Welcome back to WorkSpace, a new series featuring an inside look at the places where local artists roll up their sleeves and take care of business. For each installment, I’ll bring an interview with a local C-U artist, complete with photographs of their work, to showcase his or her craft and expertise.
This week we journey to the Independent Media Center Gallery (IMC) near Lincoln Square Mall to meet resident artist Travis Hocutt. Hocutt is a multidisciplinary artist who is currently exploring constellations.
Smile Politely: Tell us about your current work, disciplines, techniques and what resources you use to develop them.
Travis Hocutt: My current work is an exploration of different ways to map the Centaurus constellation. The constellation includes Alpha Centauri which is the solar system containing the nearest earth-like planet we have found to date. In finding different ways to express the constellation in two and three-dimensional formats I hope to suggest a possibility or desire to travel to this distant world even if this journey is not physical. The maps vary widely from sculptures made of aluminum tubing, to 3-D renderings, to more traditional maps designed with a combination of Indesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. More sophisticated three-dimensional map sculptures are on the way and will include inset lights to represent the stars. I begin the design or construction with a very specific idea of how I would like it to look, and employ whatever tools necessary to achieve the goal sometimes teaching myself new tools, processes, or programs in the process.
SP: Your work is influenced by science, how humans face their curiosity about the unknown and this need to turn the universe into something tangible. How long have you been focused on this, and why?
Hocutt: My work has been about human curiosity and exploration for as long as it has been about any one thing. I find the frameworks through which we interact with the world to be one of the most fascinating things about us, and that curiosity and wonder are some of the brightest parts of what make us human.
SP: You are a person who has lived in many places, how was this experience for you?
Hocutt: Having moved every two to six years has framed life as a sort of travel. I would be afraid to get stuck in one place for the rest of my life. I’ve grown to enjoy moving quite a bit and I’m very good at packing a moving truck.
SP: Of all places where you’ve been (Finland, Norway, Argentina. to name a few) which one do you think has been the most influential location, and why?
Hocutt: When I traveled to Argentina for my final semester of undergraduate study, I went having never studied Spanish. People had assured me that in any major city, though it may annoy them, people would be able to speak some English. This was not the case. I spent my time there trying to get some workable grasp of the language as fast as I could in order to do simple things like go to the grocery store and ride public transportation. During this process I became very good at understanding words and meaning through context and gesture when the words were completely beyond me. This ability has proved invaluable in all of my travels.
SP: Are you interested in exploring some other disciplines, or is there anyone with whom you would like to collaborate?
Hocutt: I think I could have a healthy collaboration with any person investigating similar themes who had a skill set that I do not. I would love to collaborate with a designer, a welder, or a sculptor with experience working on a large scale, as these are areas that I think about often.
SP: Could you recommend a film and explain why you chose it?
Hocutt: The original Solaris (in Russian). This film beautifully captures the infinite enormousness of space by engaging its physiological vastness, in a similar way to the incredible 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the film, and the book by Stanislaw Lem (which is even better), mankind comes across an object or entity which is absolutely beyond comprehension. In this way it eschews the classic roles of the extraterrestrial — which are typically either peaceful or warlike — and takes on a much more realistic role as a manifestation of the unknown and unknowable.
SP: Where and when can we see your work locally?
Hocutt: I am currently Artist of the Corridor and have work up at the Urbana City Hall, and the Urbana Free Library. I also have some work up at the UCIMC where I am the Artist in Residence. I will be showing work in the gallery space there in April as part of the Boneyard Arts Festival. I will also be showing work at CoLab in downtown Urbana in March.
Find Hocutt online by visiting