Carson Conversations Forum | Erica Larsen-Dockray
Erica Larsen-Dockray Artist and Adjunct Professor – Experimental Animation
California Institute of the Arts (CalArts,) speaks at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts. Her talk: “The Student’s Journey in Emerging Media Arts.”
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[00:00:00.606](light piano melody)
[00:00:10.391]So I have been asked to share with you
[00:00:13.318]my experience as a rural Nebraskan,
[00:00:15.940]and also a emerging media artist, and my journey.
[00:00:20.579]How to get from one place to another.
[00:00:29.692]There we go.
[00:00:31.999]So as the saying goes, but you can't take Nebraska
[00:00:34.667]out of the girl, right?
[00:00:36.423]So the Nebraska in me feels right now
[00:00:40.631]a really strong spirit of paying it forward.
[00:00:43.061]I'm so excited about this Carson Center
[00:00:45.531]because for me personally it was really hard
[00:00:48.747]for me to feel validated in just pursuing
[00:00:51.337]an art career in general.
[00:00:52.913]And this is even an incredible opportunity for kids
[00:00:56.612]who were like me, to have a place and to have that support.
[00:01:00.820]So to that extent, I want to invoke the spirit
[00:01:03.922]of the pioneers of the Scottsbluff area
[00:01:07.632]that used to go on the Oregon Trail,
[00:01:10.732]and head west on their own journeys.
[00:01:13.638]So what I did was, I made my own trail.
[00:01:17.820]I actually made a Google Map, so if you're interested
[00:01:20.817]to check out the map itself,
[00:01:22.735]it's gonna be there for a while.
[00:01:24.684]So I actually mapped out my trail west.
[00:01:29.178]And there's also more detailed information on it.
[00:01:31.309]So this was actually my trail.
[00:01:34.122]This is the Erica Larson-Dockray trail, is what I called it.
[00:01:38.927]So my college career really
[00:01:40.435]just looks like a pinball machine.
[00:01:42.927]And when I look at this now, it's really iconic
[00:01:46.204]of how, like, insecure I was, and also how my family was
[00:01:50.925]of what I was wanting to do and where I was wanting to go.
[00:01:58.401]So throughout my journey I had a lot of
[00:02:00.420]overarching obstacles, and a lot of those
[00:02:03.869]were based in this concept that
[00:02:07.498]art could really only be a hobby
[00:02:09.200]and not necessarily a career.
[00:02:10.791]And I don't know if that's based off of
[00:02:12.323]just being in a small rural community,
[00:02:14.378]and being completely isolated from the art world,
[00:02:17.393]the technology world, but that was what was
[00:02:19.580]kind of going against in my own pursuits.
[00:02:22.803]And so getting through this, it took a lot of time,
[00:02:27.369]a lot of mentors, and lots of perseverance.
[00:02:31.520]So let's head on down that trail.
[00:02:36.426]I'm actually gonna hold this
[00:02:37.588]so I can move around a little bit.
[00:02:40.609]So my journey starts in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
[00:02:43.326]Actually about 15 miles north of Scottsbluff,
[00:02:46.043]so even more remote than just Scottsbluff.
[00:02:49.887]This was the feedlot that I grew up on,
[00:02:52.516]my dad Dallas founded it, Larsen Feeding Corporation.
[00:02:56.580]We had a 10,000 head feedlot operation,
[00:02:59.684]and this is where I spent my entire non-adult life.
[00:03:04.425]My father, Dallas, was a cattle buyer
[00:03:07.406]from Kimball, South Dakota.
[00:03:09.461]And he settled down after he met this beautiful lady.
[00:03:12.685]This is my mom, she was a rodeo queen,
[00:03:16.174]and her name is Patti.
[00:03:20.356]And then here's some awkward shots of me growing up.
[00:03:24.716]But I often was seen getting into mischief
[00:03:26.759]with my two brothers and my sister.
[00:03:29.940]I went to Mitchell, Nebraska for schooling,
[00:03:32.300]which population was about 1000 people.
[00:03:35.410]And being a cattleman's daughter, I ate beef
[00:03:38.058]eight out of seven days a week, just so you know.
[00:03:41.669]But I also want to talk about my media diet.
[00:03:44.993]So growing up where I did, I had this great concept
[00:03:49.523]of country cable, where I had three channels,
[00:03:53.502]that's all we had.
[00:03:54.421]We had ABC, CBS, and PBS, so I watched a lot of PBS.
[00:03:59.542]And some of my most influential sources
[00:04:02.902]were British comedies, especially Monty Python,
[00:04:06.972]and specifically Terry Gilliam's animation in Monty Python.
