Art you should know: Sophia Brueckner’s Captured by an Algorithm

Sophia Brueckner is an artist-engineer whose work offers a warm but unsettling bird’s-eye view of where technology, science fiction, and humanity often meet.

A former software engineer at Google, Sophia brings an exciting perspective to her artwork—a comprehensive understanding of how tech works with an unquenchable curiosity about how future tech might—and encourages ethical standards in designing new technology. At the University of Michigan, for example, she teaches courses such as “Science Fiction to Science Fabrication,” which combines sci-fi imagination with practical invention.

 Her ongoing series, Captured by an Algorithm, is a confluence of all of the above… plus, writing and romance novels, so, you know, sign me up.

The project is composed of commemorative plates (such a strange human endeavor when you really think about it, right? Commemorative plates… like, why plates?); on these plates are dreamy landscape collages pieced together by the Photoshop Photomerge algorithm. The algorithm determines what scans of popular romance novel covers are similar and makes an image based on its decision. Voila, a plate.

Then, because these weren’t weird enough yet, each plate’s collaged artwork is stamped with a sentence from a romance novel, selected based on the number of times readers have highlighted it using Kindle Popular Highlights. (Kindle Popular Highlights are the lines in ebooks that readers highlight most often. You can see the lines other readers have highlighted when you read a Kindle ebook, helping you feel validated when a line you like is liked by others, or perhaps making you feel some insecurity if that popular line meant nothing to you until you saw how much it meant to other readers.)

What I love about Sophia’s work is that it is so uniquely and, I think, lovingly, explores how humans connect in modern leisure-fueled spheres, fluctuating between impersonality and deep resonance with another human by way of technology.

This series makes me think about how we “find” each other in a digital age. Romance novels inherently worship love and glorify that final moment of titillating connection/ climax, but they are also things we read alone—even when we’re reading it on a Kindle and highlighting a passage where others before us have lingered. Thus, these plates, especially when hung together like trophies of human desire as organized by a computer program, feel pretty and nonthreatening (even funny sometimes!) but ultimately disjointed and cold.

It’s not that hard to imagine these plates hanging in a dystopian future’s museum, commemorating the once-great human species and how they loved.

Art you should know: Agnes Richter’s embroidered jacket

Agnes Richter was institutionalized in Germany in 1893 when she was 49 years old. She pieced together this jacket during her time in the asylum using materials on-hand, like linens, wool, and thread, likely from her work as a seamstress in the institution. The embroidery is worn down and sweat stains abound, but some of the writing can still be read in deutsche schrift, a German script that’s nearly obsolete. Some of the phrases historians have deciphered: “I am not big,” “I plunge headlong into disaster,” and “583m,” her case number. Read more here.

Gone, Country: So that was awesome

We uninstalled Gone, Country a few weekends ago, and I want to say THANK YOU from the bottom of my blueberry heart to everyone who came out to shows, performed at shows (you all were incredible!), bought an embroidery, bought a book, and/or simply said a kind word or thoughtful insight about the work/concept in all its parts.

I can’t believe I did this, and I am pinching myself a little still… I couldn’t have survived it in one piece without all the encouragement, so thank you. Especially to Justin, and the Slate Arts Gallery team. Can’t wait to do another one following, like, a six-month nap…

I hope you think of me whenever you see gaudy lawn flamingos doin’ it for themselves. Just trashy pink collar girls trying to stand strong in a white collar world. We gonna make it, Pip.



Gone, Country is on view now!

Slate Arts gallery in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood is hosting an exhibition of my embroidery work throughout the month of September! Each Saturday at 8 p.m., join us for a **free** performance of storytelling and live lit by me and some of my favorite writers in the city. The show Gone, Country includes 20 pieces of embroidered artwork framed in repurposed barn wood, two banner collages, and a creative nonfiction book I wrote as a companion piece to the exhibit ($20). See you there! 

You and me, this Saturday.

