A few years ago, Christopher Baker was a post-graduate student of biomedical engineering and computational neuroscience. He spent his days in a lab, trying to move data across a network to develop computer-brain interfaces.
But he spent his free time with artist friends, learning about their shows and helping set up elaborate installations.
"I knew how to talk to artists," says Baker, now 31. His artistic sensibility went all the way back to high school; in fact, as he approached college, he was torn between pursuing art or science. Having already received accolades in the field, he'd chosen the latter.
Now, it was time to go the other way. His doctorate within reach, he dropped out of his program and enrolled in art school.
"I pretty much finished my master's in engineering and then went across the river in the same university into the art department and got started there," he says from his home in Minneapolis.
Now, two years after getting his graduate degree in the arts at the University of Minnesota, Baker has shown his work as far afield as Hungary. And he's one of the three artists in GOCA's two-gallery exhibit systematizing, which opens today and tomorrow. Baker will be showing with Liz Miller in systematizing: part 2 at GOCA 121. A third artist, R. Justin Stewart, will fill GOCA 1420 with an installation for systematizing: part 1.
Baker will present several works, including "Murmur Study," in which 15 printers print tweets, in real time, that contain utterances such as "meh" or "argh." With the printers mounted high on the wall, the tape quickly reaches the floor and piles up in a mass.
"Murmur" uses a public search tool to find these tweets, but Baker doesn't know how many people it actually follows. He just knows the number must be limited: "I'm not printing every single one, because it would literally fill up the room in a day, easily, just with the search I'm using."
And although he does keep the accumulated tape, Baker doesn't measure how much actually gets printed. "I don't focus so much on the quantitative side," he says. "People get obsessed by numbers, and it's already kind of about the quantity just by its nature."
Baker says he's more intrigued by the strange mixture of personal and public aspects of Twitter; that shooting-the-breeze-type conversations can be permanently recorded on some distant server. Another dichotomy near the heart of "Murmur": that Twitter is overwhelmingly huge, but it's filled with flippant little emotional non-words. (Hehe.)
It's an unscientific approach. But the software involved with "Murmur," like most of Baker's art, draws from his experience as a scientist.
"All of my work actually involves components of technologies and techniques that I used as an engineer," he says. It's just that as an artist, Baker feels freer to explore the social, ethical and political arguments as well.
"That was something I didn't have any time to consider in general, as a scientist, because it was so specialized, in terms of the technology we were using," he says.
Art, on the other hand, is "a much more flexible place to ask bigger questions that don't necessarily have concrete answers."