Karsten Ethnography

For the ethnography project, I began by asking Karsten some general questions about his life– family, hobbies, and interests– pretty basic questions about himself on the surface. As we got into talking about art and design, it quickly became apparent that he had less of an interest in talking about his work than about metaphysics. Every question directed at his inspirations and purpose as a designer became a long and convoluted tangent about the questions of the universe and human perception of time and sound. Karsten was no longer interested in the physical world and what it’s visual realm had to offer, and I didn’t want to force him to talk about it for a school assignment that was meant to be about him. I caught him as he was packing for a night off campus with his family and asked him to just talk about anything he wanted. I asked about his empty room, a few pieces on the walls, and various philosophy books that were stacked on the drawer as conversation starters, knowing that it would lead inevitably to his own philosophy on art and life. I got about six minutes of footage before he took a call and I stood awkwardly in the room listening to a very revealing and emotional conversation between him and his grandfather before I decided to leave.

From the limited footage that I gathered, I wanted to show bits and pieces of ideas that Karsten seemed to be obsessed with– math, science, language– and how they are linked, without going too in-depth because they led to questionable topics that might make some viewers uncomfortable. Much of the footage couldn’t be used because I felt it was too personal or meant to be kept as a conversation between the two of us, off the record. Karsten is a genius in his own way, and I wanted to show that he wasn’t as crazy as he might sound. I asked him to send me some of his work and he gave me his laptop (which I still have). I found some of his work that showed the influence of some of these ideas that he couldn’t get out of his head and pieced the images and ideas together.

I’m really glad that I got paired with Karsten, because we have very similar views on art and RISD. I totally understand why he left RISD and his laptop behind. I doubt that the video will give the viewer a better understanding of Karsten, but I hope that it will at least provide an interesting and insightful perspective.


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