International House, 2019, video and installation (guitar, chair, microphone), Jewish Museum, image by Will Ragazzino

Student Spotlight: Julian Day

October 21, 2019

The Student Spotlight series aims to highlight the work of current MFA students, asking them to share thoughts on their practice by answering curated and peer-submitted questions.


Julian Day '20 is a second-year student in Columbia’s Sound Art program. Day uses sound to reveal and transform power dynamics and to instigate perceptual shifts in social and civic situations. He does this within individual artworks (sculpture, installation, video, performance, text) and ongoing projects including Super Critical Mass, in which temporary communities articulate public spaces with sonic ganzfelds, and An Infinity Room, in which synthesizers and pipe organs charge negative space with turbulent sonic geometries. Day’s work has featured at Tate Modern, Whitechapel Gallery, MASS MoCA, California-Pacific Triennial, Asia Pacific Triennial, ACCA, Liquid Architecture, Artspace and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. He lives and works in New York and Sydney.



What themes or subjects are you currently addressing in your work?


I’m interested in how we address shared resources: streets, subways, waterways, airspace. How do we build ethical frameworks by which to co-use them? Should such ethics be legislated from above, as laws or social rules, or be individually negotiated? I guess it’s the difference between positive and negative liberty. As someone trained in music, I tend to use sound (with its radical physical promiscuity) as a way to register how such resources are historically or currently used and to suggest new approaches. This informs my bigger project, to better understand the mechanics of sociality.



Are there any themes or materials you’re interested in exploring in the future?


I recently became excited by two new formats (for me at least) - the video essay and the audio score. The video essay allows me to introduce more of my subjective thoughts into my work as well as to work through concepts elliptically. The verbal score allows me to think more clearly about the power dynamics of being a composer or facilitator – why would people follow what an artist asks them to do? Both draw on my extensive experience in broadcasting – I have a secret past as a radio presenter.



What challenges do you face in your practice?


In my work I am drawn to work with and privilege other people. Yet my backgrounds in radio and classical music have given me contradictory understandings of how this might play out. In radio, I was trained to prioritize my guests and my listeners (I was no shock jock). In composition, however, I was expected to focus primarily on myself. Therefore, in my art practice I am trying to work out whether I should take more of a recessive role, or “introduce more of Julian” as various peers and professors advise. In an artistic climate where identity is currently such a strong focus, this is causing me a lot of angst. I also like economy of form, which commentators seem to be either baffled or bothered by.



Who are some artists or works of art that inspire you? Which contemporary artists are doing interesting work?


For several years, I’ve been drawn to Patrick Staff’s evocative and mysterious videos, for their combination of personal history, performance and documentary. I love Helen Grogan’s spare and subtle pieces and Sara Morawetz’s dramatic experiments in scale.



What has been your favorite class at Columbia so far?


This is too tough to call! I’ve felt nourished by the rich readings in Gabo Camnitzer’s sculpture seminar, Janet Kraynak’s The Performative Object (art history) and George Lewis’ intersectional experimental music class. However, getting down with hammers and motors and simply “making stuff” with Jon Kessler or Seth Cluett has been a blast.


You can learn more about Julian at his website.