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Alumni Profile/A Leav Out of His Own Book

For most of human history, art was space-specific. Music could be heard only where musicians were assembled; stories were passed on by oral tradition; the visual arts were experienced only in the setting they were made for. The technological and educational advances of the last 150 years have democratized the artistic experience. Meanwhile, though, Bobby Maher ’06 and his team at Leav have been capitalizing on new technologies to deliver art the way it was once enjoyed: as a transient experience, appreciated in situ.

“Leav is a mobile app that allows you to experience different artworks or content in a specific location,” explains Maher. “Maybe it’s a poem that’s only available at sunrise on a Tuesday down by the river, because that’s the environment that the artist wants you to experience it in.”

When Maher visited St. Norbert last fall to speak to art majors, he was able to take them to the Shakespeare Garden on campus to share an audio installation commissioned for the garden and its surroundings. Visit the garden with iPhone in hand, download the free app and you can hear the haunting music, too. “Depending where you are in the radius, different parts would come in and out, so it’s sort of an exploratory composition in that way,” says Maher. “It’s your piece, that will live here for the rest of the year.”

Maher says location has always been a factor that informs our artistic experience. A musician playing in a dingy bar elicits a different response from one heard at Carnegie Hall; street art feels different from a gallery show. “As great as it is that, with digital things, we can get anything anywhere, it removes that element [of place]. We wanted to find a way to put that back into the experience.”

Leav has worked with PBS for pop-up concerts in the St. Paul skyways. Another partner is the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra – one of a number of organizations that see the value of being able to connect with new audiences by creating a digital footprint for themselves offsite.

Swift example
One Leav project, achieved with advice from the Audubon Society, can only be enjoyed within sight of the Twin Cities rooftops where chimney swifts congregate – and only at sunset, because that’s when the birds come in and out of the chimneys. The audience can tap into video and narrative collage elements that transpose chimney swifts and chimney sweeps.

“You’re seeing this on your phone while also being able to observe the chimney swifts at the same time,” says Maher.

“Technology for the sake of technology is awful,” he adds. “It’s terrible and it’s a horrible idea. Working with Kate [artist Kate Casanova] on this, it was about the experience you want someone to have. It was important to Kate that the participant could be still in their experience. If one of the important elements was that someone moved throughout this space to see [it] from different angles, much the same way as we would compose and mix audio, we could split the different audio collages into different little spaces all throughout this zone, that would encourage movement as the observer realized that, if you moved around, you get more content than if you stayed still.”

Connecting, consulting, creating
Leav is by no means Maher’s only undertaking. “Primarily what I do is a lot of creative consulting: working with artists and organizations, helping to bring about projects that I feel strongly about.”

St. Norbert connections are among those that have benefited from Maher’s creative energy. His move to Minneapolis was made along with the band The Wars of 1812 – Peter Pisano ’06 was another member. More recently, as managing director of Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater, Maher wrote a proposal for the grant that would bring the company to campus for a residency last year. It was through that event that he met Katie Ries (Art) and he has since worked with her on an installation at the Hungry Turtle Institute.

April 17, 2015