Morgan Thomas Shankweiler

Art. Design. Sociology.

Fascinated with the overlap between the rules and systems of games and the rules and systems of social life, I consider the ramifications of the social systems we live in and abstractly model moments in time through the visual recording of aleatoric game play. I approach my observations of human behavior through a trained sociological lens, utilizing both ethnographic and quantitative analysis, and straddling a line between realistically rendered metaphor and abstract data visualization.

A gridded system serves as a scaffold for the movement of the organic as I experiment with the connection of sets of tiles in two-dimensional ‘puzzles’. The various ‘puzzles’, created and conceived in the studio in the tradition of Wang dominoes and Tesselata, are engaged through playful aleatoric games that follow prescribed rules. The prescribed rules of the games are inspired by human behavior and chance and can be random, mathematical, metaphorical, or fact-based (often drawn from statistics or sociological theory). I use this modularity and these parameter-based restrictions as representations of the social norms and systemic obstacles I see in the social world around me. The final artworks are maps of human connectivity and metaphors for complex social interactions; hands holding, sustained eye contact, a casual conversation about the weather, joined protest, family dynamics, segregation, embrace. Larger works in a variety of media are ‘net’works, each knot, link or loop, each channel of connection, indicating a corresponding human connection that holds a community of people together.

At once representational and abstract, the broad reaches of my practice are connected by my use of modular, linkable units; grid squares, blocks, rope segments and knots, chain links, hands, paper clips, stripes and recognizable game pieces and household items, to metaphorically represent and comment on the ways in which we connect with each other in American society. Ropes and chains are imbued with meanings of their own; they are tools for security and safety, they are tools for holding something down against its will, they might bind, they might lift, and when connected they take new form and tension through their interaction; safety nets, networks, internets, a metaphorical fabric of society. Paperclips can be unions, but they can also enforce boundaries. Knots can secure or be an obstacle to untangle.

The visual elements in my paintings come directly from the memory of the hyper-focusing activities I was comforted by as a child. A link of clovers or a gentle knot is a small offering of myself into the image - nature creeping up through a crack in a sidewalk of imposed order. The handcrafted nature of the work gives it a gentle familiarity to the viewer which is also recognizable to a broader audience and, in my interactive work, I invite the community to join me in play to build metaphorical ‘net’works.'

Detail of:
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Acrylic and Plaster on Artist-built Modular Sliding Wood Tile Game.