Karl leading a play-and-print mahjong workshop as part of his community engagement printmaking project, Come You Back to Maynila Bay, at the Neon Museum of Las Vegas, NV
In the second installment of our Alumni Profile series, we are excited to feature Karl Orozco. Karl graduated in 2013 majoring in Visual Art and Sociology and served as a Shansi Fellow in Banda Aceh, Indonesia from 2013 to 2015. Karl is an artist and museum educator whose art focuses on gaming as a multidisciplinary art form for community building and non-linear storytelling. His artistic practice centers around the games we play and the ones we inherit. He employs a democratic art-making practice, striving to level the field for participants across age and ability. He was the 2018 National Artist-in-Residence at the Neon Museum of Las Vegas, NV, where he transformed their project space into a public, intergenerational mahjong parlor. He was also the recipient of the inaugural Art in the Parks grant to create a public pixelated maize sculpture in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and is a 2020 Bronx Museum Artist-in-Marketplace Fellow. Through his work as a museum educator, he has worked with community-focused arts organizations such as the Queens Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.
Check out Karl’s website (www.karlorozco.com) or follow him on Instagram (instagram.com/yung_buko) to see his work.
Could you describe your career path post-fellowship?
Like most careers in the arts, mine hasn't exactly been linear. I moved to New York City after my fellowship and started working full-time as a graphic designer in a small advertising agency. After the 2016 election I felt compelled to teach again and be out in the community. I got my first teaching opportunity at the Queens Museum, and since then I've continued finding teaching and design work through several arts and social justice organizations around New York City. I've met and worked with so many inspiring people over the last 4 years, but one of the highlights was an artist residency at the Neon Museum of Las Vegas. That was the moment when I could confidently say to myself and others, "I am an artist."
How did your experience as a Shansi Fellow contribute to your career as an artist and museum educator?
My time as a Shansi Fellow in Banda Aceh primed me for the fluid life of an artist. I was teaching less than 20 hours a week at Syiah Kuala University, but I was determined to be proactive with that extra time. I filled those non-teaching hours by teaching art, hanging with other creatives around the city, gathering inspiration from my surroundings, and working on my own prints and comics. I have to be a lot smarter managing my time now, but that structure resembled my life in New York City (before quarantine) in many ways: leading artist residencies with youth, reading books and attending shows, and deliberately making time to create work. Oh, and applying for opportunities. So many applications.
A lot of your work centers on communal and participatory gaming. What appeals to you about that medium?
My artistic practice centers around staging communal gaming events that make common games feel like something sacred. I have always been a big geek and I obsess over the games I play. Growing up, I loved organizing tournaments with friends around the latest gaming fad - Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Beyblades. To me, a game is the epitome of an immersive art experience. I aim to share that experience with others.
Karl's pixellated public maize sculpture, Hospicio Cabañas (Playable Stage for Thunder Hawk), in Flushing Meadows Corona Park
What advice would you give to Shansi Fellows who have recently finished their Fellowships?
To be frank, there's a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. If there's any consolation to this strange work & life situation fellows are now entering, it's that you're all well-experienced in adapting to change. Continue to be patient with yourself.
What do you think is unique about a Shansi Fellowship?
The Shansi Fellowship is special because you are in a cohort of 7 or more fellows, spread throughout 4 countries. I was able to meet up with almost all of my co-fellows during those two years, but even while away, we were a great support network.
Can you tell us a favorite / memorable moment from your time in Aceh?
During my first year, my co-fellow Tino and I got the amazing chance to visit Pulau Aceh, a remote island off the west coast of Aceh. I learned how to gut a fish, which we roasted over a fire. I saw bioluminescent plankton on the beach that looked like tiny stars in the sand. And I made it through a hike that I seriously questioned whether or not I could survive. It was awesome.