Interview with Stone Tejeda



Landmarks interviewed Stone Tejeda, an undergraduate senior in Computer Science specializing in robotics at The University of Texas at Austin who also just completed his third summer as a Skyspace attendant. We caught up with Stone to learn more about his interest in the arts, music, computer science, and robotics.

What was your introduction to art?

I've been around art all my life. I spent the first few years of my life in Chicago, where my earliest memories consist of going with my mom and sister to The Art Institute of Chicago. My mom liked to paint, and was especially obsessed with Impressionism, so we would spend hours just wandering through the Impressionist exhibit every time we went, which was fairly often. Both of my parents love music, so I also grew up listening to all kinds of music as a kid, from Electronic Dance Music to Classical.

What influence does art have on your computer science practice, and vice versa?

Personally, I've always thought of computer science as an art, so I like to write code as beautifully as possible. That might sound silly, but there really is an art to it! Making your code simple, yet elegant and understandable by others is an extremely difficult thing to do, and just like most art forms, it's a lot easier to appreciate artsy code than it is to create it.

With both computer science and art, you're stitching little things together to create something new and bold and beautiful. For art, this can be the stroke of a brush. For computer science, our brush strokes come in the form of ones and zeros. Some forms of computer science end up looking beautiful too, like the interface for your phone or computer, but even the ones that we can't literally see can be truly elegant pieces of art. 

Do you have a favorite work in the collection? If so, which one?

I really love James Turrell's Skyspace. I actually go there when I'm not at work, just to take in the atmosphere. Even when the light sequence isn't happening, sitting and contemplating the simple beauty of the piece is something I wish I could do every day. Sometimes, if I'm lucky enough to come in when there's no one else there, I'll sing to myself and enjoy the acoustics in it as well.

What is your favorite part of the Skyspace sequence?

There's this sort of optical illusion that happens when you really sit and lose yourself in the sequence — I imagine it's change blindness? It's really hard to describe, but the colors change so subtly that your brain can't really tell what color you're actually looking at, and letting yourself get lost in that sensation is such a soothing experience.

I don't want to spoil the sequence too much, but there's this moment towards the end when the LEDs are a very bold red that I just love. The sky is already completely dark by then, so the color just feels so bold and powerful and always makes me think about how even though the oculus in the Skyspace is small, the space contained within it is infinite. It's a very intense moment.

If you could ask James Turrell one question, what would it be?

I would ask him if we could go see his favorite piece that he created together! If there's anything I've learned about James Turrell from the Skyspaces I've visited, it's that his art is always an experience. I think getting to share that experience with a man so well-versed in creating subtle beauty would be an amazing gift, and I feel like sharing that experience together would answer more questions about his work and life than any words ever could.

What’s the most often question you're asked by visitors to the Skyspace?

I get a lot of folks who'll ask me what the space is used for when the sequence is not going on. It's funny, because I think I've been to the Skyspace more when the light sequence isn't happening, so I'm always excited to tell them how beautiful the piece is at all times of the day.

How does the Landmarks collection inform your practice?

The Landmarks collection replenishes me. For all the time I spend working on coding, it's always nice to slow down and appreciate the beauty around me. As a college student, having the Landmarks collection around campus gives me the ability to always be able to just slow down, take a deep breath, and remember that we are capable of creating beautiful things. That peace and appreciation has been the lifeblood of my years here at UT.