Dreaming, Ziplines and Cup Metamorphosis with Dana Sperry


By Ashley Custer


From webcams to coding, Dana Sperry, associate professor and digital media coordinator, breaks traditional assumptions about art with his research and projects.


On Tuesday Feb. 23, Sperry presented a lecture titled “a” at the John J. McDonough Museum of Art. His lecture was part of the Intersections Biennial Faculty Exhibition that is on display at the museum from Jan. 21 through Feb. 26.


“I’ve realized I could care less about the system, and its effect on the art world. Art is about a different economy,” he said.


“a” is Sperry’s representation of not being interested in capital “A” art.


One of Sperry’s first projects after moving to Youngstown was called Dreaming Youngstown. Participants of Dreaming Youngstown gathered at 11 sites throughout Youngstown and Campbell to come up with hundreds of ideas aspiring for change in the communities.


The aim of the project was to widen the span of possibilities of development in Youngstown.


Another idea that came up a lot was zip lines. He was surprised how interested people were in building zip lines in the community.


“One idea that came up was to build giant parabolic dishes so if you had a complaint you could yell into the dish and then that would vibrate it right at city hall so you could scream at city hall,” Sperry said.


Sperry discussed a project he worked on in Amsterdam with Natalya Pinchu called Ugly Objects: Amsterdam. The two relocated to De Wallen, the largest Red Light District in Amsterdam, in December 2008 for one month and then again in 2009.


Through advertisement, people were invited to give an ugly object to one of 16 artists who volunteered to alter the object. They discussed the objects and would then return them to their owners a year later.


Ugly Object volunteers had a ceremonial cup that Sperry made to be shared between nine friends. Its original intentions were for when one of the friends got married that the cup be passed along. The newlywed couple would mix beer from each hometown and drink from it at the wedding. They would then display the cup in their home until the next friend got married.


Limitations were given to artists. In one instance, the cup had to remain just that, a cup and must preserve the engraved names of the married couples and the dates of their marriage. The cup turned into a trophy and the nameplates were connected and turned into a wearable object.


“You have to be shameless about promoting yourself,” he said. “In order to be a freelance artist, you have to think of yourself as a business. You have to advertise yourself.”


Kate Pfahl, a graphic and interactive design major, had Sperry as a professor and said she really enjoyed Sperry’s digital media class.


“He teaches a lot different than other professors,” Pfahl said. “He actually sits down with us and teaches us on the computers. Most just do everything in one lecture, and he is more hands-on. I learned a lot in his class.


“I thought his lecture was really interesting. I’ve never seen any of his work outside of school. I really liked his videos, and I thought his whole community idea was interesting. It was something I’ve never heard or seen being done in art.”