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Carbon City

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Is Your Home Making You Sick?

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We Own It

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Innocent Until Proven Risky

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Meet the Designer: Kevin Cadena

Meet the Designer: Kevin Cadena

For our latest round of Meet the Designer, CUP's ongoing series spotlighting our design collaborators, we sat down with designer and teaching artist Kevin Cadena!

1. How would you describe your artistic practice?

I’d say the overarching theme is that it’s fluid and adaptive. How I describe it changes on which of the three elements that make up my practice are expressing themselves. My practice is a cup and with each project or time period, different amounts of each element go into the larger mix.

Art and Design (A&D): Some may consider these different or a binary, but for me, they are so enmeshed with one another, I can’t think of them separately with my work. 

The Web: This element normally takes the form of front-end coding but since the COVID-19 pandemic has redeveloped to include the more amorphous shape of online community and platform building. 

Education: It can be leading workshops, teaching classes or giving lectures and is informed by peer-to-peer learning and principles for teaching high school.

While these elements can work by themselves, I tend to involve two of them at any given moment. A&D tends to act as the base for which the other two can build on top of. When it’s A&D and The Web, my practice revolves around building interactive digital experiences that are personal, expressive, and subversive in how they challenge what we expect these experiences to be. When it’s A&D and Education, it becomes about developing criticality, curiosity, and community within a group of young creatives.

Finally, there have been a handful of times over the last three years when all three elements have come together for a project. Those projects have always been extremely fulfilling but also very different from one another.

2. You’ve been both a CUP Public Access Design Fellow and a Teaching Artist! Can you tell us one takeaway from both experiences?

In continuation of the previous prompt, I’d say my one takeaway is nuances begin to show themselves when you have the opportunity to use the same skillset in different contexts. CUP, through these fellowships, has often been the space where I can use practice holistically and every time, it’s created a new deeper level of understanding about my work. For example:

At the time of my PAD fellowship, I was early in my design career and didn’t have a vision of what combining all the elements into one project would look like. Through the Bronx is Blossoming project, I got a taste of where I could go with it in a very streamlined and delineated manner. A&D, The Web and Education all had their specific roles within the pipeline.

However, when I brought the three together again through the Teaching Artist Fellowship, my original idea of using all three was knocked over and in the spillage, a new blurry envisioning came to light with the Who’s An Essential Worker Curriculum Guide. The pipeline, input, and output were gone with all three pieces are so closely linked in each stage.

3. What was it like working on a project remotely at this time and how did you adapt it?

It was really tough, honestly! After having designed and revised an in-person curriculum twice followed by switching to an online guide involving many unknown variables, I definitely felt weighed down through the middle of its development. I love where we ended up with the Who’s An Essential Worker Curriculum Guide and reflecting on the experience, these things really helped me see the finish line:

– Pushing back the deadline to allow myself to take a step back from the project.

– Recognizing that I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling and we could push through together.*

– Discovering new parts about the project that helped rejuvenate my connection to it.

    *Many thanks to Fielding Hong and Leigh Taylor for sticking by my side with Who’s An Essential Worker. 

    4. What is a project you’re working on now that you’re excited to reveal soon?

    I recently got accepted into the Babycastles’ “___-in-residence” program, which is a self-driven new media artist residency. I defined myself as a “Digital Folklorist-in-Residence” and will be working on a project titled Colo-Mitolo-Gítal where I will be reinterpreting a set of stories from my mother, father and grandmother’s childhoods through the lens of the Web, computation and play. It’s been about 10 years since I’ve last been to Colombia and with the COVID-19 Pandemic, it appears it might still be awhile. This project is a way for me to build new connections with my family’s homeland that does not focus on geophysical means and uses a realm of expression that is more personal to me.

    5. What’s a secret skill you have that has nothing to do with work?

    I’m very good at picking out ripe avocados, pitting them perfectly with a knife, and then peeling the skin off using just my thumb. I didn’t think this was really that big of a skill but other people tend to be very surprised!

    Illustrations made by Kevin Cadena

    Feeeels Fuzzy Font by Jack Halten Fahnestock

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