In Conversation With Maya Man cover photo


In Conversation With Maya Man

by Jeff Davis

Maya Man is an artist whose work considers the computer screen a space for intimacy and performance, focusing on the phenomenon of translating our offline selves into on-screen content. Working primarily with custom software, she comments on internet culture by algorithmically remixing and collaging it into her own websites, generative systems, and installations. I had the pleasure of speaking with Maya in advance of her upcoming Art Blocks project FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT.
Jeff Davis: Hi Maya! It’s great to chat with you about your artistic practice. How did you first get into making art?
Maya Man: Maybe when I started making music videos with iMovie and Photo Booth in the early 2000s, but more seriously when I met people involved with the Processing community while studying computer science in college. I was never a classically artsy kid with a sketchbook. I was into math, physics, reading, and dance. I thought you had to be good at drawing to be an artist so when I was younger, I didn’t even consider it. But meeting people who made artwork with code helped me realize that there was this expanded definition of art that I never understood existed while I was growing up in a small, suburban town in central Pennsylvania. Now, I can’t imagine not making art because for me it’s about sharing ideas. I still can’t draw, but I can make websites.
Maya Man, Photo Booth (Waterfall), 2006.jpeg
Maya Man, Photo Booth (Waterfall), 2006.
JD: Sure, I think it’s just a matter of using the tools around you for creative means. When did you first become familiar with the Processing community and start pursuing generative art?
MM: Generative art was the first genre of art I ever pursued. After attending the first p5.js conference in 2015, I started making my own code-based sketches and then eventually began building my own websites as well. One of my earliest generative projects that I still use today is Glance Back, a browser extension that captures the moments shared between you and your computer. Once a day, when you open a new tab, Glance Back unexpectedly takes your photo, asks you what you’re thinking about, and saves both to its locally stored archive. This project is really special to me because over eight thousand people use it daily and have this archive that matters to them because it’s their little life moments. It’s so cool to know that software I created lives on these people’s computers and helps them collect memories from their screen time.
Screenshot_Glance Back_Maya Man_2019–Present_boarder.png
Maya Man, Glance Back, 2019–Present.
JD: That’s really interesting, kind of an intersection of a private moment with your computer watching you at the same time. I know you work a lot in this space between intimacy and public performance, how would you say your approach has evolved over time?
MM: Ever since I first started using a computer, I’ve been hyper aware of the ways that I’m performing when I put myself on screen. I think this ties into my background in dance which taught me to perform on stage from such a young age. But only more recently do I feel like I’m able to articulate my feelings about self-presentation online more clearly within my work. I’m more in touch with what I want to be saying than ever before. I also never used to think about physical space at all because I worked completely digitally, but now after some recent in person shows I’m feeling excited about installation and objects. I like mixing both digital and physical work in a gallery space.
Maya Man, 𝓡𝓮𝓪𝓭 𝓲𝓽 𝓪𝓷𝓭 𝓦𝓮𝓮𝓹, 2022. Live view..png
Maya Man, 𝓡𝓮𝓪𝓭 𝓲𝓽 𝓪𝓷𝓭 𝓦𝓮𝓮𝓹, 2022. Live view.
JD: How did you first discover NFTs?
MM: I didn’t really start following the crypto scene until 2021 when it became such a heavy topic within the media art community. My first NFT can I go where you go? was part of Feral File’s first ever show Social Codes curated by Casey REAS. It was special to be included alongside a group of other generative artists I deeply admire. I’ve only minted one other piece, 𝓡𝓮𝓪𝓭 𝓲𝓽 𝓪𝓷𝓭 𝓦𝓮𝓮𝓹 for the show Artists Who Code, since then. I’ve been very cautious about how I engage with NFTs because I’ve felt unsettled by how divisive they have been within my community. But currently, I feel excited to see artists experimenting more conceptually with the technology and thinking about how it gives agency to artists in a system that historically hasn’t granted them much.
Maya Man, love:hate, 2022..png
Maya Man, love/hate, 2022.
JD: Any recent accomplishments you’d like to share?
MM: I recently had a solo show in Tokyo at gallery SOOT curated by Hiroko Maruyama. It was my first international solo show and a second run of the show I originally had at UCLA this past April called Secrets From a Girl.
Maya Man_Secrets From a Girl.png
Maya Man, Secrets From a Girl, 2022.
JD: Alright, well let’s talk about FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT! What was the inspiration behind the project?
MM: Thinking about cult behavior, contemporary femininity, and the way belief systems are spread via social media. I wanted this project to deep dive into the absurdity of the Instagram graphics that epitomize this kind of online phenomena. I spent weeks collecting examples of actual graphics on Instagram that served as the inspiration for the project’s language and design. And it took me months to get the output feeling just right on both an individual and collection level. Working with text posed its own design challenges because there are certain rules you need to abide by with letter spacing, text wrapping, etc. so it doesn’t look super off. Most of these graphics on Instagram are actually designed by hand, so designing a system to produce these programmatically was an exciting technical challenge. I started this project feeling kind of cynical about these types of Instagram posts, but after seeing thousands of phrases generated, I’ve started to unexpectedly find real meaning in the output sometimes. They’re like little prayers and if the real ones help someone get through their life when they see them on their Instagram feed that’s beautiful.
Maya Man, FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT (test mint), 2022..png
Maya Man, FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT (test mint), 2022.
JD: Yes we’ve all loved watching this project grow over the last few months. What would you like collectors look for in the project as the series is revealed?
MM: This collection’s primary focus is on language. I want collectors to make their own judgements on the value and meaning of the phrases that are uncovered as the series is revealed. The feature set only analyzes the design elements of the output. I’m curious to see how collectors respond to the meaning of each mint themselves. I also want to emphasize that the artwork is not only the individual outputs, but more importantly the infinite possibility of the generative program itself. By collecting, you are not only owning that single mint, but also a piece of the project as a whole, which to me is greater than the 700 exact outputs that are revealed after the release.
JD: Anything else you’d like to share before we sign off?
MM: Instagram posted me on their Instagram, maybe you can read the caption.
JD: That’s awesome and about to get pretty meta with your upcoming release. What’s the best way for people to follow your work moving forward?
MM: Instagram (best but :(), Twitter (:/), TikTok (not linking, maybe you will find me someday), (I ❤ this place), my website (my 4ever online home).

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