Media is the message for graduate

For inter-media artist Charles Erwin, his work is all about communication.

Erwin, a recent UCSD graduate who also goes by the name Charley Ten, uses technology to create social art designed to enhance all forms of public communication. His projects often take the form of sound installations, video projects and networked performances.

On Nov. 21, Erwin’s talents will be on display in the UCLA symposium, “Actions of Transfer: Women’s Performance in the Americas.” There, Erwin and his former professor, Adriene Jenik, the chair of the visual arts department at UCSD, will present their collaborative piece, “Open borders: Improvisation Across Networks, Distance, Timezones.” It will feature performances and communications across borders in real time, including improvisations at UCLA and across the Americas.

Erwin grew up immersed in computers, photography and video, and his natural curiosity about how things work played a major role in his learning how to create the projects he does today.

“I’ve been interested in artistic stuff my whole life, but it didn’t get to this point until I was in college,” he said.

As an undergraduate media major, he took film, video, documentary and filmmaking classes along with computer studies.

“I was involved in the computer emphasis,” he said. “Part of it was programming and part of it was more aesthetic stuff using software.”

For his senior thesis, Erwin worked on a project that focused on the Museum of Contemporary Art’s installation by Mexico City’s Hector Zamora. Erwin designed his project to help the public navigate through Zamora’s work.

“His work was about reflecting the person who’s viewing the work in the work itself, and he put up two-way mirror film on the inside and the outside of the gallery,” Erwin said. “It was a contemplative piece about understanding yourself in relationship to the space.”

For Erwin’s part of the exhibit, he set up contacts with the museum and put postcards inside and outside of the space that asked people to phone in.

“There was a hotline that recorded their answers to seven open-ended questions about their experience there, and then I used that to construct a new space that was completely about how people negotiated this exhibit,” Erwin said.

The opening reception featured his taped piece, “Space Through Sound.”

Erwin is now collaborating with Jenik on a piece titled “Open Dance Floor.” He calls it a telematic performance system because it occurs in real time across distance.

“We’re setting up a system that will allow free speech to happen in scenarios where otherwise it would never happen,” Erwin said. “We’re interested in setting up a dance club as a place for people, who are refugees of war, to communicate with a captive audience, and then vice-versa it becomes a two-way communication space.”

Erwin and Jenik are using a traditional set-up that would happen in a club where one person is mixing live visuals and another person is mixing live music in the space.

“It’s an improvisational thing that’s happening live in the space and we’ll be broadcasting from distant places audio and video feeds that will enter into the mix of music and the mix of visuals, so it will be two separate things in distant places that are happening live,” Erwin said.

Erwin also uses his skills to produce light-hearted projects. After graduating, he worked for three months as an associate producer on “Haute Plate,” the CW’s documentary reality show. The show focused on students learning to become chefs at a San Diego culinary school as they competed for internships at fine dining restaurants.

As an associate producer, Erwin organized a variety of things essential to the filming of the show. He also acted as the media contact for the show and wrote press releases, talked to editors, columnists and reporters. In addition, he helped produce some of the show’s segments by going out with a camera crew to film the shots that were needed.

Erwin is currently working on a comedic reality show project to pitch to the TV networks.

“I enjoy working on entertainment TV shows, which are less serious, as well as working on the art project that’s more about social networks and getting people together to communicate with one another,” he said. “I like having the two different things that I’m working on simultaneously.”

To learn more about Erwin’s work, visit