Lauren McCarthy is an American artist and computer programmer who is currently based in LA. Her MFA is from UCLA and she earned a BS Computer Science and BS Art and Design from MIT. Through taking advantage of various media platforms and techniques she has been able to create, and is still developing, a unique portfolio of work. Some techniques and themes involved in her work include but are not limited to performance, artificial intelligence, and programmed computer-based interaction. She uses her work as a method to examine social relationships in a time that is greatly influenced by themes of surveillance, automation, and algorithmic living.
Along with her art, McCarthy also created the p5.js, which is an open source programming language that is used for learning creative expressions with online code and currently has over 1.5 million users, for learning creative expression through code online. Also, she is the Co-Director of the Processing Foundation. This foundation is a non-profit and according to the statement on McCarthy’s website their “mission is to promote software literacy within the visual arts, and visual literacy within technology-related fields—and to make these fields accessible to diverse communities.” Finally, McCarthy is currently working as an Assistant Professor at UCLA Design Media Arts.
Lauren’s work has been exhibited on a global scale, with showcases and museum appearances both nationally and internationally. The about page on her website says her work has been shown “at places such as Ars Electronica, Barbican Centre, Fotomuseum Winterthur, SIGGRAPH, Onassis Cultural Center, IDFA DocLab, Science Gallery Dublin, Seoul Mediacity Bienniale at the Seoul Museum of Art, and the Japan Media Arts Festival, and she has worked on installations for the London Eye, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts.” Ober her career she has been awarded various awards and recognitions. These include but are not limited to the fact that she is a 2019 Creative Capital Grantee, ZERO1 Arts Incubator Resident, was a Sundance Institute Fellow, an Eyebeam Resident, and more. Along with all that she is also the recipient of grants from the Knight Foundation, the Online News Association, Google AMI, Turner Broadcasting, Rhizome, etc.
When I looked through the work showcased on her website I was both fascinated and terrified at the same time. The digitally intrusive and influential side of her work played a major role in this. In a surreal but also genuine way, with hyperbolistic tendencies, McCarthy uses her work to demonstrate the grasp that technology has on human life and interactions. One prominent example was her Conversacube mechanism, designed to prompt and lead conversation among individuals instead of leaving them to experience awkward conversation. It helps encourage them in terms of what to say and what to do. To me, the idea behind this was both cool and terrifying — an interesting concept, it’s also terrifying to consider the drastic impact that technology already has on shaping human interactions and even more of the potential impact it can have if given the chance. Another set of cool creation of hers were her tools for Improved Social Interacting that are a “series of wearable devices that use sensors to condition the behavior of the wearer to better adapt to expected social behaviors” (McCarthy). These clothes shape human interaction in a way that sounds helpful on the surface, and might carry some positive merit, but also arguably goes against what many might consider real and natural.
Her work is terrifying and fascinating to me, it’s something that drew me in and seized my attention from the first example of it I looked at. It challenges what we know as real and genuine social human interactions, and pushes the boundaries of the direction our culture might be heading it. It makes us question what’s real and what isn’t, along with where our world is and where we might be heading. Overall I found McCarthy’s work creative and interesting, and appreciated the narratives and ideas behind her work.