by Steve Bisson

Mat to get started can you tell us a little bit of the path that led you to an academic career.

Mat Rappaport (MR): I would never have guessed that I would grow up to be an artist and professor. I began college at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and hoped to major in STEPIC, Social Economic and Political Thought, a progressive curriculum that came out of the 60’s and 70’s protest movements. However, in my first semester I took an art class for non-majors and was instantly hooked on the the idea that art can facilitate thinking/research though making. I switched my major to Art and then began applying to art schools. Through this process I found the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston which had a student-centered curriculum. In essence, you signed up for a bunch of classes, made work and at the end of the semester would have a review of your portfolio by a panel of faculty and students where you either received full credit, half credit or no credit.

In truth, throughout my life, I have been fortunate to find an amazing group of teachers and mentors. These relationships combined with my self-directed curiosity pushed me into academia; an environment where I hope to be a good mentor and teacher to my students while forming intellectual communities with scholars, artists and curators.

Thinking about your years as a student, do you remember any teacher, course or reading that has somehow influenced you?

MR: I have many fond memories of teachers and classes. My friends and I used to do impressions of our favorite teachers and I find that I even tell my students and kids about some of my most memorable class experiences. Specifically, I had three teachers who were especially important to my development at key periods in my life.

The first was Rabbi Alan Ulman who formed an independent school dedicated to studying Jewish and Eastern forms of religious and mystical philosophy. I took a series of classes from him over the period of a few years. This was my first introduction to the close reading of texts and deconstruction, even if I didn’t know it at the time. Alan was the kind of teacher who would ask questions and elicit conversation and it is a model which I have carried into my own teaching practice.

At the Museum School, my first Art History class was on the Bronze Age China and it was taught by Diane O’Donoghue. In that class she introduced us to semiotics and the mutability of the connection between text and meaning. Later, she was one of a group of faculty who taught the first Post Modernism class offered by the Museum School. The class drew from our faculty, as well as visiting scholars from across the academic community in Boston. The core texts that I still refer to from this class include Walter Benjamin’s 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', Michel Foucault’s 'Discipline & Punish' chapter on Panopticism, and Judith Bultler’s 'Bodies that Matter'. I also had the pleasure of working with Diane on a series on independent studies that further explored “post modernity”.

During graduate school my lead professor and mentor at the University of Notre Dame was Jean Dibble. Typical of graduate art programs our studio time was made up of critique hours with faculty versus formal classes. So we spent a lot of time discussing my work and art as a practice. I was Jean’s teaching assistant and later taught classes under her supervision. Jean is an incredibly smart and dedicated maker whose rigorous work is inspired by her intellectual curiosity. Jean taught me that successful artists need to be organized, articulate and responsive to their audience. While she had the ability to intimidate students with her intellect, directness and high standards, she was a fierce advocate for her students and their work.

'copiousness of learning Documentation of Venice Ghetto' is a site specific video installation with Morse code which explores how cultural ideas are transmitted and contested by society. The work takes its name from a passage in the Italian and Jewish poet Sara Copia Sullam‘s “Manifesto”. In this work she refutes the accusations of Baldassarre Bonifacio who had written that Copia Sullum denied the existence of the soul; a serious charge at the time of the Inquisition. This project is being exhibited as part of the events marking the 500 Year Anniversary of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, Italy at the Palazzo Fontana on the Grand Canal and in the Jewish Ghetto. © Mat Rappaport

You are now an Associate Professor at Columbia. Could you explain about your role within the educational programme.

MR: At Columbia College, I direct the undergraduate Motion Graphics Curriculum and teach Experimental Video in the Television and Cinema Arts Department. I also teach experimental courses in the MFA Media program in the Art Department. Within the MFA program, I serve on and head student thesis committees. I actively develop new curriculum that bridges art, video and emerging technologies and platforms and collaborate with a colleague on the TVLab, a research lab that explores the best practices of online platforms and video by activists and issues oriented campaigns. The lab also researches emerging media tools and platforms such as 360 video and VR.

Prior to moving to Chicago, I was at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where I led the design and implementation of a BFA in new media that was share by the Departments of Film, Art, Dance and Music. I also worked extensively with MFA students and taught the required theory seminar.

We live in an age, by some philosophers defined as that of technology, in which the mental grammar is very much influenced by the rapid digital evolution of the medium and the ways of communicating. To put it briefly, the change of the scenario happens at a speed higher than that of our learning ability. How do you think this affects the art and the artist's role in Western society?

