Constellation is a cohort of seven artists, Constellation: Video Storytelling, each creating a short video to be presented in a looped series that will be projected onto the downtown Saint Paul Public Library – George Latimer on Rice Park. Videos shall interact with the architecture of the library building, transforming it into new visions for public space and public knowledge. Artists include: Za’nia Coleman; Boo McCaleb; SEE MORE PERSPECTIVE; Witt Siasoco; Miko Simmons; Jonathan Thunder; and Moira Villiard.
Boo McCaleb, also known as Booscapes, is a Video artist, Public Art Consultant, and experiential designer. Leading with intuitive spiritual practice, love, and kindness He believes in networks of mutuality, sensory experiences, and creative technology to create pathways of engagement for holistic wellness and community.
You were a part of Nightlight, Public Art Saint Paul’s first foray into projection mapping. Why did you want to do that?
I went to school at Macalester and majored in Media and Cultural Studies. I was interested in critical theory and learning a lot about analyzing systems and sociology. I wanted a particular application to do direct things with what I was analyzing, so media felt like a very natural way to go, and I became heavily involved in film. Thinking back on film — making movies and being on a set — I did a lot of PA things, but that wasn’t really fulfilling for me. It was very labor intensive; it was very much unpaid labor. It is such a huge move in production, and I’m very creative, but I felt like I didn’t get to have as much creative input in the process as I would have liked.
When you start off working on a film, you do a lot of things like paperwork and making sure things go well, but you’re not the director; you’re not at the top of the creative vision. You are just a part of adding to the story. I was someone who really wanted to create my own visions, and I loved film because people are so impressed with film media. I still felt there was a lag in how film gets to the audience members. I was in a place of thinking about moving images and media in our environment and how to make it more public. I knew nothing about projection arts, but it was a random dream that was inserted. A mutual friend of mine from my college, worked for Public Art Saint Paul, and since I was really known for doing film, they offered me the opportunity and said “Hey, this is something that I think you’d really like.” I don’t know, it was an opportunity that aligned with something I mentioned in my application. I wrote about how I wanted to create screens that were outside, but not really having a tangible screen. I wanted to know how to put a movie in the middle of the street or a market, but it’s not watching TV. I felt like this cohort was going to give me the tools to learn how to do that with video. In terms of art, it was also something I had never applied to that capacity. I was fresh out of college and still thinking about work and corporate life. I didn’t necessarily have any knowledge of literacy around grants, public arts programs, and things that, but I just decided to go for it. It seemed cool, and I had a strong intuition that it was meant for me, and then I got to be part of it. I did not have expectations, as I didn’t know anything about the medium, but it was cool to know it was all different people. I had never been in a cohort before so that style of learning was interesting. Also, just being a part of it was such a long production. Learning production, creation exchange – that was all very new to me, but extremely exciting. So that is how I got into Nightlight.
Going back to your schooling; what did you want to do? Did you have a certain goal in mind when you were done with school?
No, but I knew that I was very much involved in activism. I certainly knew I loved analyzing culture and producing culture. Since I’ve always grown up with an affinity for music, clothing, food, and people. My school introduced me to so many people around the world. It really expanded my awareness of others and how other people speak differently, have different traditions, eat different foods, and all types of differences that I thought were amazing. I’ve always been someone who likes to track phenomena around how culture is created. I question why a trend is a trend and how is this predicted.
Do they ever come true?
They usually do! I’ll start to notice every year there’s a color that is going to be all over in music videos or fashion and wonder what the color of the year is. I’m rather good at predicting colors or what type of media is going to be popular, and what people are trying or what is the cutting-edge thing. You know, now we have TikTok and all these different things that are huge now — so just following the trends in that way. Also, I was huge into fashion and what got me into film was fashion. I made videos interviewing people at my school about their style, where it came from, and trying to unearth a capitalist critique, but also personal, cultural critique and questioning how we dress ourselves as well as where that comes from. Fast fashion was huge, but there were people who were not doing fast fashion either, so these competing things were interesting to learn about us as humans. Fashion reflects culture and it tells us a lot about where we are, who we are, and where we come from. The only way I could think of showing this was through film, and I had never picked up a camera before that. It was awesome! It came together really well, and I got to show it a lot. I really got addicted to this idea of telling stories and capturing stories with media. Personally, I have always loved social media and I’ve always played a lot with Snapchat. I was constantly playing with filters and text on Snapchat. Then I remember when Instagram stories began, and it became this whole new wave. I’ve always created content for myself or played that way, which for me, I considered those things nontraditional ways of making media. Increasingly, there are people who are always creating new media content around video game culture or just analyzing things that were becoming new. That kind of literacy was just beginning for me early on in college; however, it was not yet tangible. I knew I liked film, and I was a film artist. Everybody was asking if I did movies, and I guess I did a short film with Fillmore. So, I was heavily into being a film artist, but then it became boring after a while.
