Keith Harrington makes his art big – really big.
Red Rocks big, Silo City big.
It’s also fleetingly temporary. As a video & installation artist-DJ-VJ-audiovisual mixologist masher-upper guerrilla projectionist all-around culturally informed kind of guy (how many hyphens do you need before you can simply be listed as awesomely multi-talented? Or as Keith described it during our interview – Artistic Batman), Keith’s focused interests have resulted in a prolific and varied but ephemeral body of work – creating events and happenings that may only last for a few hours or days at most. Keith remixes music and video with a deft hand, but that seems almost mundane when compared to the scale and impact of the way in which he remixes space, using video and projections to hack architecture and create wondrous transformations for both events and his own artistic urges working under the moniker PROJEX.
“I was always into art and painting. I studied art in college, but I didn’t want to teach art or be a painter. I grew up around music though, and spent a lot of summers backstage at Melody Fair and Shea’s, and with my stepfather playing in bands. There was a convergence of music and visual art that started to become more of a defining direction for me as I got older.” Becoming disillusioned with the ongoing commercialization of skate and punk culture in the 90’s led Keith to become more involved in electronic music and the rave culture of the time – where he realized that there was an instinctive link between the visual and sonic elements of performance. “I would be spinning vinyl, and memorizing these cuts and drops, and at the same time cutting together VHS tapes and running them on a third channel, mixing together the sound and images from the VHS tapes with the music I was playing.” It was a raw and experimental time for Keith and other artists in the genre where a lot of distinct styles emerged during the infancy of internet culture.
As Keith accumulated a collection of equipment for his DJ/VJ sets he started to move into the more ambitious realms of video art, installations, and projection mapping – a slightly more complicated approach to visual presentations where Keith maps the surface of buildings or objects, and creates visuals that interplay with the forms and facets of whatever he is projecting on. “I needed to find an environment that was more conducive for people to appreciate the visuals I was building, so I began to take it out of the clubs and neighborhood parties, and instead started to favor the art scene, galleries, and larger arts and music festivals where I had more options for presentation than just a bunch of TV’s at a bar.” These DJ sets and projection experiments were the foundation for the works and events that Keith now produces.
Keith has collaborated with notorious street artists to create a tribute to one of Buffalo’s own – the late illustrator Spain Rodriguez (If you don’t know his work go pick up a copy of his adaptation of Nightmare Alley or Che: A Graphic Biography). He’s transformed the cyclopean grain elevators along the Buffalo River, relics of the city’s faded history as an industrial powerhouse that are emerging as a new artistic and cultural community, into canvases for his projections during City of Night. His projections, sometimes transgressive and always transformative, have turned much of the city into a workspace/playground for him.
The biggest venue for PROJEX to date started out as little more than a video equipment rental that quickly led to an opportunity for Keith to design and present visuals for a sold out Flux Pavilion show at Buffalo’s Town Ballroom. The impressed DJ/producer was heading for his biggest US show of the year – a dubstep festival at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado and was looking for someone to do visuals for his headlining performance. Keith got the call on a thursday afternoon asking if he could fly out to Denver for the show, which was happening the very next night. “I packed up my gear that night, got on a plane the next morning, and a few hours later I was setting up my cameras and mixer at one of the greatest venues in the country for the festival’s headlining act. There were 10,000 kids going crazy for Flux Pavilion while I mixed together live feeds, graphics, and video pieces for a set.” Creating art for a stage that’s hosted some of the greatest musical acts in the world is a pretty rock-star moment for any visual artist.
When asked about Buffalo as a place for a working artist to set up shop Keith said “I think that, personally, because I grew up here as a native Buffalonian I love this place. I know when I was younger I was saddened by the departure of the steel industry and the effect it had on the city and the migration of my friends and other young people away from the city, but from an economic standpoint there is a blue-collar mentality to the city that makes it affordable, a place where artists can thrive and sustain a greater quality of life while pursuing their work. We’re going through something now, I don’t want to say it’s magical, but it certainly hasn’t happened before in my lifetime – because we grew this cultural core and many of the artists and entrepreneurs that were able to thrive here and start interesting new businesses we are starting to see people make Buffalo a destination, migrating from New York and LA – in the last five years I’m starting to see people moving into instead of out of Buffalo.”
Full disclosure: Keith and I have collaborated on some projects in the past for events hosted by SUNY Buffalo. In fact I owe Keith for the chance to see some of my own work presented at a scale I never dreamt of seeing it in when he projection mapped it across the walls of a huge event space in Buffalo’s old Pierce Arrow Motor Car factory for an annual event held by the School of Fashion and Textile Technology. Not gonna lie, it was pretty fucking cool. You can check out more of his work on his website Projex.tv or in the short reel below.