MR: My hard drive might be too full to answer this question. Lol.  Seriously, I think the impact on artists and makers is immense. There is incredible access to media, tools of production and the shared knowledge to learn to use the tools that makes me optimistic about a more participatory art culture overall. At the same time, the digital nature of social media, data collection and automated vision systems (like surveillance cameras and license plate scanners) has placed many systems of power and control into an invisible sphere. So, on one hand I can’t make a blanket statement about artists roles or responsibilities since there are many kinds of artists and art worlds. However, I am interested in work which excavates, teases, provokes and humanizes complex and difficult topics and the systems in which we find ourselves enmeshed. We have significant challenges as a species, and I’d like to think artists can be part of the response.

You are a founding member of the curatorial project 'v1b3' that aims to present media art that responds to the conditions of site specificity and a public viewer-ship. What is the vision behind this project? How artists can interact or participate in it?

MR: v1b3 is an artist-led project that explores the impact of media in the built environment through curated site-specific interventions, presentations and published documentation. Our curatorial work is field research that aims to capture snapshots of current media practices related to site, habitation and emerging media technologies. Since 2005 we have curated and collaborated with over one hundred artists from around the world on video art for public screens, installations and a series of catalogs and exhibitions which explore augmented reality, drones, 3D printing and file distribution and code generated works. The projects are all available on the v1b3 website and you can download the catalogs as pdf documents. There are a few ways for artists, scholars or architects to get involved. First, most of our curated projects include a general call for participation/proposals. You may sign up for our mailing list at and we will send you information and news about our projects. We are also open to proposals, invitations and presentations. If someone has a project or curatorial idea that aligns with v1b3’s mission, they should reach out to us directly. 

© Mat Rappaport, 'Video Guerrilha' 2012, San Paolo, Rio, Brasilia. In the Fall of 2012 Mat Rappaport was invited to participate and curate a program of video work for large-scale outdoor projections.

In your website you say that you explore forces that are largely invisible to the "user". I very much like the concept. Could you explain this with a pair of example from your personal project portfolio?

MR: 'leisure | time | share' and 'touristic intents' are both explorations of the commodification of time. Industrialization introduced the division of time into work and leisure and in the documentary, touristic intents, I draw from Henry Ford’s writing about the way in which work and leisure are symbiotic. Ford believed leisure time was an essential part of the industrial age because leisure time was the time to consume and buy the products that were produced in the factories. In leisure | time | share I further explore the division of time by exploring how time share ownership is a model in which the “product” transforms a place as a product, into a sliver of time, as represented by ownership in weeks or days. In touristic intents, I am also exploring the sociopolitical ideologies embedded in the design of the site which as a “user” of the the site often goes invisible.

© Mat Rappaport, 'observations Fig. 8, 3 by 22''x17'', digital photographs
'leisure | time | share' is a set of works which explore the intersection of consumerism, mass tourism and economy. The project is based on research which charts the varied history of Torremolinos, Spain; a site of tourism beginning in the second half of the 20th century. The completed artworks include photos, video and 3D scans collected during a visit to Torremolinos. These pictorial and object-based materials are augmented with the use of local and global economic data represented through line graphs and diagrams.

© Mat Rappaport, 'Observations Installation Video'

I find that your artworks are also interesting because they stage the means of expression. Somehow it's as if they would reveal the symulacra. The subject becomes the media representation itself. Could you comment on this?

MR: Your question reminds me of one of my favorite early video art pieces, 'Television Delivers People' by Richard Serra and Carlota Schoolman. The piece, composed of a blue screen, white scrolling text and muzak, is an essay on the underlying social and economic systems of which Television is the device. It is remarkable in its adherence to a television visual language (presented on a TV) while unveiling the medium; it is very Marshal McLuhan.

I believe the term disillusionment carries an unfair negative connotation. Revealing illusions presents the opportunity to question why they have been erected in the first place. While I don’t think this revealing or staging is the core motivation of the work, I am interested in the metaphor of projection as a conceptual and and social idea. Placing ephemeral media, be it a video, illumination or a beam of light into and onto the built environment is an intervention that shifts the experience of familiar spaces experienced habitually. 

The interaction of art, users and public space is a dominant criteria in your research. What considerations have you achieved through the years according to your field experiences?