How do you talk about social justice through movies? Is it literal? Or do you allow the viewer’s interpretation of what they need?
I wanted room for both. Engagement with my media is important to me, but I usually retain a specific intention, which tends to evolve over time with what I am doing. There’s usually synchronicity with what I’m doing. Whether I’m taking courses, or I’m in a program or my life has a personal theme – I usually start to see a common thread and I will form a thesis with a very specific subject matter. The interaction, for me, comes from the reception of the play and how it’s shown. In the ways of the storytelling, though, I like to be direct about what I’m going for, but
I want (the viewer) to take away from it what they interpret because I always want it to be an additive conversation. I have one perspective and used to lean towards wanting to be so disruptive.
Well, I still want to be disruptive but not in a way of angst anymore.
I had a lot of angst as a young person because I was going through a lot of change with institutions. I had never been to a private college before, and I went to a local high school here that was not the best and didn’t do so well in the district and things like that.
Not a lot of support system.
Yeah, or just access to dope things. So, transitioning into higher education was a very solo journey for me because my family does not have much experience being educated that way. So, navigating all of that was new, and I felt a lot of anger with coming from a very specific background. I also had insecurity regarding whether I would perform well. I did perform well, but then what was revealed to me was people did not have much experience with socially or culturally living in the world. That really pushed my buttons; around access and study and feeling like we’re studying things in our books that aren’t real to people but are very real to people like me.
Do you think anything changed, or was it a gradual thing?
Definitely gradual. I became more empowered and curious instead of angry. I wanted to be more involved. I was studying material and reading books and initially thought, I want to be a nerd; I love words and being able to articulate, but then I realized this isn’t just about being academic or doing well in these spaces. This is about me learning things about people and pursuing that life. Applying myself and being immersive with it. I had to combine myself, because my past self was in pain, but my new self was evolving into some cool spaces, and they did not have to be a separation in that way. That’s what changed for me. Also, doing projection and getting to know this medium highlighted a lot of things that were important to me, which I found have such an affinity to light. I love playing with light as a medium and that, for me, is connected to home. My home was always curated with so many different lights, so it feels very sentimental. I realized that to give myself sensory breaks and calm- I already do that in my personal space- so it became an extension of something that I already do. That felt like a full circle moment of return knowing that I’m learning this new thing to become something that I already am and can apply that. Again, it’s just nice dialogue.
What you’re saying is really a parallel to maturing and growing up.
Until you learn it yourself, somebody tells you that, but you feel like you just want to be this “thing” already. Maybe that’s probably where the angst comes from. I have felt that too.
What pushed you to say “I’m going to do this” even though you did not have that history behind you?
Well, I have always wanted to be great. Even though I come from an extremely specific background, I have always done very well in the things that I choose to do. I really had to get my confidence back and I knew that however that success looked and felt, I had to obtain it. I think the secret, for me, was realizing what felt good and what made me feel productive, but also brought me joy. This medium brings me a lot of joy, which makes me feel successful, and that enjoyment makes it easy for me to participate and desire to learn. I was not enjoying all the things I was doing before, but I’m enjoying this.
How do you know when it is time to move on?
For me, right now, it’s if things are not challenging me, or things that are draining me. If I feel that I’m not receiving joy or nourishment. I’m all about nourishment right now and what that looks like holistically. Challenge is also a part of that and it’s good, because I know I’m someone who always wants to grow. It’s not about growing to be superfluous or perfect, but it’s growing because I know I have more potential. Also, when I’m challenging myself to grow, I just feel more secure. It gives me more peace and it is what gives me the feeling of being able to give more love too, because that gives me a lot of meditative calm. When I can say I’m good and freely be open. That really depends on who I’m around too, and how I care for myself.
You talked about learning the technical aspects of working in film and all this other stuff. When did you see yourself become an artist? Or were you always an artist, and then you felt you had to pile this on top first?