[00:04:12.774]Dr. Who, lots of Disney animation,
[00:04:15.581]and other random wacky Japanese and old historical
[00:04:19.747]animation videos that we got from the libraries.
[00:04:23.426]I also, oh now they're starting, there we go.
[00:04:29.206]Some of them are an auto play.
[00:04:32.113]One of the other things that was actually really kind of
[00:04:34.261]serendipitous for me was my oldest brother Matt
[00:04:37.128]is 10 years my senior, and what he would do
[00:04:39.470]is he'd go over to his friend's house and video tape MTV.
[00:04:43.203]So I actually would watch these VHS tapes
[00:04:46.443]on repeat until they just like died,
[00:04:48.886]so this was actually really, really great.
[00:04:51.054]And a lot of my introduction to animation and media
[00:04:54.315]was through this incredible, like, revolutionary era of MTV.
[00:05:03.151]Oh, and Bob Ross, too.
[00:05:08.178]Anybody else a Bob Ross fan out here, we got, yes, yes.
[00:05:10.694](audience cheering and applauding)
[00:05:13.250]So, like, Bob Ross literally was my first art teacher,
[00:05:16.632]just so you know, and probably like
[00:05:18.302]the first artist that I knew.
[00:05:21.460]So yeah, you gotta love him.
[00:05:26.614]So when I was 15 I started working
[00:05:29.463]with my oldest brother Matt, that's him.
[00:05:32.309]And that's Matt, and that's me,
[00:05:36.067]and this was when I was actually at Lincoln later on,
[00:05:38.820]but I wasn't 15 in that picture.
[00:05:41.462]So I started working with him at his business
[00:05:43.550]called Inventive Media, and he was,
[00:05:47.009]I come from a family of entrepreneurs, like my dad.
[00:05:50.642]But my brother Matt actually brought wireless internet
[00:05:53.103]to western Nebraska, eastern Wyoming area,
[00:05:56.220]so this was one of the first, like,
[00:05:59.395]this was one of the first iterations of his process.
[00:06:02.429]And so he had internet services, but he also did
[00:06:04.698]video production and web design, and graphic design.
[00:06:08.664]So when I worked with him,
[00:06:10.710]he mentored me but I also got to interact with
[00:06:13.211]the graphic designers that worked there,
[00:06:15.099]the web designers, and the video producers.
[00:06:17.599]So I got to learn Photoshop when I was 15,
[00:06:19.788]I got to learn the Video Toaster,
[00:06:22.212]anybody know the Video Toaster, VHS, baby.
[00:06:26.335]I got to learn that while I was there, too.
[00:06:28.499]So I was exposed to a lot of great mentors.
[00:06:31.241]The other thing that I learned
[00:06:32.428]that I think is really important is that it was here
[00:06:35.052]that I figured out that there was jobs
[00:06:37.315]that were not starving artist in the art world
[00:06:40.273]that I could actually think about.
[00:06:42.210]'Cause before that I didn't really know that.
[00:06:46.399]Okay, so when it came to college,
[00:06:51.000]first thing I said is, I want to go to art school,
[00:06:52.529]and I want to go to California, that's it, that's it.
[00:06:55.247]And my mom and dad were not neccessarily buying that.
[00:06:59.270]So my dad being the gambling man that he is, said,
[00:07:04.007]"How 'bout you go to UNL for two years
[00:07:06.382]just like your brothers and your sister,
[00:07:08.377]and then we'll talk art school."
[00:07:10.392]And I said, "Okay, all right, I can do that."
[00:07:13.160]So for two years, this is the best picture he has.
[00:07:17.803]I gotta get on his case, but.
[00:07:19.565]So for two years I came to UNL
[00:07:21.363]and I studied graphic design with Ron Bartels,
[00:07:23.654]who definitely was one of my mentors.
[00:07:25.571]He also was a graduate of CalArts and was the one
[00:07:28.084]who first told me about CalArts
[00:07:30.262]and explained how awesome I would be there,
[00:07:32.263]and how I'd really like it.
[00:07:34.545]I also though, found it (laughs) I had to add this in there.
[00:07:39.860]But I also it a little frustrating
[00:07:41.637]that graphic design was all on the computer
[00:07:43.996]because clearly I love to get messy and paint.
[00:07:48.782]Even myself for football games.
[00:07:51.904]So I wasn't neccessarily sure
[00:07:54.521]that graphic design was the fit.
