Shannon Spanhake

Artist Statement


My work borrows things: familiar things, normal things, boring things from our everyday such as plants, potholes, air pollution, social strata, chickens, borders, data, food. I work to transform this familiar, normal, boring everyday into an uncanny and absurd space that can be found somewhere behind reality and in front of real-life.

My practice relies on the possibilities and limitations of a site. I explore boundaries, points, intersections, methods, and flows to determine an ecology of place. I then break this down through re-figuration to reveal the cracks, tensions, relief and supports of a structure. These structures tend to be ethnographic, political, tectonic, and social. The structures are attached in various compositions - they are precarious, determined, and in a constant state of becoming.

Re-engineering these systems is typically done through a subversive gesture, a tangible hack of the physical world. In The Ear of the Pollo (Fig 1) a chicken adorned in a Mexican flag and wired with audio transmitters crossed the US/Mexico border acting as a diplomat and an avatar for those in Mexico who couldn't cross with her. Cure Hunger, Eat Poor People consisted of ice cream flavors formulated according to international poverty data. In Tijuana Garden (Fig 3), gardens were planted in potholes throughout the city. A Squirrel (Fig 2) is a mobile device that I engineered to personally monitor air quality, a low-cost and scalable system with companion software that visualizes the pollution data making it accessible and legible.

I practice and teach a notion of engineering with society as opposed to for it. However, I attempt to take an additional step in my work by engineering with society to challenge ways in which society is regulated. Through my work I hope to activate possibilities for agency in the production of knowledge and to challenge mechanisms of control, empiricism of data, and distribution of information.

I, as a person inhabit the junctions of art, engineering, urban and information studies, and my work seems to be a reflection of this. It is fun and demanding to make, and I hope to continue finding creative ways to do it.

Shannon Spanhake Bio

Shannon Spanhake is a post-doctoral researcher at The California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology (CalIT2). She received her M.F.A in Visual Arts from the University of California, San Diego and began her studies with a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering at Drexel University, Philadephia PA, and went on to receive a B.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Spanhake is the co-founder of Lui Velazaquez, an art space in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico and the founder of the collective DoEAT. Her work has been presented throughout the US, notably at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.