Chris Wille is an Intermedia artist who combines processes, materials, concepts, technology, along with interactivity to create a work. Chris Wille creates wearable machines that reinterpret human interaction. These machines are technically complex as well as conceptually complex. He addresses technical, formal, conceptual, and functional issues with each piece he creates. His interactive work transforms a participant into a cyborg. This cyborg however, is not more capable because of the added technology, but is under the control of that machine. Over the years his work has matured and grown into being elegant and well suited for the human body, despite their intimidating nature. Chris Wille's genealogy consists of kinetics, wearables, jewelry, performative and interactive works, along with art and technology. His work is functional and conceptual. He often deals with the subjects of control and vulnerability. Chris Wille's work utilizes a combination of materials, including but not limited to: metal, wire, piping, toys, and electronics such as camera parts and pieces from remote control cars. Looking over the progression of his work, it's easy to see that his work has evolved in such a way that the average viewer could wear one of his pieces. His early works incorporated cumbersome, heavy materials that weren't very inviting. The works embodied his ideas, however the practicality of them functioning on a participant other than of his build was limited. He has experimented with a variety of materials to make his work comfortable for the body, for instance silicon used as padding between the body and metal. Through investigation Chris Wille has discovered the materials that will make his wearables lighter, flexible, and comfortable for participants of various proportions. The work is finely crafted using various elements that he has to fabricate in order to complete a work. Adding a jeweler's touch, he creates daunting pieces that somehow still have a touch of elegance.
Armor, robotics, military weaponry, toy guns, science fiction movies, and dystopian literature have informed his work. Because of this there is a playful quality to them, but the underlying message isn't positive. One can look to movies like Metropolis or Brazil to get a feel for Chris' inspiration. Common themes found in Chris' work are control and vulnerability. The control he is exemplifying is the control created by machines over humans. The vulnerability he is addressing and creating is an emotional byproduct of these machines control over humans. His imagery relates to dystopian images found in science fiction movies and literature. These notions of dystopia however are not reflective of an imagined world, but his reinterpretation of contemporary society. Chris Wille's work deals with the war, violence, and desensitization.
Not only is he addressing issues of content and formalism, but also his work incorporates functional technology. With the type of work he is creating this often leads him to have to teach himself a skill or technique in order to complete a work. Given all of these considerations, every piece Chris Wille makes takes a great deal of time and understanding on his part for it to be completed. He has many responsibilities as an artist and it's fascinating that he has the will power to push himself and devote so much time and energy to a piece. When discussing his work, Wille can tell you an estimate of how long it took to make each component. I've never heard him describe his process as exhausting as he's extremely dedicated to his work. Simplicity in Chris Wille's artistic process can only be found in the fact that he determines a work is completed when it is functioning.
Writing Machine is a piece Chris Wille created this year. In this piece a participant wears a headpiece that monitors how often their mouth is open or closed during a conversation. This record is kept by using a lettered stamp to mark the number of times the mouth was opened or closed. For instance, the letter A could be used to denote that the mouth was open and the letter B could denote when the mouth was closed. Chris Wille is then going to rotate the entire alphabet into this denotation. Once this collection of letters is retrieved, he plans on plugging them into an algorithm. He then will use this to find words within the letters he's collected from participants' conversations. Chris compares this reinterpretation to the translation of the Hebrew bible.
This piece largely deals with notions of control by tracking a person's actions in a conversation. What's interesting is because when I think of ways in which machines document my actions, I first think of web-cookies. I think of how companies track my purchases, and my interests in an attempt to sell me more. I consider Chris Wille's machine, however, to be a thoughtful experience. Through Writing Machine Chris is collecting data that will determine whether we are active listeners or if we monopolize conversations. To a certain extent this machine is monitoring the connection of two people in a conversation. It is representative of a fear many people possess: the inability to truly communicate with another human. When he first described the piece I imagined myself and whether or not I was a talker or a listener and what that meant about me as a human being.
Another piece Chris Wille finished this semester, titled "A New Social Order (Democracy through Control, Having Fun)", consists of a metal headpiece that is operated by a remote control. The headpiece contains a gyroscope, connected to pointed metal rods that apply pressure against the temple as the gyroscope moves left or right. The controller operates a remote that determines the direction the gyroscope will move to. For instance, the controller pushes a button making the gyroscope turn to the left. The gyroscope moves and with it the metal rod moves to press against the right temple. The wearer would then turn their head to the left, relieving the pressure from the metal rod. In this piece Wille transforms participant with a remote control into the controller rendering the other participant vulnerable. The work is conceptual; the wearer will not really be hurt. However, from the daunting look of his work most viewers probably wouldn't know that. This work clearly embodies notions of dystopia and it's relation to American democracy.
When I first saw this work I imagined myself as the one being controlled. Once he explained the myriad of power relationships that could be experimented with I grew much more engaged in the piece. Could it be an opportunity to humiliate someone who's humiliated you? Could it be incorporated into some sadomasochistic scenario with a playful dominatrix guiding their sub around city streets? In a loving and sexual context would it be playful and erotic? How powerful does the controller feel, how powerless does the wearer feel?
Chris Wille's work is complex and mysterious. His work is not something you're going to understand immediately, it's layered with complexity both in how it is created and in its content. It is playful, but at the same time somewhat depressing and dehumanizing. Looking at his work, one wants to participate and understand how the elements function and correspond to the body. Conceptually the feeling is that this machine will reduce your actions to a mechanical function. Either punched letters will represent your conversation, or a gyroscope will control the direction you move. Due to his works' interactive features, choice of materials, symbolism, and technology the curiosity of the viewer is activated. His work is familiar; it echoes knight's armory, samurai headpieces, and military weaponry. However, most of us are somewhat distant from the technology embedded in it, which acts to keep the work in the far reaching and limitless world of science fiction. It plays with our imaginations and fears but also grounds us with its feet in a reality not so distant.