As a grade schooler living in Lower Merion township, Dan Schimmel remembers a freedom seldom realized by children.
He was allowed to draw on the walls of his childhood playroom.
“Whatever we wanted to do was for us to do,” he says of he and his siblings. “It wasn’t monitored or controlled.”
It sounds like fate, or perhaps coincidence, then, that 46-year-old Schimmel is the Director of Breadboard, the University City Science Center‘s arts and technology program, which operates the science- and technology-focused Esther Klein Gallery and is the landlord of NextFab Studio, all based on the West corridor of Market Street.
There, he leads a program of seemingly unlikely gallery exhibits, partnerships and programming for a once straight-laced and historic business incubator, focused on the intersection where art meets technology.
Call it drawing on the walls of a serious research park.
Breadboard is an evolution of the Science Center’s Klein Gallery, as its known, which had a founding focus on arts, science and technology. But since Schimmel took over the program in 2000, bringing, along with an art degree from Berkeley and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa, the gallery’s first computer, one from the “beige era,” as he puts it. He’s since pushed the program forward, with an increased focus on public outreach and education, and has expanded the program to include interest in and dedication to the DIY maker community, with initiatives like NextFab.
Now, after a four-year hiatus focusing on the Breadboard programs and on raising a young daughter with his partner, back in Lower Merion, Schimmel is showing a collection of his own paintings at LGTripp Gallery‘s First Friday exhibition, tonight, in Old City, and through July 9.
We caught up with Schimmel to hear more about his work at Breadboard and the influence technology and science has had on his work through the years. More, after the jump.
This seems like it’s your first show in a while. What’s the story?
I’ve been kind of underground for the past few years. I moved back to the suburbs and started raising a kid, and there’s really very little time. I was happy to be resigned to be working at the gallery, raising my daughter and at night painting. I came to a point where I had a big accumulation, so I put together a PDF and sent it out to LGTripp.
Why is your work steeped in the tradition of painting and visual art?
From my position at the gallery and Breadboard, I am amazed by the technology and I’m also suspect of it. Ultimately, the flow of information from digital technology is a reproduction of 1s and 0s, while with the analog creative process, you’re using your hands, and there’s a transfer of information through the material. There’s a whole wealth of knowledge and information that’s being transferred to the work. I think digital tech and visualization in that respect, have a lot of limitations.
How does technology influence your work?
I’m not using digital printers or laser cutters to do what I do. I’m very much an advocate of the handmade, in that sense it’s very DIY. That said, I grew up and continually am influenced by movies like Terminator, Blade Runner, The Matrix, all these sort of sci fi visions of the future that pit humanity and nature against technology. I think that’s encoded in my work at a very kind of subliminal level.
How did your time at the University of Iowa, studying for your Masters of Fine Arts, impact your work?
The geography of the place of Iowa City and the surrounding farmlands and access to that had a big influence and resonate with me still. I remember the Hale-Bopp comet. I really got transfixed in going to the farm fields and watching that at dusk. It was an experience that was pretty profound for me. It was a fixture in the sky. It wasn’t a moving plane, it wasn’t a satellite, but it was still a moving plane, a moving satellite. It was visiting my view. I think in some ways it connected me to a larger time frame of traveling through space and time.
Why did the Esther Klein gig interest you?
I didn’t know much about the Science Center, but what the Klein gallery was doing was interesting to me. Founding Director Libby Newman was a living connection to the golden age of the Science Center when Buckminster Fuller was there, and a few other noted luminaries. The fact that it was connected to art and science interested me because of my fledgling interest in science and medicine. [Ed. note: Fuller was a resident Fellow at the Science Center for the last decade of his life, until 1983.]
What have you seen change over the years where art meets technology as the curator of Breadboard and the Esther Klein Gallery?
Artists are not always people that set out to be artists. They’re coming at it from other disciplines. They are able to comment on society, on the state of planet, on state of our politic, and they’re doing it through technology. These are hybrid specialists that, in some ways, what they’re doing doesn’t have a practical place in our culture, so it exists as art. But more and more it finds its place as a key practice to understanding where we’re at right now and how to make adjustments for the better.
The art world today is kind of tied to everything that was wrong, everything that fed into the whole economic collapse. It was all about the hedge funds, they were looking — speculating — who were the next great artists. The art world was infused with all of that. These artists are coming from different disciplines through new ways of visualizing information. They’re very refreshing and it’s very positive.