Jody Zellen is a multimedia and cross-platform artist who works across an array of mediums, techniques and contexts to create interactive, and frequently internet-based, visual art and installations. From large-scale digital environments to app and net art, painting, photography, and visual design, Zellen has been a pioneer in thinking about the ways in which surveillance, data and experience intersect in public spaces — and in her view, the internet is as much of a public space as an airport.

Zellen’s iTunes app store artworks like “Spine Sonnet,” “Art Swipe” and “4 Square” are free to download, and her year-long Instagram project “Photonews5” has recently gotten underway, where she creates a daily headline-based photo-collage. IRL, her digital installation “The Unemployed” is on view in Terminal 6 at LAX through October (and also there’s an app for that).

L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist? 

JODY ZELLEN: I think I always knew I was an artist. Growing up, I took art lessons from an early age and was always making things in the basement. In high school I fell in love with photography and that was my focus and concentration through college when I discovered conceptual art.

What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?

I used to say my work was about the city — a generic urban experience. But now I think my work is about how to make sense of the bombardment of media and information that confronts us on a daily basis.

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Jody Zellen, Photonews5, Instagram screenshot

What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?

I can’t imagine not doing something creative. While I am a visual artist, I am also a designer and arts writer. If I was not an artist I would probably do something connected to sports and nature.

Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?

I chose to go to a liberal arts college (B.A., Wesleyan University) because I wanted a well-rounded education and ended up being an art major. Later I went to CalArts because I wanted to be around other artists and focus on making work and thought grad school was the best place to do that.

Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?

I have spent time in New York and really love it there, but in truth the quality of life is better in L.A. There is more space to work, plenty of sunshine and an amazing art community.

When was your first show?

My first “real” solo show was at The Lab in San Francisco in 1989. I was able to redo my thesis show from CalArts for an expanded audience. I created an immersive installation that required viewer participation and in many ways, that installation has informed my practice to this day.

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Jody Zellen, The Unemployed, 2019
Interactive installation, for video monitors, iOS app. LAX Airport, Terminal 6, Departures
May – Oct 2019. (Photo by Panic Studio LA, courtesy of Los Angeles World Airports and City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs)

When is/was your current/most recent/next show?

I have an interactive installation “The Unemployed” on view right now, at LAX in Terminal 6 (Alaska Airlines Departure level). It is a data visualization that illustrates worldwide unemployment representing the unemployed as an array of ambling figures. The piece consists of a large projection and four video monitors as well as a free iOS app.

What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?

Alexander Rodchenko or El Lissitzky.

Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?

I listen to 80’s and 90’s music, the same music I run to. My playlist usually includes The Talking Heads, R.E.M., New Order, Beck, Wilco, Stereolab, Radiohead, Pavement, Sonic Youth, X, David Bowie and Neil Young.

Website and social media handles, please!

The Unemployed app

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Jody Zellen, The Human Touch, 2018, 40 digital photographs with Augmented Reality. Installation at LA Convention Center for Youth Mobile Festival (YOMO), September 2018 (Photo by Brian C. Moss)

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