Art you should know: Watercolor tattoos by Amanda Wachob

Amanda Wachob is a New York-based tattoo artist whose method gets rid of the black border around a tattoo, opening the piece up for a softer, blended look with fluid lines that resemble watercolor paintings or gestural paint strokes. (Watch her and other pros talk about the watercolor tattoo movement here.)

By Amanda Wachob

If you want her to ink you next, good luck. Her waitlist is supposedly years long. Luckily, there are plenty of other ways for you to get your eyes on her work.

She prints hyper-close images of her skin tattoos on to silk canvases, and collaborates on super cool projects, such as the Skin Data project with neuroscientist Maxwell Bertolero. The pair recorded the time and voltage of her tattoo machine’s power supply as she created several tattoos, and they made images based on the data that resulted. I also really dig her collaboration with conceptual artist Mary Ellen Carroll, called HOLÉ. Participants wore an article of clothing with a hole in it and the artists then “filled the hole” with tattoo ink as if to say “all holes can be fixed permanently.”

By Amanda Wachob

In Amanda’s Bloodlines series, she tattoos a subject with meaningful shapes in a non-permanent water line. The body will eventually heal the tattoo and dissolve the mark into the skin, the energy of the symbol also absorbed symbolically into the person.

And while her specialty is skin, don’t miss her work on fruit. Tattoo artists practice on plant rinds before moving on to human skin. I’m particularly smitten by her lemon tattooed with the word “tryst.” What a great word, especially to betroth the bitter, beautiful, impermanent lemon.

Published: Chicago Writers Association’s Write City Review

Check it out, friends! My artwork has made its debut in the, fittingly enough, debut publication of the Chicago Writers Association’s Write City Review. It’s so exciting to see my name and work in there that I could burst. I know this isn’t a big deal, like, at all, and I’m used to seeing my journalism bylines, but having my creative writing and embroidery published is a rad new development that feels awesome and I’m totally humbled by it.

Eeeee, let’s celebrate! Get your own copy at Printers Row Lit Fest or join the Chicago Writers Association today.

Art you should know: Painter Toyin Ojih Odutola

Someone once asked Toyin Ojih Odutola, a contemporary portrait painter based in New York, what her purpose as an artist was.

This is how she answered: “To make the world less small.”

On the surface level, how she does that seems obvious. Toyin is Nigerian-born and grew up in Texas. The perspective her artwork brings to the white walls of traditionally white, male spaces is important as we grow the space for voices.

But diversity means more to Toyin than representation of skin color in art. Diversity also means diversity of thought in the room. I love this little reminder that “diversity” isn’t a call to lift up one voice over another; it should be an attempt to elevate all voices to an equal level so that we can hear, and ostensibly learn, from each one.

Making the world feel less small comes through in her art in very powerful ways. Not only does her portraiture capture and express the magic of black skin, the conceptual work of her images reveals much. For her recent exhibition at The Whitney, she presented life-size portraits from the “private estates” of two fictional Nigerian aristocratic families.

As i-D writes, these are “radically soft visions of black wealth” driven by Toyin’s diversification of the stories we tell ourselves.

“Toyin says this was the driving question for her Whitney exhibition: What if you claimed everywhere you go as a home? Some black people avoid traveling because they (reasonably) fear they’ll encounter racism. Toyin wanted to help ease this hesitation by depicting black people outside, in nature, swimming in lagoons, chilling on the beach, taking in the sunset.”

That sounds so simple… but when you consider all the ways popular media can misrepresent black experiences and bodies by the imagery they choose, Toyin’s portraits seem all that more powerful in their commonness of scene.

More here!

Art you should know: Involvement Series by Wanda Pimentel

Involvement Series by Wanda Pimentel, 1968-69, vinyl on canvas

Brazilian artist Wanda Pimentel began her series titled “Envolvimento” (or Involvement) in 1968, the year the country’s military dictatorship decreed one of 17 major institutional acts that gave the regime authoritarian rule and mostly threw judicial review in the can.

