Mixing Tech and Hip-Hop with 5CollDH Fellow Eunice Esomonu

Eunice Esomonu
Eunice Esomonu

Over the next few months, we’re running interviews with 5CollDH Student Fellows to learn more about their projects and research process. We continue our series with Eunice Esomonu, a senior at Mount Holyoke College. 

What is your 5CollDH project about?

My project seeks to search and convey the intersection of hip hop and technology through interactive installations inspired by the four elements of hip hop: DJing/Turntablism, Graffiti, Breaking, and MCing/Rapping. I want to be able to convey the connection between hip-hop culture and technology through these four installations and to emphasize the complex relationship that hip-hop has with technology through my work. By exploring hip-hop’s technological and innovative roots, my intention is to use technology to explore the cultural analysis of art, design, and media that visualizes Hip-Hop as a cultural indicator.

How did you get interested in these questions? Were there particular classes you took, professors you worked with, or other projects that inspired your approach?

For me it is somewhat personal: I have been a lover of hip hop since listening to Outkast’s Stankonia which sparked my interest in the production, sound, and visuals needed to create hip-hop projects. So, I grew up in the culture and really absorbed everything that I was listening to at the time, which was a lot of Southern Hip-Hop artists, since I’m from Houston. I was interested in the technology involved in creating sounds that influence different aspects of the culture and I wanted to go back and see the evolution of the four elements of the culture throughout time. I wanted to use the skills that I developed to show those elements and to really express it clearly to an audience who may or may not have insight on hip hop culture. I wanted to create installations that really approached those topics and to question the growth of each element in the culture.

I approached these four elements through interactive installations because I always had an interest in using installations to convey a topic to an audience and to see how people can learn and understand hip-hop through an interactive experience. My approach to these installations was inspired by my final project in my Interactive Digital Multimedia class at Smith College, which was taught by John Slepian. The class was pretty much the focus of my self-designed major, Interactive Design and Development, and this project.

What tools are you using for your project? Did you have experience working with them before, or are you learning how to use them for the first time? How are the tools you’re using influencing your approach to research?

I am using various tools that I did not have a lot of exposure until this independent study, like webcams, Arduino, and the Processing language. For my installations, I use different types of tools and languages that I knew about and always wanted the opportunity to work with and now I have the opportunity. For example, for my third installation, which was inspired by breaking, I used the Microsoft Kinect. I knew about it at the time I had the idea, but never worked with until recently and it was a little bit of a learning curve to figure how it affects an image and people’s movement in a large space.

When concerning the tools and the research, I try my best to figure out my idea and what I would like to happen, learn ways to implement, and then research on ways that I can utilize those tools. The implementation of the tools need to correlate with my initial idea and then I can do research on how to use it for each installation.

What’s one thing you wished more people knew about doing digital work?

Don’t get too caught up in the technology. When you have a digital project, your idea is the most important and sometimes you need to really focus on your concepts and ideas and step back from the technology. If you concentrate on the different technological tools and not your idea, then you run the risk of being overwhelmed.

Remember the technology is like any other material like paper, charcoal, or paint.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve uncovered in your research so far?

The possibility of continuing past an event or displaying it in a different way that I have done it the past. I think the most surprising thing is to find ways that I can show an existing project differently which may allow for engagement. I thought these projects were going to be very finite and have set proponents but each installation has been a continuous juncture for me.

What challenges do you anticipate facing as you’re doing this work?

I think the most challenging thing for me is to do large-scale digital projects and to find a space where I can show these projects to an audience, especially in “non-traditional” or non-gallery environments. I think the planning and logistics of showing an installation has been difficult because I have to consider the actual space and who facilitates it and then collaborate with those people in order to create an effective show.

Jeffrey Moro
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5CollDH Senior Post-Baccalaureate Resident

Jeffrey Moro is Senior Post-Bac with Five College Digital Humanities. He helps wrangle most aspects of the program, particularly the Student Fellowships and Microgrants. He's a PI on the AIRLab and E.LIT / NET.ART, and a close collaborator on The Space of Mexico City. He tweets at @jeffreymoro.