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Formato's Focus
by Eric Formato
2018-09-12

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This month we shine light on a fascinating individual, Justus Harris, the creator of "Technology & Data-Influenced Sculpture." Physical sculptures that depict mountains of health data, as well as people's statuses, orientations, gender and more. After living with type 1 diabetes and being fascinated with the public health sector as an artist, Justus has focused for the last three years learning how to manifest physical representations of data of those living with chronic illness. His unique work blends the fields of art, science and policy. Through the work he manages to identify parallels and connections between the worlds that aim to prove the three can and should work interrelatedly. He aligns most when there's collaboration with doctors, scientists, even the American diabetes association, fitness companies, etc.

As an artist myself, I must admit he is one of the rare artists out there whose artistic works permeate the scientific realm, while crossing the medical, political and societal spectrums all awhile addressing tough questions such as: "What role CAN art play in our society?" He recently asked this question after starting a fellowship at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. around citizen artistry. Justus' work is aimed to promote dialogue to help shape policy policy, and eventually change the way we view and harness the power of art in our society.

Justus wasn't always a data-crunching scientist, though. He took an interest in 3D printing and learned a plethora of new computer, design and data-analysis skills at Makers Lab, a center of high-tech resources found in the Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington Library Center. The space is open source and all free / accessible so that people who don't have computers or access to such equipment can still create their very own inventions. Justus described it as a place where creative people who have something they want to see translated into a different format can go to explore, learn and create. In his case, he learned to take something digital ( data representing health records ) into 3D printed sculptures. These sculptures represent things such as glucose level spikes, sleep cycles and exercise.

As a queer-identifying individual, Justus wanted to know "How can we have conversations about complicated health topics?" He believes that art and design can be people's ways of bringing it up without being obligated to and not too advert. Thus, he creates a special kind of jewelry which he envisions being used by people to inform and connect with others about their gender, what they are into, or their health statuses. He showed me little blue "PrEP Signaling Necklaces" that represent when someone is actively taking PrEP and whether or not they are HIV detectable. He also showed me necklaces that even represented if the individual was polyamorous.

Justus believes because there is so much that is stigmatized in the gay community, these wearables can subtly create awareness, dialogue and understanding between members of our community and society at large. My enlightening time with Justus showed me that there does indeed exist a way to take digital information unique to us, and forge it into intriguing physical pieces that help us to share more of us with more of the world.

Check out Justus Harris and his fascinating work at www.justusharris.com/ .

Eric Formato is a Chicago native entrepreneur, artist, and creative consultant who produces a wide range of digital media. See www.formatografia.com or on Instagram @formato102 for more. Email suggestions for future features to: eric@formatografia.com .


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