Graduate Admissions

Interdisciplinary Arts & Media Faculty Spotlight

Book & Paper Faculty Melissa Potter


Professor Paul Catanese

Paul Catanese found the perfect fit when he joined the faculty of the Interdisciplinary Arts Department at Columbia in 2008. As a hybrid media artist with a complex creative process and a penchant for collaboration, experimentation, and investigation, Catanese is right at home working with students who—like him—defy simple classification.

Catanese is right at home working with students who—like him—defy simple classification

His interdisciplinary approach to art practice stems from a diverse background. With an undergraduate degree in Theatre from SUNY Geneseo and an MFA in Art and Technology from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago he elicits wonderfully innovative results. In the project, Forgotten Constellations, he transformed the 1708 Gallery in Richmond, Virginia with “projection, silhouette and illumination.” The installation incorporated found artifacts, overhead projectors and a series of black and white “digital relief prints” created using his own hybrid process—a combination of custom drawing software, industrial machine control, and traditional printmaking techniques. In another project, A Short History of the Bezoar Stone, he repurposed Nintendo’s Gameboy Advance handheld game system into a series of digital Cornell Boxes.

Catanese also undertakes numerous “experiments”— investigations into particular thoughts or ideas that have an open-ended resolution. For example, he recently set out to define the invented term handmade media — a notion inspired by one of his students — which lead to the creation of handmade paper with electronic inclusions, cast handmade paper microphones and handmade paper speakers.

“I have always been interdisciplinary” he says, “Breaking creativity into subdivisions is a learned construct; and while the magnetism of disciplinary orientation, with the convenience of established answers and traditions is alluring, mixing things together is in itself a rigorous practice.”

Catanese’s conceptual desire to “mix things together” finds a receptive audience at Columbia. He calls his department “invigorating” and his students “entrepreneurial self-starters who are incredibly engaged in Chicago’s art community.” He notes that at Columbia, faculty and students come together with the support of extraordinary facilities to form an environment that is ideal for both teaching and making. “We have an incredible wealth of resources,” he says, “from computer laboratories, a sound studio, electronics fabrication, laser cutting, video editing, installation laboratories, space for performance as well as studios for letterpress, offset, intaglio printing, papermaking, and bookbinding.”

Breaking creativity into subdivisions is a learned construct; and while the magnetism of disciplinary orientation, with the convenience of established answers and traditions is alluring, mixing things together is in itself a rigorous practice.

When asked about the future of interdisciplinary art, Catanese emphatically states, “It’s not just the future, it’s the now. This is how people work in contemporary art.” He echoes the sentiment of his department that calls interdisciplinarity “a necessary prerequisite for those artists who will shape the future of creative practice.” Most assuredly, Catanese and his students will be part of that future.

His artwork has been exhibited internationally—notably at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, SFMOMA Artist’s Gallery, the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival, and the New Forms Festival. In addition to being an Associate Professor and Associate Chair of the Interdisciplinary Arts Department at Columbia, Catanese is the President of the New Media Caucus, a College Art Association Affiliate Society formed to advance the conceptual and artistic use of digital media.

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