[00:07:56.391]But here's the thing, we're talking a lot about,
[00:07:58.991]you know, jobs, and that was really the mentality
[00:08:02.302]that I had, was when I was talking to my parents
[00:08:05.359]about what I wanted to pursue was based off of a job.
[00:08:09.377]So I had to try and find an industry
[00:08:12.289]that I needed to be into, not neccessarily what I wanted
[00:08:16.199]to just do to be happy, but where I fit.
[00:08:19.308]How could I prove to them that I was gonna make enough money
[00:08:22.366]and still be able to be happy and be artsy.
[00:08:26.196]So, but I wasn't digging graphic design
[00:08:27.868]because it was too much screens.
[00:08:33.905]So instead of going to California, I went to Phoenix instead
[00:08:39.329]and decided to study animation then.
[00:08:41.765]'Cause I felt animation was a little more,
[00:08:44.272]I could still draw, I could still paint,
[00:08:46.150]but I could still work with a computer,
[00:08:47.785]'cause I really loved working with computers, too.
[00:08:52.677]Let me make sure I'm not forgetting something here.
[00:08:55.295]Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay.
[00:08:57.192]But still when I went to Phoenix,
[00:08:58.531]I still had to sell to them that now
[00:09:00.291]I wanted to be in animation, like totally an animator,
[00:09:02.515]I just want to be an animator, don't worry about it.
[00:09:04.926]So I still had to like, sell this concept to them,
[00:09:07.412]I still had to make an economy around it
[00:09:10.136]to actually feel like it was a valid pursuit.
[00:09:13.470]Because just being an artist was not quite valid enough.
[00:09:18.586]And although my dad actually told me
[00:09:22.016]that that two year deal he made with me,
[00:09:24.936]he was actually hoping that after those two years here
[00:09:27.392]I'd kind of give up on that art school thing.
[00:09:30.836]Which really stuck with me,
[00:09:31.918]that's like a really strong message to send to a kid,
[00:09:34.342]of like, well we're kind of hoping you'd give up on that.
[00:09:38.382]But I was determined, and dang it, we made a deal.
[00:09:42.279]So I went to Phoenix, and while I was there
[00:09:47.414]I was one of two girls in my class.
[00:09:50.148]I also interned at CG animation studio
[00:09:52.754]and two weeks before I graduated I got hired
[00:09:56.038]as a motion graphics artist
[00:09:57.734]at a local studio there, called Fuel Studios.
[00:10:02.085]That was 2003 that I graduated.
[00:10:05.082]But even so, that situation I was also being a little
[00:10:08.458]disenchanted because I was a contract hire, right,
[00:10:12.400]which is a lot of what creative work is.
[00:10:15.440]So for me I felt like that security that I had been,
[00:10:17.722]like, promising my parents and my family,
[00:10:20.538]actually wasn't existing, so it was a little tough.
[00:10:25.577]And then the unexpected happened.
[00:10:27.592]Four months after I graduated in 2003,
[00:10:30.094]my dad passed away suddenly, so I went home.
[00:10:34.956]And it was fine by me because Phoenix was so hot.
[00:10:42.174]Oops, oh, it didn't play.
[00:10:45.226]Oh well, okay, did it play?
[00:10:48.747]Okay (laughs) sorry, I can't always see.
[00:10:52.857]It was really hot, and everybody says,
[00:10:54.682]"Oh, it's a dry heat," no one tells you
[00:10:56.612]it does not cool down at night.
[00:10:59.173]If they would have told me that I never would have gone,
[00:11:00.805]and that's really major.
[00:11:02.542]So I went back to Scottsbluff and had like
[00:11:05.433]this really important sort of reflective time.
[00:11:08.802]And really try to figure out who I was
[00:11:12.918]and what I needed to do.
[00:11:14.733]Because everything up until that point
[00:11:16.688]didn't seem to be working.
[00:11:18.118]And a lot of it had to do with because I was looking
[00:11:19.759]for a cog to fit into, and realized that I wasn't a cog.
[00:11:33.085]And while I was there I made art for myself
[00:11:35.795]and remembered how much fun that was,
[00:11:38.028]and how much I enjoyed being an artist
[00:11:39.625]over just like a commercial bigwig.
[00:11:42.244]I remembered how much I loved to teach art.
[00:11:44.432]I taught a little country school that was K through eight
[00:11:48.181]and that was really great.
[00:11:49.968]I also started my first business, Eek Art,
[00:11:52.850]which is what I would perform my freelance under.
[00:11:56.619]So I decided two things,
[00:11:58.789]I decided I really love to teach kids,
[00:12:00.988]but working in a school system means
[00:12:02.604]that I probably wouldn't be able to make my own work.
