Reflections: Matt Nish-Lapidus

New Tendencies live in Berlin at ACUD MACHT NEU 2019

Akimbo is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2024 with a monthly series that draws on our rich archive of clients, critics, and contributors to reflect on the accomplishments of the past and look toward future possibilities. Our fifth installment features interdisciplnary artist, musician, and designer of the first Akimbo website Matt Nish-Lapidus.

Mock-up for the inaugural website, 2006

What are some of your artistic highlights from the past twenty-five years?

When I first worked with Kim Fullerton on the original Akimbo website, I was fresh out of my undergrad at TMU’s School of Image Arts. To be honest I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and maintaining an art practice was challenging. At the time I was performing electronic music at loft parties, small venues, and a few artist-run centres. I basically lived at InterAccess in their old 401 Richmond location (sometime even sleeping there, lol). To support my practice I did web design for a number of arts organizations in addition to Akimbo: InterAccess, Images Festival, The Music Gallery…

Eventually I wandered off and had a ten-plus year career as a designer working in software and other kinds of technology for public libraries, utilities, movies, and more. It was an interesting diversion, and I learned a lot working in that field. But ultimately it wasn’t very satisfying and I came back to art more dedicated and invigorated than ever, which led me directly to going back to school for a Master’s in studio art at the MVS programme at the University of Toronto. This is really the ultimate highlight for me. It was there that I deeply reconnected with my own practice and my peers, and found the mentorship that has opened up so many possibilities.

Matt Nish-Lapidus, Only the dreamer knows it, 2023, view from sound installation

One recent highlight is my sound installation at MOCA last year. Kate Wong at MOCA invited me to create a new site-specific sound work for the main stairwell, and I used the opportunity to think about the recent history of that building and neighbourhood, and my experiences around there in the early 2000s when it was surrounded by lofts and illegal squats. There were raves and parties, art events, performances. I remember going to a party on Sorauren that had a full trapeze act setup in the rear parking lot! For the MOCA installation I drew inspiration from a passage in Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Lathe of Heaven, thinking about how change happens both suddenly and slowly, to reimagine the current sounds of construction in the area as an echoing abstract rave in the stairwell. I’m proud of this piece and really happy with how it turned out.

How has your practice changed over that time and what is your current artistic philosophy?

Matt Nish-Lapidus, Breath from Breath, 2020-2021, four-channel audio, SuperCollider, Raspberry Pi, equipment rack, ethernet cable, speakers, artist’s voice, field recordings (photo: Toni Hafkenscheid)

I feel like it took me a long time after finishing my BFA to understand who I am as an artist – a process that is always ongoing and never really complete. In that way, so much has changed. But, in other ways, I continue to explore and expand the core ideas and motivations that have always driven me: computation as a medium; the social, cultural, and political implications and impacts of technologies; and trying to better understand a kind of beauty that I see and love in the potential for computer technologies to also be liberating and expressive.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about conviviality (in the Ivan Illich sense), and how (or even if) contemporary technologies can be more convivial. Or if they are already too deeply embedded and emerging from a worldview that opposes conviviality. Can we use technologies designed to classify, reduce, and systematize (bureaucratize) in ways that subvert the colonial logic of classification and enclosure? This is one of the big questions that drives my work at the moment.

Describe any of your upcoming works, projects, or exhibitions that you’re particularly excited about.

Matt Nish-Lapidus, Flux, 2014

I’ve been slowly working on a project about the accumulation of personal/individual digital “stuff.” Like images on our phones, these libraries become so large that they are useless and meaningless to us as photographs, but really useful for corporate data analysis. We think of them as immaterial or local, when they are actually duplicated and dispersed around the world in massive data centres and constantly transmitted back and forth to our devices. These personal archives collapse time and space in a way, and also change the dynamics of who personal photos/snapshots are for. Things that used to be precious and take us physical space in our homes (i.e., in photo albums) are now subject to capitalism’s externalities and commodification. Instead of making space in our homes and lives, we offload them to invisible infrastructure shrouded in metaphor and have so many that we can’t even really look at them again. My in-progress work explores my own personal image archive through various computational processes.

I also have a new installation in its early stages for a show in January 2025 exploring simulation, lines of sight, and virtual spaces. Hopefully I will have more to share about this one soon.

What is your vision for the future?

Matt Nish-Lapidus, Love Letters 1 (Very Slowly Spoken), 2022, custom computer keyboard

This is a hard question for me in a couple of ways. One is that it feels like contemporary society is in the midst of a major shift, and to be honest I find it hard to imagine things continuing the way they are for much longer. It feels like we’re living through a civilization-level change, and I’d say my perspective is “disappointed optimist” in that I really love the world and want things to get better for everyone, and see the potential for that to happen, but at every turn it feels like we’re moving in the wrong direction. It’s hard to stay optimistic sometimes, but I think the only way forward is through developing love and attachment to the world and each other. Otherwise, what do we have?

The other way that this is a challenging question is that I have a form of time blindness related to ADHD that makes it almost impossible for me to actually envision the future 🙂 I tend to get stuck in abstractions and vague feelings. My mind is very present-focused, which has led me to think about alternative presents as a kind of futurism.

For my own practice, I want to continue to explore alternatives to the dominant technoculture, and cultivate a life and community in opposition to contemporary norms. I want to continue to push my work in new directions, including helping communities and organizations become more self-sufficient and be able to free themselves from Big Tech as much as possible. I want to use my skills and knowledge to express a vision for an alternate present as well as do what I can to bring it into being.