Every week, The Mac Weekly sits down with a senior arts major. This week we caught up with studio art major Simon Koda. He hails from Leelanau County, Michigan.
How did you become interested in art?
In eighth grade, I got really into photography through taking skateboarding photos. I started learning how to use darkroom equipment in 10th grade. However, I didn’t really start figuring out how to take photos until I went to Germany for a Rotary Exchange in 11th grade. I had never taken pictures properly before. I would just press the button and see what came out, but now I was formulating pictures first.
Prior to taking ceramics at Mac, I always thought of art as more about drawing and painting. I thought you had to be able to draw really well in order to be an artist. I’m much more interested in mediums that are dictated by a process, like ceramics and photography using a darkroom.
What’s your creative process like?
My creative process generally stems from one root idea. For example, I had wanted to use photographic emulsion, which lets you sensitize any surface to light, on the bottoms of shoes, so people would have photos of themselves on their feet. That idea turned into a capstone project that documents some of the skaters I’ve met in the Twin Cities.
Could you explain more about your capstone project?
I’m putting portraits of skaters on their shoes. One shoe has a picture of the skater, and the other shoe has an image that they took of something that they want to skate on. The project gets to how skaters view the built environment and connects to my photographic roots.
What do you enjoy most about making art?
I have to do something constructive every day. If that’s making a material thing, it’s easier to internalize because you can look at your work and get feedback. Feedback is one of the things I look forward to about completing something. Not so much feedback in the traditional sense, like, What should I change?, but just getting someone’s reaction about my work. I want to know what other people think.
How are you involved in art at Mac or elsewhere?
I help run Mac Pics, a campus photo club. We run the darkroom for anyone who’s interested. We generally do a gallery show each semester and some trips to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. This semester, we’re actually putting together a publication. Also, I plan to continue to photograph skateboarding as an ongoing project for the next few years.
What’s it like to photograph skateboarding?
So much of it is about timing, both when you’re skating yourself and when you’re photographing it. A millisecond can throw off how a photo is read. If the audience is skaters, they know what a trick is supposed to look like. If it’s at the wrong moment, it’s almost like you missed the trick completely.
Did you study abroad?
I did a gap year in Europe two years ago. I found an online directory of European ecovillages and sustainable projects that were taking on volunteers. A lot of them were hosted through the organization World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, so there was some structure for me as sort of a work exchange arrangement.
Essentially, I was living as a farm hand in communities that were anywhere from four or five to upwards of 150 people. I would stay in each community for a week to three weeks. I decided to make a documentary because I wanted to give a window into the sustainable living movement. Although there’s content online and in other sources like documentaries, I felt it was hard to get through some of the material, even though I was genuinely interested in the subject. I wanted to make something that was digestible and visually interesting.
What countries did you visit?
I went to Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Italy, England and Ireland. I also went to Germany and France, but didn’t film there. Someone was already filming a documentary on the ecovillage in France. Two friends and my brother were helping me with the documentary at various points of the year.
What’s the documentary like?
It’s called “Rooted in Reason.” There’ll be eight 10-30 minute episodes, depending on the amount of material I have for each. Part one is online, and parts two and three should be online this summer.
I started out thinking it’d be 90 minutes, and I’d have it done before I went back to school. This might say something about me as an editor, but there was so much there that I felt it deserved a platform in an episodic format. I think I have over 500 hours of footage.
Each episode is kind of a vignette of each place. I’m trying to see how culture as well as landscape dictates some of the issues people are trying to deal with. For example, in Spain there’s not enough water, but in Sweden there’s too much, so you have to figure out how to get it to drain.
What were your most memorable experiences in Europe?
If there’s one thing that I learned, it’s that between couchsurfing and these work exchange opportunities, you can find a place to sleep pretty much anywhere in the world. There was one time we had a “maybe” from a host, and we just went anyway. We arrived at midnight and managed to contact our host without a cell phone and were in bed by 2:00 a.m. We had been ready to put our stuff in a train station locker and sleep on a bench. After that, I realized things work out if you just trust yourself. Also, one time our hosts in Ireland invited 20 other couchsurfers to stay with us. It was like a mini hostel in a Dublin suburb. One of the hosts ended up studying abroad at the U of M, and I was able to host him the following September.
What are your interests or hobbies besides art?
I skateboard, and I’ve played some intramural soccer here. Between all the different art forms, that’s what my life boils down to. Having grown up in Northern Michigan, I do like to get out and just be in the woods. Living in the city, it’s really relieving to go home and be in that isolation.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about majoring in studio art?
Try it all. If you’re thinking about majoring in art, minor first, take your five classes, and then decide if you want to be a major. Also, “Untitled” is a terrible title for any piece.