I’d say I’ve always been creative. I was always a kid who signed up for everything. I was in choir; I took violin lessons. I did a lot of paper mâché costume puppetry stuff, a lot of things that were around environment or planting things and painting pods and painting murals, chalk, and things that almost seemed game-like. I participated in drum circles and did some dance, theater- I tried everything and I was always down. I was a very extroverted kid and I wanted to try what seemed awesome. So that was what started the creativity and I came from a pretty creative home.
Sometimes that gets taught out of students – that freedom to let the creativity flow – that they need to work within parameters.
I’m so big into inner child work. That is something that is very centered to who I am and to all the things I do. I really like to engage with other people’s inner child, too. I’ve been learning a lot about facilitation and bringing projection to do sensory things with people, but it’s always going back to the kid; what does your [inner] kid like to do? Approaching people like that gives us innocence, dissolves the ego, and allows us to try things.
So when did you feel like you became an artist?
I would say post college. I was feeling like I’m wanting to be an artist. It was not that I officially self-identified., but it felt like that was what I was going for because I knew at that point that I was never going to do an office job or something boring; or I should say something noncreative. With every job I had that I was not able to create something or give it a spin or a color in the dots, I felt like I cannot live like this. So increasingly, it became a reflection thing when I was in different communities. They would assume I’m an artist, and I’d say, I guess, and then it was starting to evolve. Honestly, by the time I was really starting to do this medium and go after new media, I was feeling like I was an artist, but it was not in a positive way. I felt like a starving artist. I was feeling the unobtainable. I was feeling like I wanted to be an artist, but I do not know how to make art in Minnesota. I don’t know what that community looks like here because everything is fantasized.
It is also romanticized to be a starving artist, but you did not understand that the resources that were available.
Yes, it also seemed like it was somewhere else. Chicago, LA – you think you must go there to be an artist. So how am I going to be an artist in Minnesota? Also, I knew I wasn’t somebody who painted or did traditional art, so it took me a long time to arrive there in a place that felt comfortable. Spirituality had a lot to do with that for me because through spirituality. There’s a lot of different modes of connecting. I got really into tarot, quite visually. I got really into different.
books that had symbols and stories. These things began connecting dots for me because I needed keys to help unlock. That is how I started identifying as an artist, and day by day, I am still playing with that identity in a way that feels good to me. I feel like I come off more business oriented in the artist community, but then when I’m in the business community, I come off as the artist. I am always playing with balance of these two things and a sort of hybrid formation because I feel like more artists must be business oriented. The business world is learning about the connections and network building that art has, but artists also need rights and protection as well as wealth and abundance that business can afford, so I am playing with those two things and trying to marry them.
I observed during Nightlight, and I learned MadMapper through working with DJs in the local DIY scene. I would do a lot of DJing with MadMapper and they would invite to sit in the back while people are DJing at 3:00 the morning playing with MadMapper and his effects. While learning about it, I started to attract different media people through these events. They were projection artists who either played with MadMapper or played with something else and soon I just started growing a following.
Since then, I have met so many cool people with amazing tools, and I quickly became associated with doing projection because I brought it out. It’s like bringing out the Magic Hat somewhere you never thought it would be and that really helped me learn the medium. That really helped me create community around this medium. Now I have all types of artists who don’t necessarily do projection, but they want to include it and they are curious about how to do that. That creates a whole opportunity for literacy and education, which is a journey I am still on. What I have learned the most about this medium is how collaborative it is. I’ve gotten the chance to work with people before, in this cohort, and now there’s even more people. I’ve also worked with Miko [Simmons] in his sector, and he did a play at theater mood. I was his assistant on that, so I got to learn about projection and the theater space and learn about his workflow, which is very different from the workflow of others.
There are so many tools, and right now. I’m in this place where I have a vision. I want to start the [process] so I have that protection identity formed for a business. Also, I want to start a fiscally sponsored project in which I’ve already done a beta with the Grace Foundation at Midtown Market called Project Exchange.
