Paper Rad Founder Explores Digital Art Trends in New Classes

Mary Fischer

With the rise of the digital age, the internet and mass media have found their way into the contemporary art world and now constitute a vital tool for many artists. Responding to this trend, Oberlin’s Art department has added numerous that would have been unheard of a few decades ago, such as the integrated media classes taught by Jacob Ciocci, OC ’00, who joined the Art faculty this fall.

Jacob’s interest in media art sprang from his interest in computers in high school and continued through his Oberlin classwork. “I met Cory Arcangel during my time in Oberlin, an undergraduate from my senior year, who was also an artist,” Ciocci said. “[Arcangel] and Paul Davis, who was also an undergraduate at the time, had a big influence in my interest in computers, I would say, and digital and networked art. I liked drawing, and after Oberlin I did a lot of drawing, but I saw the potential in digital art.”

Artists like Jacob and Arcangel, OC ’00, a post-conceptual artist located in Brooklyn, NY, finished their education right when the art world started using digital media as a means to create artwork. Of course, video artists in the ’80s and ’90s had already made names for themselves by remixing different media to create mash-up works, but using the internet as a tool on its own was still a new development. The audience for mash-up art was still small, and anyone who went on to work within that realm had to attempt to make media art a sustainable form of expression. “When I was in my early 20s I never thought I would make a career path out of it,” Jacob said.

After college, Jacob moved to Boston where his sister Jessica lived. Jessica notes that she and Jacob shared a sense of playful exploration while growing up, and they both drew artistic inspiration from the vibrant underground music and art scene in Boston. “There were a lot of young people around at the time making things, which I think we both saw as inspiring and sings of possibility — art, music, drawings, self-published books and zines, which was definitely motivating and inspiring,” said Jessica. “We wanted to be a part of that and contribute to it too, in a new way.”

Drawing from such influences, Jessica and Jacob created an online arts collective called Paper Rad with Ben Jones, an artist and cartoonist who later created a show for Cartoon Network, The Problem Solverz. Through an almost overwhelmingly colorful arrangement of art designs, comics, drawings, writings and links, Paper Rad caught the eyes of internet users internationally.

After a few years living in Boston, Jacob went on to graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University, where he finished with a degree in Fine Arts in 2005. He then taught introductory courses in video art at the same school. After a fellowship at Eyebeam Art and Technology Center in New York, he worked as an adjunct professor of media at City University of New York from 2013 to 2014 before returning this year to teach at his alma mater.

Jessica is confident that Jacob’s return to Oberlin will be an easy transition. “Jacob genuinely likes sharing with people, creating a sense of shared growth and learning and exploring topics of cultural interest with others,” she said. “He really loves other people and values community, which will make him a great teacher.”

College senior Luisa Levine, who will be a teaching assistant for Jacob’s integrated media art classes, is also glad that Jacob has rejoined the Oberlin community.

“His art is very interesting and unlike the art of anyone else in the department,” she said. “I really like how a lot of it is internet-based and non-traditional. I also know I will learn a lot about how to use new programs and technical things in ways that I didn’t think of before, which is really enticing.”

Jacob recalls his time at Oberlin as being particularly valuable because of the conversations and sharing of ideas that happens between students.

“I found that Oberlin College students are really good at talking and writing and thus are also very willing and excited to share their thoughts,” he said. He appreciates that Oberlin enables students to engage with different subjects that inform their artwork, unlike many art schools.

“I feel honored to be invited to Oberlin and already feel like I am learning a lot from my students here. I would like to give back to the community something of what it gave to me,” Jacob said. As an artist whose focus lies on the relationship between popular culture and the human mind, Jacob is bringing the perspective of a young, driven and energetic artist to the Art department.