Jeff Thompson: Contextual Obstacles

In my creative practice, I find myself much less interested in honing a form or creating a frictionless experience. Instead, relationships and systems feel much more fruitful, with designed objects as a result of exploring that context. Thinking about how to represent this idea, the form of a “light cone” seemed appropriate. This form has fascinated me ever since I read A Brief History of Time as a teenager while on a family vacation in northern Minnesota. It shows a singular point, the present, with two cones emanating from it: the observable past and future. Replacing the point with an object (say a chair), the cones become echoing contexts: material, experiential, social, biological, and cultural. In one direction, these contexts become increasingly physical and fundamental. Methods of construction lead to material choices and ultimately biology, geology, DNA, and atoms.


In the other, our direct experience with a designed object comes out of and swims in the work and decisions of other people, the way we use objects and form memories with them, and how they fit into our culture. Obstacles wedged into one of these points—in the form of suggestions, amplifications, disruptions, challenges, or prompts—draw the design focus to relationships and result in unanticipated variations.

Jeff Thompson (b. 1982, Minneapolis/USA) is an artist, programmer, and educator based in the NYC area. His work explores collaboration with, empathy for, and the poetics of computers and technological systems. Through code, sculpture, sound, and performance, Thompson’s work uses conceptual processes like remix, translation, and visualization to physicalize and give materiality to otherwise invisible processes. He is currently Assistant Professor and Program Director of Visual Art & Technology at the Stevens Institute of Technology, and co-founded the experimental curatorial project Drift Station.