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Artist Ryder Ripps Makes the Internet His Classroom

For ALONE TOGETHER, the controversial artist combines an immersive digital exhibit with invaluable technology classes for high schoolers.

Courtesy of Red Bull.

The internet can be a vast, faceless, lonely place, but are we lonelier because of it? This is one of the many questions 28-year-old artist Ryder Ripps has raised with his newest exhibit ALONE TOGETHER, a three-pronged investigation of modern tech culture presented in collaboration with digital collective Powrplnt and City As School, an alternative New York City high school dedicated to experiential learning. The exhibit and project will run through April at Red Bull Studios in NYC. ALONE TOGETHER’s showpiece is an installation meant to mimic the web, and our brain when confronted with an endless barrage of images. A viewing box has been set up on the second floor, and when you look through the “peep holes” several digital images flash by at hyper-speed. On the ground level of the Studios, a series of glass cubicles house six “performers”, pre-chosen from Craigslist, who produce these images in real time, beaming them into the viewing area via cable; meant to cause a very real, physical and emotional disconnect between producer and viewer, the installation is supposed to stand in as "a microcosm of the internet". This is the aspect of the show that has received the most press, yet it’s not the beating heart of the project. That honor goes to the work City As School and Powrplnt have been doing to provide students on-site with tech internships, as well as free courses in the use of digital art-making tools including 3D printing, code, and Ableton Live. The temporary classroom at Red Bull, or the Technigarden as it is lovingly called, is a hybrid digital and organic space that features work from students and the public, and real plants mixed with digital art. It’s hoped that through this project students will feel empowered by technology rather than intimidated.

A peek into the "Technigarden," courtesy of Powrplnt.

The viewing platform, courtesy of Red Bull.

Ripps would also like students to know the power and community the web can bring them. "The internet is a living, breathing thing,” Ripps says. “It isn't just cables and codes, it's people. That, to me, is very important.” Ripps knows more than a few things about the internet. A former City As School student himself, the lifelong New Yorker has been an active participant on the web from an early age, learning how it worked and even co-creating one of the world’s most famous memes—the “deal with it” sunglasses—and more recently the Drake Shake app, which went viral when it enabled users to insert Canadian rapper Drake into photos. Ripps also co-runs a production studio, OKfocus, which melds art, tech, and advertising in organic ways that benefit both brands and creators.

Ripps credits the web with providing an influential community during his turbulent adolescence, a period that found him enrolling in City As School, which in the artist’s own words gave an uninterested, bad news kid the chance to learn real-world-practical skills. “It's a second-chance school, so you would need to drop out [to enroll]. I interned at Smash [music] Studios and a community television station. These were extremely powerful, eye-opening experiences for me. All I wanted to do at that age was be taken seriously as an adult.” This is what led to Ripps' decision to incorporate the school into his Red Bull residency, and to tap friend and co-collaborator Angelina Dreem of Powerplnt, who has grassroots experience synthesizing digital art, social justice, and education. “The aim [of the project] is to provide equal access to resources for art making,” explains Dreem. “As the exhibition develops, the students will have the opportunity to display work they’ve made using the tools and concepts they encounter in the space.”

Powerplnt and City As School students at ALONE TOGETHER/ Red Bull Studios. Courtesy of Powerplnt.

City As School students studying, courtesy of Powrplnt.

But this project is something larger than a temporary pop-up for Dreem: “I started Powrplnt as a reaction to gentrification in Bushwick. I wanted to create a system that would combat the stratification between who has access to creativity and agency, and who does not,” she explains. “Technology creates an opportunity for the democratization of ideas.” So far Dreem and her partner, Hanny Ahern, have the students creating GIFs, sound design and interactive video, learning basic tools like adobe, and attending weekend all-ages events, but the best has only begun. “It’s also very important for me to highlight the artists who are a part of my community,” explains Dreem. “I call these Inspiro-sesh's, meant to inspire and create a dialogue. Rashaad Newsome will be demonstrating his work with the help of a local performing arts high school. [Design alchemist] Heidi Lee will discuss her designs and 3D printing. And the all women DJ collective, Discwoman, will be taking over the space for one of our larger events which will feature music, tutorials and performances.”

Courtesy of Red Bull.

All this sounds great, but are the kids enjoying it? “The students are incredibly receptive and curious,” says Ahern. “For many, this is their first time [using this technology]. It's really fun to see them discover new potential in themselves [and] then light up!”

Amelia Cleary, a teacher at City As School, also views the collaboration positively. “The experience of learning by doing in a real-world setting shifts many of these student's willingness to engage. At Red Bull,” she continues, “I've witnessed complete engagement. Students who are relaxed and happy, with a level of openness that, I believe, comes from the authenticity of external, experiential learning. It is such an example of what great internships do for our students. “

Ultimately, ALONE TOGETHER, despite its name, is about bringing people together rather than isolating them. “People are thinking more about how giving back can be intertwined in the creative process,” says Ahern, “thinking beyond immediate gratification and recognizing the ways in which we are interconnected, and [discovering that they] have so much power to create community and inspire."

Visit "Alone Together" at Red Bull Studios New York (220 W. 18th Street) through April 12, 2015 from 12 p.m. - 7 p.m.

For a complete schedule of Powrplnt events check here.

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