Keetra Dean Dixon is a designer, artist, and educator hailing from Anchorage, Alaska. She is most known for her playful and interactive works which turn her viewers into participants. In 2009, Dixon was named an Art Director’s Club Young Gun. She now teaches full time at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in their Undergraduate Graphic Design program.
I am not sure I thought of the process in such articulate terms, but the first time I recall thinking that “making stuff!” was a quality that differentiated me from some of my peers was after I customized a set of school supplies in 2nd or 3rd grade. I treated my trapper keeper, pencil case, scissors, ect. with multi colored, geo shapes fashioned out of electrical tape. That set was the height of 80′s trend: cool-o-licious!
You went to Cranbrook for your Masters — what program were you in? What was it like and how has it influenced your work?
Ah, the Crany. I was in the 2D Design department, which is notorious for putting out makers that leverage almost anything but 2-dimensional work. The 2D department hosts a very loosely structured program; the school itself is housed on stunning grounds that are very isolated. The level of openness and isolation inevitably leads to a bit of crisis in one way or another. Those conditions paired with the pressure/pleasure of existing in a context which has been shaped by such creative greatness leads to a level of self examination which can result in completely unique growth. I began a kind of monastic making practice during my time at Cranbrook, which lead to the development of my current initiatives and methodologies.
What path did you take from that point to now?
Its a meandering path. I am easily distracted and crush on “the new”, so my first mission post graduate studies was to work in an arena of the design discipline which I had no experience, and I mean NO experience. The brave gang at Brand New School hired me on as a motion graphic director. I stayed about a year, then followed a seductive offer to work with a Research & Development team focusing on experiential design at the Rockwell Group, an architecture firm. The position offered enough flexibility for me to maintain an independent studio simultaneously.
When did the handle “FromKeetra” come about?
I have Keetra (Schultz) Baker, my digital nemesis, to thank/BLAME for that one. I was looking to purchase a url in 2000 or 2001 and found that keetra.com was available but didn’t get to complete the online transaction for a week or two. The other Keetra zipped in and swiped it! As she has continued to do with every other notable digi presence that calls for a name. She has my complete respect, that girl knows how to win a race! So, the url fromkeetra was purchase instead. I began routine posting in 2005 as part of my graduate studies. I did a series of one-a-day exercises. One of the requirements I assigned my self was to “share,” or put the work into the world in some way. I made sure the task was address in many ways, on of which was online posting. Eventually others took notice of the site and work requests followed. FromKeetra has stuck.
What is idea-generating like for you? How do you come across an idea?
Occasionally an idea will seem to occur without method, the spontaneous Ah-Ha happiness! Love that! Other ideation takes more intent, in which case I look to my lists…
Missions (which I call my “what the work wants to do” list)
Create Connection by utilizing the flicker between: communication / miscommunication / discommunication
- Facilitate or reflect social relation
- Question understood patterns & standards
- Instill wonder, surprise & delight in the daily routine
- Encourage patience & optimism in unexpected circumstances
- Encourage an attentive community
- Cultivate an openness to play & vulnerability
- Twist the cynical loop
- Think through making
- Embrace the unknown
- Infuse the unexpected into accepted forms
- Make through breaking
- Invest in the fantastic & make with wonder
- Make the work I wish I was making
- Share it
- Parlor Gallery, NJ
- Daily Drop Cap Guest edition, March 2011
- “Deep Surface: Contemporary Ornament and Pattern.”
- Contemporary Art Museum here in Raleigh
- D-LUX, Oh! Yeah! Art and Design Festival San Martin de Los Andes, Neuquén, Argentina showed Great Illusion
- Illustrated type, Nucleus Gallery, California
- Be who you are (when is that not good advice?!?!) Stumble, be unabashedly excited, share your passions.
- Try to think outside medium restrictions as often as possible, design has many definitions.
- Consider every project as the formation of an experience.
- Ask your students to value their own opinions as much, if not more than the opinions of those around them. Demand the same from yourself.
- Expect to adjust. Teaching is an exchange and it is more rewarding for everyone when you think of it as such.
Methods (my “personal reminders when making” list):
If you had to pick a favorite material (art-related or non), what would it be?
I have such fickle fascination, my favored material shifts daily. Right now I am obsessing over office materials — specifically these tiny office labels and dots produced in Japan. I have been doing computationally generative patterning and replicating it by hand using the stickers. Does that count as a material? If not, I can also go with children’s crafting foam, or misapplied flocking surface treatment, or an old favorite, wax! I don’t know, it is all too good!
What are you working on right now?