For a long time, I did not know what it was; I had a gallery space, funding, and I was able to do what I wanted. I am not a traditional artist who will paint pictures to put on the wall, so I had to find a way to get people in this space. I am all about activation, and I knew I had to have projection somehow, so it ended up being a series of interviews with people who have relationship to that space. I wanted to create space in the space. This space had lots of lighting, and I gelled it all with green lights, I got a fog machine, and I did a bunch of projection arts in it. Then, I invited everybody who was a different media artist who were tangibly peripheral to come, I had food and a DJ and then everybody did whatever they wanted. They also had a game console, so kids were playing Roblox, some people were doing tape art, there were people reading tarot, and I had people talking about new media and projection. It was cool, because everybody stayed longer than planned because the lighting started to set on people. Suddenly, they all realized how many lovely people were in this space. Another thing I did to create an environment was to have everybody take their shoes off before they entered. I had everybody wear a name tag, but instead of their name, I prompted everyone to state who they were in the forest, and everybody had their way of participating in an ecosystem.
It was highly successful, so I have been eager to share my desire to do more learning ciphers. I want to do more exchange around trying certain projects in the world of new media and find the tools we already have. Somebody has a fancy projector, or a scaffold- somebody has these things. We all have different workflows, and now we need to combine all of this and come together. I am learning so much through exchange with other people, including people in other countries that I have never met, who have a Patreon and Discord or YouTube channel. I’d like to create that community substantively here, which could travel, but I definitely want to start it here because I’ve met so many cool, hardworking people.
Do you feel you’ve been successful in creating community along with advancing your career?
Yes, I definitely feel like I’ve made it. Honestly, after seeing my installation come together at Nightlight, I have never experienced so much joy in my life. I saw so much potential, and that just felt so big. Yeah. Also, there was so much creativity that went into it to that, as well as engagement! There were children who came from the building complexes and later I was able to see in pictures how they were playing, and it was beautiful. I was like, Wow! I am successful, this was a success! Even doing the DIY thing was dope. I had fun and I really felt like I was learning. I was at this place where I was going through a major healing moment in my life, and I was gaining a lot of things, grounded around survival for me. I went out into a space where instead of presenting myself, I was in black, in the back, pulling up my computer, and I was dissolved into the art. I let go of myself to become my medium, and that was really cool because I needed that time. To suddenly be affirmed with that identity from other people was great. I had it, but in a way that felt more holistic to who I actually was. It was an agreement between everybody, you know?
Somebody told me that our cells change fully every seven years. Every seven years, you become somebody new. Do you believe that?
I love it! That sort of goes with my idea for Constellation. With this medium, I was drawn to it because it has such a potential to impress upon people in a positive way. I believe media is very intentional about impressing upon our behavior and our beliefs and we all have our own beliefs. I am someone who wants to put out positivity into the world. I saw this as an opportunity where I have a huge canvas, and I have one of the biggest screens in the world, you know what I mean? So, I want to do something positive, and I am someone who, with my artist practice, enjoys vibrational art. Things around light therapy, sonic frequencies, crystals are all forms of vibrational healing. Visuals are a huge part of visual meditation, too. I wanted to create a piece that felt like a visual meditation, and I don’t usually create moving pieces that are this long, so 10 minutes is a long time. It’s an opportunity to practice slowness, though, which is something I am working on and with this theme of networks of mutuality, I really wanted to connect to this idea of separation as an illusion how to display that visually, because I do believe separation is an illusion. Separation in terms of connection between people, who we are our, our environment, trees – we’re are all in connection. I wanted to show this so people understand this. I wanted to show examples in the natural world. For example, cells being connected, and then divide with the same. Seeing this theme, this visual phenomenon really helps us understand this on various levels and it can be accessible to people who have different forms of believing so I wanted to create this visual meditation that has things like cellular division. I am really interested in mushrooms and have been learning so much about mycelium networks, and how it’s just a huge kingdom of connection and love and nutrients and sharing! Also, we’re all obsessed with mushrooms right now.
Also, how destructive they can be, too. They can take over the world.
Yes, yes! Also, I think that is important too, because we often associate connection or these nice ways of positive art to be so defensive, but we can be aggressive along with our desire to change for good. That’s why mushrooms are dope, too. I’m here for it. If you have to eat something up because it is killing the ecosystem, I am here for it. I mean, I don’t want to go down that lane too much.
I have been experimenting with projection, and I did something outside where there was a plant that was in the way of my projector, but I didn’t want to rip it out of the ground. So, I left it, and it created this really cool shadow, but also, the tree was loving the light! Now I want to create an installation that’s a small, contained garden and project on it. Again, I am just totally about the natural.