[00:12:04.852]And that's when I sort of shifted and said,
[00:12:07.141]I think I need to teach, like, college,
[00:12:09.448]because that to me seems like one of the places
[00:12:12.146]where I can still teach, which is one of my passions.
[00:12:14.888]But also it supports me having an art practice.
[00:12:17.804]But to do that I needed an MFA,
[00:12:19.699]so what I decided to do was to go back to Lincoln
[00:12:24.817]and try and beef up my portfolio,
[00:12:27.832]and then apply for grad schools from there.
[00:12:30.956]So this was summer of 2006, and I moved here to Lincoln,
[00:12:34.532]and I actually began working at University Communications
[00:12:38.878]in their web department
[00:12:40.670]as an associate interactive media developer.
[00:12:45.442]So UCOM was a whole other awesome flavor of creative work,
[00:12:50.375]which I loved, especially being around the writers,
[00:12:53.845]the video people, the web people, the graphic design people.
[00:12:58.551]Are any UCOM people here today?
[00:13:03.765]Just wanted to give a shout out.
[00:13:06.056]So that fall I had a lot of fun making work
[00:13:08.381]and I just like made a lot, a lot of work.
[00:13:11.214]And I was still thinking about how the moving image
[00:13:13.373]could fit back into my practice.
[00:13:15.331]But it was really just to build a portfolio.
[00:13:19.229]So in October of that same year,
[00:13:21.248]UCOM actually offered me a research assistanceship,
[00:13:23.498]so if I was going to apply for the grad program
[00:13:26.252]I would have a free ride, so I couldn't refuse.
[00:13:29.091]So I applied to the program, was accepted,
[00:13:32.305]and the following year studied painting and drawing
[00:13:35.289]with Aaron Holz as my advisor, and Ron Bartels
[00:13:37.709]was still there, he was my number two advisor.
[00:13:40.623]And again I made a lot of work, and I also began exploring
[00:13:44.293]how projection could fit into with my paintings,
[00:13:47.324]so starting to build or to meld those two different worlds
[00:13:51.302]that I love, the technology and the art making and painting.
[00:13:55.102]And this was the first piece that I made.
[00:13:58.101]Is it rolling, there we go.
[00:14:01.454]This is actually an animated painting.
[00:14:03.209]It's a painting on paper, so.
[00:14:05.715]And this person here is actually my oldest brother.
[00:14:08.200]He didn't quite know what to think about this piece.
[00:14:11.979]But the projection is actually interacting
[00:14:13.572]with the painting, so the face is a painting
[00:14:15.575]and the eyes and the clouds are projection
[00:14:17.707]that are interacting with it.
[00:14:19.911]So you see that Terry Gilliam reference here?
[00:14:22.181]Yeah, you can see that.
[00:14:24.681]So, but this also like, posed a problem
[00:14:26.807]with the faculty here because they could help me
[00:14:29.979]with my painting, but all this animation stuff,
[00:14:32.844]I was kind of at a loss because they didn't necessarily
[00:14:35.447]know anything, there wasn't anybody doing animation here.
[00:14:38.388]Or this kind of interactive work.
[00:14:40.658]So, and this is also another entry point
[00:14:43.624]for the Carson Center and how I'm excited
[00:14:45.258]that this center is actually going to help
[00:14:47.463]facilitate that for future students.
[00:14:51.145]So I decided to go to California and apply for grad school,
[00:14:55.386]and that's when I went into CalArts.
[00:15:00.667]At CalArts I got into the experimental animation program,
[00:15:03.504]and the integrated media program, which I feel like
[00:15:05.545]is a really great parallel for Carson Center,
[00:15:07.826]because it's the same thing, it's an add-on
[00:15:09.840]to an existing degree and I feel like
[00:15:13.322]there's a lot of possibilities there between those two.
[00:15:17.426]Though I didn't have the luxury of having a studio,
[00:15:20.099]as I did here in Lincoln, I explored interactive work,
[00:15:23.340]I made games, installations, performance art, video art,
[00:15:27.120]and more animated paintings, and I collaborated a lot.
[00:15:30.072]This is some of my projection onto a dancer.
[00:15:33.729]And then this is a clip from my thesis,
[00:15:35.693]where I actually made an amusement park about pregnancy
[00:15:38.539]that had seven different rooms that people traveled through.
[00:15:43.213]And projection onto bodies, it was kind of fun.
[00:15:48.012]Okay, I'll keep going here.
