Joy Ndidi Adebayo

We discuss art and politics with Joy Ndidi Adebayo.

Tell us a bit about the piece you are featuring in this exhibit.

It’s titled “You Are What We Say”, and it’s comprised of several large LED screens connected to a camera array. The screens replicate how people are behaving in front of them, somewhat like a large digital mirror.

My mother is a professor of computer science, and my father is an anthropologist, so being raised in that environment has shaped my worldview more than anything else.

And what are you hoping to communicate with this piece?

“You Are What We Say” represents all the data that exists in the world about each of us, and how we can be represented in the digital world, or even recreated in some ways, by that data. My hope is that viewers will find it both exciting and frightening.

How did you get started with this style of artwork?

I have always been interested in the infusion of technology into our human existence and how that influences culture, so it was a natural fit for me from the beginning. I graduated from UC – Santa Barbara’s Media Arts and Technology program, and there my vision for what art could be was greatly expanded by both my peers and my professors. Though I have academically studied more traditional media, the combination of sculpture and movement within video and installation art speaks to me most profoundly.

Who are your major influences?

I would say my parents have had the greatest influence on me and on my art. My mother is a professor of computer science, and my father is an anthropologist, so being raised in that environment has shaped my worldview more than anything else.

Visually, I have to start with Nam June Paik’s pioneering work in video art. I’ve always been amazed by his ability to fuse sculpture with moving images in a way that communicates such grand ideas. Tim White-Sobieski has been an important influence on how I perceive both space and light. The music of John Cage and Brian Eno have also had an impact on how I think about visual art; their work in ambient soundscapes and the musicality of silence opened my thinking into entirely new realms. And finally, I credit the author William Gibson, whose book Idoru fundamentally changed my perception of what it means to be a “person”.

How did you end up in Chicago?

Even though I was born in Nigeria, I consider myself a Chicago native. I was only five when moved to the States, but I felt at home in Chicago almost immediately. And even though I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the world, I’ve never found another place that I love as much as this great city. So being part of the community here was important to me, and I consider a great honor to have been chosen to participate in this great exhibition.

The music of John Cage and Brian Eno have also had an impact on how I think about visual art; their work in ambient soundscapes and the musicality of silence opened my thinking into entirely new realms.

What is the common factor between all the artists in the DotConnexion Collective?

We’re a movement exploring themes of technology and connectedness. Instant access to information is an amazing benefit, but there are great potential costs to our privacy and individual security. I believe the artists of the collective are all communicating their thoughts about the two-edged sword of pervasive connectivity.

Why did the Collective choose to exhibit here in Chicago?

The city of Chicago is at the heart of the dialogue we hope to initiate through our art. We estimate there are now over 10,000 cameras continuously monitoring the citizens of this great city, citizens who in the vast majority lead upstanding lives and whose daily activities do not warrant such observation. Our Collective believes that the people of Chicago deserve better, and we hope that by bringing them together, we’ll inspire them to consider our situation, both in how we as a society got here, and also in how we should move forward.

As an artist, how do you feel about the future of our society?

I am excited about the future as technology continues to become a greater part of our lives, but also concerned by how quickly people seem to embrace the newest trend without fully understanding the implications. I call this “ignorant adoption”. The use of social media sites is a good example of this phenomenon. You have millions of people now publicly sharing information about themselves that just five years ago they would have never told anyone but their closest friends. I’m not certain that people recognize just how far-reaching the impact of that behavior can be. I hope through my art I am able to encourage greater dialogue and reflection about how we share ourselves with a fully connected world.

Anything else you’d like to add?

For the record, I think the term “social media” is ridiculous. All media is inherently social. What could be more social than the exchange of ideas, regardless of the method of that exchange? If I am able to play any part in the death of that phrase, I will consider my life a success.