Review: 'Social Currency' at StutzArtSpace



Andy Chen's nature photography you might sense an intuitive knowledge of

another plane of reality—a spiritual realm, perhaps — overlaying

our own. The sci-fi/fantasy novels of Charles de Lint, of which Chen is an avid

fan, are set partly in such a world. But in many respects the existence of such

a shadow world isn't a fantasy at all, although it would be a stretch to define

it in spiritual terms. Entering into this world is a daily reality, in

fact, for anyone who spends any amount of time on the Internet.

Social Currency, the show that Chen is

curating at StutzArtSpace opening Friday, March 4, deals with the

interaction of our physical world and of the World Wide Web; more specifically

it focuses on the effect of social media on photography in the Internet


Chen graduated Purdue University with a degree in Computer Engineering in 1996.

Four years later, he started a successful dot-com. While he's moved on to a

career as a full-time photographer, Chen still spends a lot of time in the

digital world, blogging, maintaining his website and communicating with friends

and family.


met up recently with Chen and we talked in his study on the second floor of his

northside residence in which he lives with his wife Hannah and two-year-old

daughter, Ruby. We started off by Chen talking about the upcoming Social Currency show.

Chen: I wanted to get involved

in all this social media stuff going on that's having an impact on basically

how photography is viewed. Some people call Facebook a glorified

photo-sharing site. But then if you look at photography as a medium, it's

really had much more of a social aspect than some of the other mediums.


part of people's everyday lives and we use it to document vacations and

significant milestones like birthdays...senior pictures... so those things have

always served as a kind of social currency when you exchange them and show them

to your friends and family... it has an impact on how you relate to people and

how you share your life, maybe even how you want to establish your reputation

especially like when you keep giving a senior picture to somebody. You're

really trying to make a mark [to establish that] this is my identity. And

now that's really moved online.


really a great time to explore the progression of how photographs are used as

social currency. So that was the idea for the show.

NUVO: Can you talk about

some of the other artists and their work for this show?

Chen: Matt Sommers

is making postcards for fictional tourist attractions. So his

piece is actually going to be a postcard spinner. And I really love it

because of the aspect of sharing your travels. Holly Sommers' piece is

going to be like a mobile. And then Ron Kern's piece is about portraiture.

So it's going to be a multi-paneled thing and each panel will have some vintage

Victorian images all the way up to a portrait of himself.

NUVO: What are you looking for

when you put together these photographers? How do they complement one another?

Chen: Really, what I'm looking

for is how they explore different aspects of the social currency theme and so

portraiture was certainly one I wanted to capture. Ginny Taylor Rosner's pieces

are more about this transition into the online world; and so one of her pieces

is actually going to be this photo album. Both of her pieces are

books. And if you think of the [typical] family photo album with the

cling static pages where you have pictures with the handwritten

captions, but rather than pictures she's going to put CDs in them. I'm really

pleased that it came out that several pieces in the show aren't traditional

framed photographs on the wall.

NUVO: You're having the

show at StutzArtSpace. What's your history with the Stutz?

Chen: I moved into the Stutz

with my studio two years ago. I think last fall they were starting to look

for shows for next year. So I had this idea and I proposed it and they

were like 'Oh yeah, let's do it.' So that's how it came about. And

then in January, I became the director of the StutzArtSpace Gallery.

NUVO: In your previous work you

have natural settings, spaces devoid of people — a beam of sunlight

entering a clearing for example — and there might be a symbolic content

in that work. I guess I don't see a connection between that work and your

upcoming show. Is there a connection there, though? Something that

I'm missing?

Chen: Well, regarding the

work you've seen before: I've always been interested in notions of story and

journey. And especially since I've had a kid, the expression of how do you

capture someone in images I've been more intrigued with and so of course I've been

taking lots of pictures of my kid. And I think even especially after having

Ruby I haven't been able to go backpacking as much and I've been spending more

time in the city. And so a lot of the project ideas that I have coming up

are actually more oriented around the city or with people.

NUVO: Before you were a

full-time photographer, you developed software?

Chen: Yeah. I have a

computer engineering degree from Purdue (1996). Right when I got out of school

I worked for a consulting company for a few years. And then a friend of

mine and I started a dot-com in 2000. It was called Quobix. And we had

that company for five years, until 2005. We made collaboration software

that ran on the Web. We deployed it ourselves for people to use for software development.


another startup actually liked our platform and built their whole business off

of it. That other company's called Innocentive. We basically ran

their technology side for several years... So I still do some part-time software

development, but now most of my time is spent on the art side.


show is really a combination between all my background on the social aspect of

the Internet and photography and I'm really excited to be able to bring them


NUVO: In addition to you

and your family, a number of other people live in your house including a single

mom and her three-year-old daughter. On the first floor there's community

living space. Does the physical space you live in, as well as your notions

of Internet community and culture, have some effect on this show?

Chen: A number of

different people have lived here over the five-and-a-half years that I've

had the house. It's not a traditional living situation. So people

are attracted here or have some time of interest to live with other

people. I certainly had my reasons.


think everyone here now is really distant from their immediate family or they

don't live close to their immediate family. So we have kind of a family

feel to the house... we celebrate holidays together. We help each other

through struggles and conflict. We've also had a numbers of guys going

through divorces staying here for a few months just trying to sort out where

they're going to next.


something that I'm thinking about, how people are connected. And that's

something that's important to me in this exhibit is how people connect to each

other in their lives.


Dan Grossman is NUVO's arts editor.

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