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Meet Taylor Hokanson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Taylor Hokanson.

Taylor, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am an artist, self-taught engineer, gonzo journalist, Computer-Aided Design and Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) consultant, and open source hardware evangelist. Though these descriptors appear to have little in common, they all express my overarching desire to make things and to do so on my own terms. I attribute this can-do attitude the Midwestern cities I’ve lived and worked in, including St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago. Each of these towns is marked by a painful transition from the industrial age to the information age, which forced folks to hustle or go broke. Those stories are reflected in my own transition from welder, blacksmith, and commercial sculptor to self-taught computer scientist, academic, and Postdigital artist.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Definitely not! When I got started out, physical computing platforms like the Arduino didn’t exist. The Internet was still relatively new, so it was difficult to find a creative community of like-minded folks or technical information that was accessible to a layperson. This is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about open source as a philosophy; it recognizes that value comes from pushing the global conversation forward, rather than locking down ideas in search of individual gain. Thanks to websites like Stack Exchange, Github, and Thingiverse, the people and expertise you need for just about any project can now be found in an instant, and often for free.

We’d love to hear more about your work.  What do you hope people will take away from your work?
I make things that bring people together, like Opposable Thumbs, a podcast that I co-produced with Los Angeles artist Rob Ray. Every two weeks we meet on Skype, along with a guest, to talk about our solutions to a creative challenge set by the previous guest. The podcast pushes me to exercise creativity on the regular, almost like lifting weights. We also use the platform to focus on women, people of color, and other groups that are often excluded from the “maker” conversation.

Like the podcast, my creative output is always changing in format, scope, and scale. In addition to creating community, my work always intersects with technology. This theme can be seen in my artistic practice, where I create 2D, 3D, and time-based/interactive works that are exhibited around the country and abroad. All of the code for these projects is available on Github, where you can download my work and hack it yourself. I also produce instructional CAD/CAM videos for LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com), and of course, you can find additional project documentation on my personal website.

If you want to see me in person, you can take one of my art classes at Columbia College Chicago, where I am an Associate Professor in the Art and Art History Department. If I had to pick something I’m most proud of, it’s the fact that I’ve worked with thousands of students so far in my career, helping to prepare them for a creative landscape that’s changing by the day. In keeping my skills up to date, I serve my students and myself, ensuring that we all have the tools to communicate both now and in an uncertain future.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
There is a saying that goes something like: “If you are a year early [to an idea] you’re a genius, but if you are ten years early you’re crazy.” I definitely got into my particular blend of art and technology too early to be a genius, but I’d like to think I landed on just the right side of crazy.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
Image drinking coffee: credit Audrey Peiper. All other images are taken by me.

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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