A black-and-magenta blob undulates over a blue field. It shudders, disrupting the smooth rhythm, before resuming a gentle wobble. For eight minutes, the sphere flows and morphs, its hypnotic motion occasionally interrupted by flashes, jerks and jumps.
The blob—in a video titled “noise sphere with pattern 1”—was created by Justin Lincoln, associate professor of art. Lincoln specializes in work he describes as “time-based art.”
Paintings, drawings and sculptures usually don’t include movement or sound that require a set duration to experience. But art like Lincoln’s unfolds over time.
“There’s something kind of magical in watching something move,” Lincoln says.
Like the blob in “noise sphere,” Lincoln’s work, research and teaching have evolved over his career, incorporating the unexpected—such as the coronavirus pandemic—into the flow of the whole.
Lincoln came to Whitman in 2010, pleased to find a tenure-track position for new media at a small liberal arts college. He was hired “to address art practices that are less traditional,” with a few decades of history instead of a few centuries.
Lincoln was first drawn to the experimentative potential of new media while earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture at Virginia Commonwealth University. He already had one degree, so his professors encouraged him to pursue his interests. He started creating videos and performance art. It didn’t line up with his major, exactly, but that didn’t matter.
“One of the things about contemporary art right now, is how we categorize what artists do is very slippery,” he says.
A Daily Practice
After earning a Master of Fine Arts at the California Institute of the Arts in 2004, Lincoln taught in Japan and at Virginia Commonwealth while showing artwork at galleries and festivals across the United States. At Whitman, he began his most recent project, adding new permutations to it over the years.
While chairing the art department in 2018, he struggled to find time and energy to work on something new for a faculty show, so he started what seemed like a small-scale project: making short daily videos for his Instagram account, @thebuildingisacamera.
Lincoln says, “I thought, ‘I can make a minute of video every day. If I do that, I have a lot of choices in terms of what I present in my show.’”
He used a programming language called Processing to create 30 videos that wound up being the core of his piece for the show. But after those 30 days, he was enjoying the practice of daily creation and decided to keep with it.
More than three years later, the project is still going. Two years ago, he started adding experimental sounds. The interruption of the pandemic in 2020 introduced a new layer.
During the slow days of quarantine, he’d noticed how his desktop was filled with applications he’d downloaded but never used for more than a few days—a problem he’d commiserated about with students. He wondered what he might learn if he committed to experimenting with a new piece of software or hardware for 30 days.
“I just try to do something with it every day for a month. That framework, more than anything else I’m doing, is the thing that interests me, fascinates me,” Lincoln says.
In January 2021, he worked with the visual programming language TouchDesigner (which he used to make “noise sphere”). In February 2021, he learned an iOS app his students introduced him to, Procreate. Whenever someone suggests a new tool, he adds it to his list for the future.
This personal practice has extended to Lincoln’s teaching. In his “Beginning New Genres Practices” class, he used to have students test a handful of digital tools in addition to learning Processing. For the Spring 2021 semester, Lincoln instead divided them into small groups, each responsible for learning a tool in more depth and creating a tutorial for their classmates.
This focused, semester-long project helps students learn by teaching others and builds connections within the groups despite the conditions of virtual learning and hybrid classes.
“The relationship aspect in learning is really essential,” Lincoln says. “I like that it overshadows a lot of other content issues.”
Lincoln has enjoyed learning these new tools alongside his students, adding yet another dimension to the personal and professional layers that blend together in his art and life.
“I feel like I never outgrew being a student, and that seems really appropriate for new media, because new things are always coming out.”