with the gallery scene, per se, but instead find a glimmer of hope within the multi-use spaces, collaboratives, and alternative venues that continue a tradition of challenging assumptions on a local level about what artists do and what our community is capable of.

NZ: What people, places, or things in Columbus have made an impact on you as an artist? In what ways?

DK: As an undergraduate student in 1999-2001, I realized the possibilities of working within a community of artists; the shared energies and skills of a group make for a rich experience. I was showing work (in what was known then known as Fire Exit) with a conglomerate of artists from around central Ohio who were using industrial spaces and unused commercial venues to create temporary installations. Living so close to an amazing resource like the Wexner Center for the Arts, gaining access to the great travel exhibitions, visiting artists, musicians, and filmmakers that come through Columbus has definitely impacted my tastes.

Between 2006-2009 I was working with a couple of cool organizations to help bring film and cinema programming to town. The Columbus International Film and Video Festival has been around for a very long time, morphing and evolving each year to try to remain relevant. For Columbus to have a film festival that focuses on political and documentary work is one of the least appreciated gems in town. Another entity I was lucky enough to play a part in for a few years was the Journal of Short Film (JSF), started by my good friend Karl Mechem. The JSF was a quarterly DVD collection of short films from all over the world–a great collection spanning experimental, documentary, and narratives films. Karl has since passed this effort on to the film studies department at OSU, who continue to sustain the effort.

I think working with these two groups made it possible for me to sustain my engagement in art and the art community even while I was completely focused on raising a family and making a living outside the world of art. This, to which most young artists can attest, is one of the most difficult things to maintain. A creative life as an artist embedded within the often overpowering work of being a parent, spouse, and employee is almost a 4 letter word!

I also exhibited my photographic and moving-image works around Columbus mostly with the non-profit galleries like Ohio Art League Gallery and the ROY G BIV Gallery.

NZ: What is your relationship to Columbus these days?

DK: I live in both Columbus and Athens, Ohio. I’m currently in graduate school full-time at Ohio University (OU) completing an MFA in Photography and Digital Media. I still consider Columbus my home base and spend much of my time there, but have been curious to see how living in two places can bring a better perspective to the one I call home. I see much to be excited about in Columbus today, more than I saw when I was getting started back in 2000. There are more co-ops, bigger community-run artist events, a new graduate MFA program at the Columbus College of Art and Design. And, despite having a more conservative governor, the city has a serious level of creative energy coming in from many directions.

NZ: What took you to Ohio University?

DK: Still a balancing act of family, work, and art, I had been teaching classes at the local community college in Columbus for a few years when I decided that teaching, rather than commercial art, was much more rewarding. I applied to a few programs around Ohio, and decided that OU offered a nice balance of interesting faculty and a geographic location, supporting my interests in southern Ohio.

NZ: What has your experience at OU been like so far?

DK: The first semester in an MFA program feels a bit like military boot camp felt, except I am the drill instructor. There’s this sense that I may never find enough hours in the day. I have met some truly rad people, had the chance to teach a class chock full of excited and energetic students, and find myself looking forward to another semester working with some fascinating artists.

NZ: What do you hope to gain from your time at OU?

DK: If I can gain a better understanding of my own artistic practices–to truly hone in on what I’m doing in a way that makes sense for me–I’ll be happy. Also the chance to continue to be involved in teaching is key, for ultimately I am finding value in exploring the ways and means of engaging in critical dialogue in the classroom, whether thats within an institution or in a community collaborative outside of the education “system.” I see benefits to working within the university as well as thinking outside the classroom. When I read about the opening of another free graduate school, or a community-run co-op with classes that extend outside of skill sharing and into critical social dialoguing, I get excited.

NZ: What can you tell me about your practice as an artist? What are the driving forces behind your work?

DK: I spent more than five years making a living as a commercial graphic artist, photographer, and marketing stooge–this propels me. Before that I was in the military speaking to groups of visiting journalists and students about the greatness of the US Air Force–this drives me. Prior to that I grew up a lower middle class white kid in an almost all black neighborhood witnessing how race, class, and cultural stereotypes are embers still burning below the surface in my community–this galls me, and forces me to make my work. However, despite these motivations, my work is not overtly political. I make moving and still images about looking, seeing, sustained vision. I work with film, video, digital and analogue materials.

One of my recent projects is called 10,000 Touches, a video loop and a series of prints using the marks created in the act of retouching commercial photographs of products for online e-retail sites. I am showing you the colors and textures of the little enhancements that exist on the liminal plane between the products we shop for and the actual objects. The prints are small, intimate little compositions, of approximately 4″ x 7.”

The video is a looping experience, highly abstract, presented within an audio component made up of recordings of my work at the computer… typing, mouse clicks, pen tablet shuffling noises mixed together into a cacophony of sound. You can see it here.


Daniel King is showing some of his recent work, along with a some other MFA students at OU, in February 2013 at the Majestic Gallery, a co-op gallery in Nelsonville, Ohio.

Images courtesy of the Daniel King.

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