So, her dissent of the country’s politics and violence toward the powerless had to be somewhat veiled lest she and her work face censorship… or worse. At the same time, in other places across the world, pop art and nouveau realism were rubbing their graphically shaped stones together and making lots of boldly saturated sparks.

In the Involvement Series, Pimentel painted in vibrant colors but a reduced palette. Her flat scenes uncomfortably cram together interior objects, from which there seems to be no escape. Body parts hint at the humans in the rooms, but their disembodied, naked status comment on the feeling that humans can be props, just like the objects of consumerism they use and discard, use and discard.

“Everyday objects crowd compressed interiors and suggest acts of corresponding domestic labor. Figures are fragmented,” states the AIC placard. “In this canvas, two disembodied feet emerge below the red ironing board. Their owner is otherwise only indicated by the closet full of blouses and the ready iron, the trappings of consumer culture through which we assume and care for our external appearances.”

Trouble inside. Trouble out.

But there’s some exciting expression in the series too, again subliminally disguised. “Messy piles of clothing, pools of spilled liquid and slowly dripping faucets seem to reflect the recent collapse of the political order, but also the excitement of sexual self-discovery,” writes Frieze.

Art you should know: “Heart of the Matter” by Otis Kaye

So this guy, Otis Kaye, lost all his savings in the stock market crash of 1929. This loss had to have pissed him off or at least left him a little numb to and/or disillusioned by the financial world’s proclamations of glory, right? Right. He began making more and more forms of currency—coins, bills, etc.—the focus of his incredibly detailed paintings.

Decades later, in 1963, he created this oil on canvas masterpiece, “Heart of the Matter.” It “represents Rembrandt’s ‘Aristotle with a Bust of Home’ (1653)—which had been purchased two years earlier by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, for a record-breaking price—torn into pieces and surrounded by and even interlaced with money,” according to the Art Institute of Chicago’s placard by the painting. “At the very center appears a suspended stack of bills; the ‘heart of the matter’ is thus the close connection between art and commerce.”

Now, before you go judging the irony of an artwork with these anti-capitalist undertones now living in an art museum itself, consider this: It was given to the AIC as a gift by Anonymous.

Me + “Heart of the Matter” + my heart… of all matters.


A year in review / Today I turn 32 / No one told me how awesome your thirties could be / I bought myself a watch for my birthday

A year in review.

When I was 31 years old I did the following:

  • Stayed sober.
  • Married my best fucking friend.
  • Went to Mexico.
  • Swam in the ocean.
  • Saw the American south.
  • Bought legal weed.
  • Took a vacation and didn’t feel guilty about it.
  • Put up some really difficult but important relationship boundaries.
  • Was a better sister than ever before.
  • Successfully became a full-time freelance writer.
  • Doubled my savings.
  • Grew my embroidery and creative writing work.
  • Submitted fiction and nonfiction writing to publications.
  • Didn’t cry when they got rejected.
  • Earned my first live lit Chicago performance spot.
  • And then got more!
  • Stopped getting so homesick.
  • Embraced impermanence.

What a ride! Thank you 31. <3

A plan for next year.

I hope to say I did the following when I was 32 years old:

  • Stayed sober.
  • Stayed married to my best fucking friend.
  • Didn’t smoke any cigarettes.
  • Made healthier food and sleep choices.
  • Swam in the ocean.
  • Took a vacation and didn’t feel guilty about it.
  • Was a better sister than ever before.
  • Successfully stayed a full-time freelance writer.
  • Doubled my savings.
  • Submitted fiction and nonfiction writing to publications.
  • Got accepted!
  • Finished my second book, the first book I truly love. (!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  • Presented my first gallery show of embroidery work. (!!!?!!!!!!!!!)
  • Found more time for myself/ made that clock’s-a-tickin’ a positive.
  • Check my watch, not my phone.
  • Embraced finiteness.

Watch goals.