Dana Tindall is never alone in his office. The associate director for client services shares his workspace with the Cleaver family—Ward, June, Wally and “the Beav”—and their chairs. The Cleavers don’t take up much room, but as components of Tindall’s recent interactive art piece, “Dysfunctional Conversation,” they do provoke thought.
“My art is about everyday life, external and internal, your thinking processes and what goes on inside your head. A lot of it is humorous. Some old rock star said, ‘You are what you own.’ That’s very true in America. We’re a very materialistic society. So when I make art, I don’t paint people, I paint the stuff they own,” Tindall says.
Tindall is all about exploration and communication, and his art is only a portion of his aptness to connect with others. His unique ability for being creative in using media to communicate is especially vital to Tindall’s many roles at Xavier: coordinator for Xavier’s liaison program, art instructor in the Weekend Degree Program, as Blackboard administrator, self-described “head honcho for classroom support and the A.V. guys,” and an advocate for bringing eLearning to Xavier.
Tindall received his undergraduate degree in art from Austin College and earned his master’s in art at the University of Dallas, both in Texas. He was a full-time artist, working with Cincinnati-based Maintraum and doing performance art, until a series of events landed him as an AV night tech at Xavier 13 years ago. While Tindall may not be doing performance art these days, many of his works do inspire some degree of physical interaction.
“I want my art to have a broad appeal,” he says. “I put a ‘hook’ in my art to make it intriguing. It’s something that brings out the ‘Oh wow,’ factor, something that you sit on and it talks it you, or you push a button and it does that, something that you can touch, or it seems real and it isn’t. I like to play with perspective, draw somebody in and they ask, ‘Why am I looking at this picture of a stove with an ashtray sitting on it?’”
Tindall’s development as an artist grew from his dissatisfaction with “flat” paint. To get what he was after, Tindall began to bring out aspects of his paintings into three dimensions. He evolved from the canvas to sculptures, then into big art, adding motion, electricity, interaction and narrative pieces that tell a story.
“It’s fun to make, but takes a lot of time and energy,” he explains. “I had to learn electronics, because I couldn’t just buy what I wanted to do off the shelf. Then, at one point, I got sick of having to fix everything. I’m no engineer, and most of my stuff is pretty fragile, made of wood, breaks easily and often colorful, so it attracts little kids’ hands.”
For now, he just sticks to audio as a supplementary medium of communication. But that’s not to say he won’t change his approach eventually. “I explore,” he says. “Right now I’m not as interested in exploring outside life as I am in exploring indoor life. Some of that is an age thing. I’m 53, and I’m starting to reflect on my life. After a while, I might not want to do that anymore. Every now and again you have to break loose and say, ‘I think I’ll paint a hamburger.’”
As for Ward, June, Wally and Beaver, they’re not too loud in Tindall’s office, unless their chairs are plugged in and a visitor sits on them. When sat on, suddenly, Tindall’s art interacts and the Cleavers talk, just not to each other. Their particular project began with Tindall observing and writing down snippets of his family’s conversations. He then had his family read these parts of conversations in to a tape recorder. Tindall’s voice became Ward’s, and his wife and two sons the voices of June, Wally and Beaver.
“The Cleavers are archetypical American family characters I decided to use,” Tindall explains. “‘Leave it to Beaver’ was such a wholesome, unrealistic show about American family life that they were perfect images to use as symbols of people trapped in a dysfunctional situation trying to appear normal, whatever that is.” Ward is a symbol for “every man,” June for every woman, and so on. The family tries to have a conversation, initiated by a spectator sitting on one of the character’s chairs. But Ward, June, Wally, and the Beav are trapped in their dysfunction, talking, but not communicating.
Although growth is critical for every artist, Tindall says some of his defining qualities—using humor to question normalcy and playing with both perspective and conception—are likely to remain part of his work no matter what medium he uses.
“Everything is informed by all the previous stuff I’ve done, and there’s a lot of artistic tradition behind it,” he says. “In terms of movement or idea, I don’t think you come to any resolution with your lifelong idea. You discover a lot of stuff along the way, though.”