MR: I’d say the biggest take away from making work and curating for public spaces is that the works need to be succinct and have an engaging visual hook. We are asking people to pay attention to work that is inhabiting their lived space and, in truth many people are busy just getting from point A to B. With v1b3, we try to keep projects well under a minute and to either rely on loops or longer programs of short works. In my own work, I use a strategy of including imagery generated in and around the location that the piece is being shown. I have found that people pay more attention to work when they recognize elements they know personally. This also roots the work to the site.

You are an eclectic artist who uses different media with a site-specific attitude. What are the criteria that guide you in choosing the means to be used according to the project?

MR: I approach my work as a research process and try to defer the question of form and aesthetics until I am well into the process. This allows me to consider aesthetics and form as tactical tools that aid communication. I first research the histories of a place, contemporary context, audience and the connections to the themes that I explore in my work. The research tends to inspire the form and technologies which are checked against limiting factors such as the timeline, available technology (including electricity), budget, etc.

© Mat Rappaport, 'Resort', 2014 (photo index, rubber sheet, tables, audio and outdoor installation). 'resort' is an index of photographs that document the view out the windows of one block of one section of the resort at Prora, Germany. The building was designed by the Nazi government to provide access to leisure time for working-class Germans; the building could accommodate 20,000 vacationers. The images are arranges in a sequence in which the observed contemporary view is contrasted with an idealized ocean view. The photographs are paired with a large projection and audio of the ocean. My intent with this work is to explore the juxtaposition of a socialist architectural structure [ the ocean view provided to all guests ] within the context of a fascist regime that used the seeming safety of leisure spaces for the surveillance and control of its own population.

For example, 'touristic intents' and 'resort' two bodies of work and a documentary began as a research trip to Prora, Germany where I hoped to collect video to later turn into some sort of multichannel installation. However, many of my expectations, shaped by my academic research, were thwarted by the scale of the site and its overgrowth. I responded by severely paring back the project and developing a photographic strategy to explore the sociopolitical intention of the architect’s intention for seaside views for all of the rooms. My interaction with this project is now in its seventh year and my work has enabled me a means to process aspects of the site though stages of exploration that have resulted in very different forms. The complexity of the content has led to a narrative documentary. I would never have imagined at the start of the project that I would be making a documentary, but the content demanded that kind of form.

In short my work is first and foremost, the result of a line of inquiry and strategic forms. Then it meets the reality of getting it done.

What projects are you working on right now? Plans for the future...

MR: I just finished a restaging of the copiousness of learning for the Ann Arbor Film Festival, a projection and beam light performance video that was designed and presented in Venice as part of the 500 Year Anniversary of the Jewish Ghetto. I am now turning my attention to editing the documentary about the Nazi designed resort in Prora, Germany ( and am working on a Chicago-based request to propose for a permanent architectural video project in Chicago. After two years I am finally manufacturing the ham topography from the 'leisure | time | share' series which should be done before summer. v1b3 is also working on a few future projects including a collaboration and exchange with Cuban artists. (I keep busy)

© Mat Rappaport, touristic intents installation St. Marys College. Single channel video, white cardboard boxes with custom printing

© Mat Rappaport, touristic intents – 2012. Single channel video, white cardboard boxes with custom printing, shipping container

Have you recently seen any exhibition that has particularly impressed you? Why?

MR: I just saw the Kader Attia exhibition at the Block Museum at Northwestern University. The show was a sparse and focused presentation of two collages, a sculpture and an experimental documentary which explore trauma, colonialism and the effect of systems of power on African Americans. The work was commissioned by the museum and Attia’s video pulls heavily from Northwestern faculty research and experience. I found it exciting because it exemplified an art research process that leveraged the resources of the university.

The other exhibition that I was incredibly excited by was a survey of Hélio Oiticica’s work at the Chicago Art Institute. The exhibition included a number of installations from the 1960’s that felt contemporary and relevant today. The installation works presented sand filled architectural spaces in which visitors are encouraged to sit, listen to music, lounge and play. The installations transformed the museum space and facilitated social interaction be it a conversation while waiting for orange juice from a dispenser in the midst of a multicolored Plexiglas hall maze, a game of pool or lounging on the sand.


Mat Rappaport
v1b3: Video in the Built Environment 
touristic intents (film) 
urbanautica United States