[00:15:50.187]I also co-founded Santa Clarita Valley
[00:15:52.481]Adventure Play with my husband.
[00:15:54.775]And what we do is create free play spaces
[00:15:56.714]for kids and for grown ups.
[00:15:59.365]On the left there is Eureka Villa,
[00:16:01.615]which is a 30 year abandoned park that we came across
[00:16:04.084]and bought that we're going to make into a permanent space.
[00:16:07.499]And then on the right is actually an example
[00:16:09.824]of some of our pop-ups, where we just offer cardboard boxes,
[00:16:13.246]tell parents not to tell the kids what to do
[00:16:15.225]a lot of the time, and just let them play.
[00:16:21.505]And I also teach at CalArts now.
[00:16:25.586]This is a slide from The Animated Woman class,
[00:16:28.279]which is a class that I proposed to them two years ago
[00:16:31.382]that's a research and theory-based critical discourse class
[00:16:35.637]on how women are represented in animation
[00:16:38.107]both as characters, but also as creators.
[00:16:41.169]And it was written up the New York Times,
[00:16:42.656]and the LA Times last year, it was pretty great.
[00:16:45.122]So now my last trail is this summer migration I do
[00:16:49.692]back to Scottsbluff every summer.
[00:16:52.995]And that's because of the Calibraska Arts Initiative.
[00:16:56.097]Which is an initiative that I started in 2013.
[00:17:00.279]So every summer I come home, I have a seven year old,
[00:17:03.215]and his name is Dallas, and I wanted to make sure that
[00:17:06.566]he was able to grow up riding in a tractor with his uncles,
[00:17:09.942]and irrigating and riding horses.
[00:17:11.726]So I knew I was gonna be coming back to Scottsbluff
[00:17:14.245]during the summer, but didn't want to die financially
[00:17:16.736]'cause I still have to deal with LA income and expenses.
[00:17:19.851]So what I started doing was, you know I'm teaching,
[00:17:23.530]I'm teaching animation to these kids in LA,
[00:17:26.465]why don't I start doing that in Scottsbluff?
[00:17:29.142]So I started doing animation workshops
[00:17:32.272]when I was back home visiting with family.
[00:17:34.714]And in the last couple years I have actually been bringing
[00:17:37.375]animation students with me from CalArts
[00:17:39.689]to come out and teach the kids too.
[00:17:41.789]The classes are multi-generational, so they're all ages.
[00:17:45.618]I actually have a grandmother that traditionally
[00:17:47.980]just like comes and learns animation with her grandkids,
[00:17:50.423]and it's the coolest thing ever.
[00:17:52.891]So yeah, and that really brings us to present day.
[00:17:57.740]So my path really made me who I am.
[00:18:00.996]And I'm really, really eager to be involved with the Center.
[00:18:05.737]And I'm so happy to share my experience
[00:18:08.687]as a rural Nebraskan and an emerging art pioneer.
[00:18:12.739]I really want to stress these two points though.
[00:18:15.497]I really want to stress how important it is that
[00:18:18.991]we focus not only on educating the students,
[00:18:21.816]but we also have, I think, a greater responsibility
[00:18:24.857]of how to educate parents, and how to let them know that
[00:18:28.847]being an artist is actually a really great career path,
[00:18:32.017]and it actually opens up even more career paths
[00:18:34.997]than just shooting from a career path from the start.
[00:18:38.012]I also want to emphasize the importance of mentorship
[00:18:40.971]and how important it was for me
[00:18:43.278]to have people to show me those ropes.
[00:18:46.238]Because otherwise, I was just bumbling around in the dark.
[00:18:57.797]And I think it's a really unique challenge
[00:19:00.795]that the Center has to familiarize communities
[00:19:03.869]which otherwise are totally isolated
[00:19:05.443]from art and technology,
[00:19:07.423]but I also think that's a really incredible strength.
[00:19:10.235]And it's also an incredible advantage to tap into,
[00:19:15.702]to tap into that uniqueness that people aren't exposed to
[00:19:18.627]all of these detail-oriented spaces and technologies.
[00:19:23.481]And that we can actually begin in creating new media,
[00:19:27.459]new technologies, new approaches because
[00:19:30.767]we're working with, like, really fresh
[00:19:36.819]minds that are completely free and new
[00:19:39.484]to the idea and the concepts.
[00:19:41.600]So really my hope is that this center creates pioneers,
[00:19:45.600]and not just cogs in the wheels.
[00:19:48.356]To that, here's to the pioneers, thank you.
[00:19:52.068](light piano interlude)
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