AESTHETEC is bringing us into a brave new world. The interactive design studio, founded by husband-and-wife team, Mark Argo and Ann Poochareon is pushing the boundaries of art and technology, using levers and buttons to place technologically-driven installations into museums, science centers, and other public spaces. The company specializes in the new, the innovative, and the educational – constantly challenging the limits of technology as it relates to art and design.
Ann and Mark met in graduate school at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts over a decade ago, and they’ve been designing art, tech, and life together ever since. They both graduated from Tisch’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) – a specialized program for people from mixed professional backgrounds who seek to bring technology “out of the box.” There, they learned to “take technology off the screen.”
After finishing the program, the two worked prolifically in Europe, showcasing their work in France and Italy. Their talents were quickly recognized and they received a year-long residency at Fabrica, the Benetton Group Communications Research Center, near Venice, Italy. Fabrica allowed the two to do “a lot of experimentation,” and to explore the growing possibilities of technology. They even created a pre-smartphone, digital message board for uploading photos that was toured around the world. But, as Ann explains, “it remained an art project.”
The work Mark and Ann did at Fabrica received worldwide recognition. Their successes led them to work in Thailand as part of the team that built the country’s national history museum. They were integral in the conception and creation of the software and electronics for a walk-through exhibit that allows museum goers to experience Thailand’s history – beginning with the formation of the land, through its continuing evolution, to the present day.
Since then, Ann and Mark have buckled down in Toronto. The city’s east end serves as the home base for AESTHETEC, though the team continues to work across Canada and internationally. Three years ago, the team embarked on a herculean, two-year project to assist in building a brand new Calgary Science Centre. The project consisted of four, brand-new halls for which AESTHETEC was commissioned to design exhibits and see them through from creation to completion. Currently, they are working on a project for the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), as well as collaborating in the design of the tiff. digiPlaySpace, as part of the tiff. kids International Film Festival. The exhibit runs from March through April 2013.
The team particularly enjoys the challenge of working in museums and public spaces because of the volume of audience interaction with their works. Ann says that they are the “best environment[s] for testing in quality control.” With thousands of people using the installations, everything must remain robust and the team always keeps long-term maintenance at the forefront of their minds throughout their design process, “We want stuff that is not hacked together.”
AESTHETEC continues to devise and discover new ways to educate and inspire us. The innovative and interactive experiences that Mark, Ann, and their team bring us form a great motivation for realizing what one can achieve when driven by “out-of-the-box thinking” and a perpetual search for answers to the “why?” of the things that spark our minds and creative spirits.
WORDS: THOMAS LASKO
PHOTOS: MARK TYM