Name: Sam Oliver
Hometown: New York City
Year: Junior

Why Stamps?

I came to Stamps because of the interdisciplinary program that it encourages. Before college, I had a background in portraiture, sculpture, and woodworking. I knew from the moment I applied to art schools, though, that I wanted to spend my college career diversifying my expertise rather than specializing.

Since coming to Stamps, I have designed a game for the medical school, performed in Holly Hughes' "Well of Horniness," developed sets for student productions, ‘performed’ a life drawing class at the Ross Business School, shown in the Engineering Design Expo, traveled around the country coding with Michigan Hackers, built Javanese musical instruments, and learned to weld, slip-cast, and pour bronze. Sure, some other art schools have loose majors, but I don't think any other schools could have provided such a wealth of experience.

Red Solo Cup, 2012. A response to Sigma Phi Epsilon’s recent takeover of the Disciples of Christ Church on 730, Red Solo Cup speaks to both the similarities and differences between the fraternity and religious group. Contrasting the symbols of St. Mathew’s Chalice and the Red Solo Cup, the work discusses parallels within the rituals of both organizations in terms of communal alcohol consumption as well as the differences their pretext.
Life Drawing in the Business School, 2013. In this performance work, Ariel and I posed for a class of fellow students sketching in the business school atrium. We started the piece in business causal attire and with each pose we subtracted an article of clothing. After an hour of drawing and posing, at the point when were almost nude, we were finally forced to leave under duress. Through the introduction of live nude models and sketching artists into the otherwise austere atmosphere of the business school atrium, Ariel and I created a situation unbound from its usual professional obligations.
The Ikea trade, 2012. For the this performance, I crafted a table using natural and salvaged wood, and offered to trade it with shoppers for a piece Ikea furniture at the local the Ann Arbor store. The work questions notions of modern and contemporary notions of beauty, quality, and brand dependency within consumer culture.
Apples for Apples, 2012. For this work I traded a painting of six apples for the equivalent number of real apples, exploring the value of art and alternative trade and barter systems. By divining the works appearance with its eventual sale, I created an artifact honest about its own intentions.
Bone Dry, 2011. This sculpture’s form was inspired by bone, the base by its macro appearance and the cup by its micro.
Gaia, 2011. Sculpted from a live model.
Click to view larger images.

On designing a video game for children with diabetes…

I would describe myself as a reformed video game addict. In grade school I played an unhealthy amount. During 9th and 10th grade, I would stay up all night grinding in MMORPS with sheets hung over my door to hide the glow from the computer screen. I only really learned to manage my intake during my junior year, when I first started seriously making art. Since then, I haven't really played significantly. I entered the video game class, though, because of my interest in electronic media.

Two years ago, a show at MOMA called "Talk to Me," which explored the subversive implications of communication design, first sparked my interest in the topic. Responsive artwork seemed capable of forming a dialog with users that static work really wasn't, extending its ability to inspire behavioral change.

A month into college, Matt Kenyon lectured in my digital class and I realized that one of the coolest artists from the show was teaching here and that I had the opportunity to learn from him. With that in mind, I delved into programming last year with CS classes and Matt Kenyon's, Apps for Artists. Video games seemed like a logical extension of what I was learning.

I designed my game with my old addictions in mind. I set out to leverage the compulsive qualities that games can inspire, but to positive ends. By tying the game's mechanic to players' own health monitoring schedules, I hope that users will develop good habits and attitudes towards managing their own diabetes.

Read more about Video Games for Diabetes.

What’s next?

As to where I am going, I don't yet know. I hope to have my own studio one day and to show my work in interesting venues. But what I will make? I think that all depends on what the world, or even my community, needs after I graduate. Hopefully I will have something to offer, and this process of long form improvisation that I call learning will take me to where I want to go.


Sam Oliver was one of this year’s recipients of the Stamps Creative Work Scholarships, a highly competitive award available to second, third and fourth year students in recognition of outstanding work. For a full list of winners, click here.




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