JK Keller, the hubby and work partner, have been fabricating some enormous layered wax pieces that are structured around typographic messaging. They are a continuation of an existing series. The new work will be making an appearance at the Walker Art Center and the Cooper Hewitt in the Graphic Design: Now in Production show! Exciting. I am also working on some indulgent typographic treatments in the form of a deck of methodologies/lateral thinking cards.
Do you still have a studio in New York or are you working mainly from Baltimore now?
The dual city existence had me stretched, so I have officially relocated my entire making space to Bmore. The shift makes those midnight rushes of crafty madness easier to address. I do travel to NYC for crits, partner ships and client work, so a big part of the creative process still happens outside MD boarders.
What were some of your most recent exhibitions?
If you could describe your work in one-word phrases, what five words would you pick?
social, spastic, saturated, sarcastic, sensitive (alliterative)
It seems like a lot of your work is about designing experiences. Would you say that’s true and when did you become interested in that?
Yes, absolutely. I became aware of my tendency to favor experiential work during my One-A-Day series at Cranbrook. A majority of the resulting works where kits or platforms designed for others which helped to construct some sort of an experience. I realized my founding approach to all design problems starts with broad, experiential thinking, then narrows into minute detailing. It’s part of my framing process and an inherent design method.
What was it like to work with the Rockwell Group’s digital interaction design team? What sort of work did you do? Do you still work with them now?
When I first started working as a member of the LAB at Rockwell, there where only 3 members and no strategic plans, only a joint objective to pursuit interesting leads and find a way to apply those interests to work within the firm, hopefully making some magical output along the way. Our daily grid consisted of research and development sparkled with inspired client work, all of this within an architectural context, so on a grand scale in comparison to my previous design contexts. It was fantastic. This was all enhanced by the fellas I worked with. The team had and still has a unique chemistry, such a rare trait. I still work with the lab team, within the structure of Rockwell and outside projects. Of course half of our communiqué is digital these days. Skype, google+, and iChat have become second office spaces.
Can you tell me about your installation in California at the 2010 01JS Biennial Contemporary Arts Festival?”
I helped create Plug-in-Play with the LAB at Rockwell, a hugely collaborative effort. Here is the official PR blip…
“Plug-in-Play represents a playground of ideas related to how we engage our urban environments. By connecting a number of objects (some existing and some staged) in San Jose City Hall Plaza to the building facade via oversized theatrical plugs, we suggest a new type of environment wherein social interactions, citizenship, and personal activities are more dynamically reflected. As visitors interact with objects on the plaza or connect to the installation via social networks, this physical and virtual activity is registered through the projection of an abstracted urban landscape on the facade of City Hall. The resulting effect constitutes an attempt to create a more accurate representation of the vitality and complexity of our urban environments. Visit http://www.plug-in-play.com for more information.
The platforms placed throughout the San Jose City Hall plaza function as both stations for interaction and representations of various civic activities. Visitors can jump on a hopscotch court, shout into a megaphone, or use digital services such as Twitter or Flickr to create content. Each of these interactions prompts a different virtual reaction on the projected façade that accumulates at the upper building levels in a rolling cityscape. This final cumulative step serves as a dynamic representation of the activity at City Hall.”
What has teaching at MICA, now that your first year is over, been like? What was one of your top memorable moments with a class at MICA?
This was my first time teaching in a year long, traditional collegiate structure. My previous teach experience was very limited. I had done short term work-shopping at the university level and helped to develop a program for at-risk youth in San Francisco during the dot com boom; otherwise I was a teaching newbie. My first year at MICA was an education in overdrive. I signed on for the teacher training speed course, and I got that plus some! It simultaneously crushed and expanded everything I knew of, and expected from my role as an educator. I grew in ways I never anticipated. It has been awe inspiring.
I can’t isolate just one moment as a pinnacle memory maker, there are too many. The most surprising and touching factor was the overall level of patients, understanding, and willingness to assist that came from the student body. I anticipated a more critical reception, an expectation of expertise and infallibility. I think I came into the role with the advice to “never let ‘em see ya sweat” ringing in my head. I have never been able to feign a confident swagger. I sweat WAY too much, there is just no hiding it. My uncamouflaged moments of nervousness and typical spastic ways didn’t seem to damage the dynamics of the classroom, if anything they helped soften a context in which the difficulties of such a subjective subject could be more easily broached. My students made me more comfortable with who I am, both in and outside of the classroom. What an amazing outcome!
Now that you’ve taught at MICA, what is your advice to new teachers, or teachers who would like to get their students designing?
I’m still very naive, but I’ll give it a go…