I want to do a layer with a technical aspect of my piece. I’m really playing with an audio reactive component to further show connection. It is a visual piece that will generate visuals based on sonic impressions of the environment. While people are chilling and watching the show, when they are talking or clapping, or there’s any outward noise, it will generate consistent spores subtly enough where people must catch it and realize they’re impressing upon this thing. Again, you know, a metaphor for our connection with our living environment.
What do you think your intention is for this event? Do you want people to be watching it and be fully engaged? Do you want it to be in the background?
I want it to be a part of the environment. What’s cool about this building is that it has a specific makeup material that you can play with. It’s not a flat wall; there’s break and that also came from raw material of our earth. I want it to feel like people forgetting that this projection is going on, even though there is an intense production going on, you know what I mean? That is to welcome people. I also really love when people touch things! Assuming we are not going to bar it, I would love if people asked to touch the wall.
I love that you talked about the stones of the earth and connecting back to that. We forget that connection to the land or that we need to have respect and be aware of how we fit into that space in the world. For example, this is not going to be here in 500 years. So, what do you want your legacy to be? Or perhaps we don’t decide our legacy. Maybe the people after us are the ones that decide that for us.
I think it’s definitely both. I want to be known as a teacher, honestly. I feel like I’m in this period of self-mastery, in my life. That represents how I care for myself and for others, and what my craft or vocation is. Ultimately, I love advancing my skills, but it is there to teach. It is to share it and to spark inspiration in other people and whatever they feel their superpower or strength is, I want to give access to unlocking that. That is why I am so moved to have this project for people to come together. I want to set up infrastructure so that can prosper, and people can continue to share and learn and grow. That feels like that will give me the best way of continuing to care for our future. Then my legacy can exist. To be a teacher, that would be sick, and then obviously I would love to be known for projecting on a cool landmark, whether a mountain or a cool building, but something significant.
I want to go all the way! I am on many pages where people are playing with this medium in cool ways and I also really want to do things around body movement. If I could really curate something with a bunch of dancers or healers, or people who do any kind of touch practice or bodywork practice, combined with projection. That would be great. Yesterday was Za’nia’s tangible collective, and they hosted two free sessions bodywork sessions at Watershed Spa for BIPOC folks, and there was projection in there. They had sound artists, and it was dope, so, I really want to do something large in that area, healing arts and teaching.
You say you want to be a teacher and allow people to do what they need to be doing. Do you give actual tools like an Adobe Illustrator, or is it more so “I’m giving you space and my knowledge that I pass along”?
It depends where people are at. Currently, I am actively archiving a lot of resources, saving the videos, saving the person who made the teacher, and finding the PDF. I feel like my time with Miko was a lot of knowledge bearing, passing on, and watching and I think that’s important that I’ve offered that. Yet I also think it’s hard, because of how we have historically passed on knowledge, assuming it’s in the safest way. Sometimes we make it in a book, and then it has been taken away or burned or an institution.
Or reinterpreted differently.
Yes, so it’s nice to have that openness. Project Exchange helped to create the space for that, but I am actively doing both.
This is a live/learn practice of how we are with one another, but I also think that’s why it’s important to do both knowledge bearing as well as creating space because we live in so much structured space. We live in a world that’s not natural anymore, and we have both machine and the material and, what’s really cool about this medium is the inclusion of physical space. I have been wanting to branch into learning about architecture, and how people design space and where that comes from. I’ve been really interested in learning about pure math, and this right brain description of this art because it’s the metaphysical, and the emotion followed by interaction, but there are also real tools that go into making it tangible for us. I’ve been trying to gear up in pictures, but now I’m even trying to learn what do with ai. You’re plugging in words and finding these formulas that are representing the visual, so I’m trying to go at the other end. I have this mentor friend of mine who I met at Nightlight. They came in and started projection mapping around the same time and we’ve been on this learning journey together. They do much more code-based visuals.
Above all of this, I want to express gratitude. I am extremely thankful for this second opportunity. Public art has been feeling very new, but it’s also something I am probably going to participate in for the rest of my life and I encourage everyone to try learning this medium, if they can. It is accessible in the sense that anyone can learn it. There are barriers around technology, however this medium requires collaboration. So, if you have a piece, you can get in and be a part of the puzzle. If you are a creator, like technology, earth, or material, or you are dancer, you can be a part of this extremely collaborative medium, and again, I am extremely grateful to be able to do this.