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A Piece of Work: The Art of Seth Thompson

Photography By Adam Bird

In our burgeoning art community, there are a myriad of working artists that dwell in a deeply collaborative world and actively utilize an expansive array of media as a means of artistic expression and sheer business necessity. Seth Thompson is one of those people.
I sat down with Thompson to discuss his creative pursuits and what emerged was, at once, a broad and direct sense of his personal philosophy, his basis for motivation and why Grand Rapids might just be a perfectly dandy place for an artist to live.    
“You could say I’m an artist but then [you] think [I] just do oil on canvas,” says Thompson. “If it’s a time-based art form, I want in. I’m a photographer, a musician, a videographer.” And recently, Thompson has been exploring movement arts. “I would not call myself a dancer, but I now regularly collaborate with Amy Wilson of DITA (Dance In The Annex).”

Additionally, he creates mixed media objects which he uses in his experimental film projects. “All that can kind of make you dizzy a little bit. What is nice is in this era [is that] the lines between those things, if they are not gone completely, have been blurred so they’re not really clear anymore.”
Thompson works under the name Epiglotic Photographic, which also serves as an umbrella company for all his creative and professional work. Thompson derived the name from the epiglottic cartilage located at the entrance of the larynx and altered the spelling to make it an adjective.  

“So the epiglottis is the flap in your throat that decides whether you breathe or drown,” says Thompson. “I liked the metaphor of that and thought it would be a good band name. So I had the website and just never got around to putting the band together. The metaphor doesn’t work always. But that’s just a hairline piece of cartilage. I think that’s where you have to live all the time. If you’re not seriously risking nightmarish failure, the like of which people haven’t seen before, you’re probably not pushing hard enough. Eventually all of us [artists] become adrenaline junkies.”
While Epiglotic Photographic refers to many different visual products, the success of Thompson’s work is in part buoyed by the overlap of each discipline. “It was much harder to combine those things until now," he says. "I think part of it is the advance of technology.”

Like Thompson, most independent creators can attest to the multifaceted nature of such work. Often all the roles are performed by a single individual -- art making, self promotion, web design, deal making and gig seeking. “Rather than figure out how to ask somebody to create original work for [a] project…taking a cue from Robert Rodriguez (a filmmaker nicknamed ‘the one-man film crew’), I do it myself,” says Thompson. “I don’t want to ask someone to do something for free because that’s worth compensation.”
Thompson attributes this self sufficiency in part to the challenges of the Michigan economy along with burning artistic drive, suggesting that often creative solutions arise to circumvent the need for a budget, “because I can’t not do it.” He believes that in some ways, Grand Rapids affords more opportunities than large, metropolitan cities. “There is really good work that is being done here in this little town despite the fact that no one is paying for it. In Chicago and New York, it would require that someone pay for it. Just rehearsal space would be prohibitively expensive.”
For Thompson, who left a lucrative job in Chicago to pursue his own work, location is everything. “At the risk of writing a love letter to Grand Rapids, that is the great thing about being [here]. That for some reason, there is an insane number of people who are really doing real work and doing it well. And at the same time, Michigan allows all of us to take chances on some of this work because the cost of living is low enough that we can do it,” says Thompson. Yet, most of his professional work is done outside of Michigan. “I’m hoping to change this…But, I’m in a plane or in a car to make a wage.” At the same time, many of Thompson’s big city comrades have “some kind of soul-sucking day job or night job just to solely meet the cost of living. In terms of hours spent, it immediately relegates what they really want to be doing to hobby status. Michigan and Grand Rapids affords me the ability to say I am what I want to be, and start from zero and just build from there.”
While independent, creative professionals have the luxury of living a personal dream, Thompson believes “there is no motivator like having no safety net. There are a whole lot of [creative] people in this town living with no safety net. And eighty percent of the time, all of us would be really grateful if you bought us a sandwich. But at the same time, there is a freedom…Every day is potentially a weekend and everyday is potentially a work day.” And Thompson wouldn’t have it any other way.
“As an artist, there is no question that you are not like other people,” said Thompson. “To put it in romantic terms, there are always going to be hellhounds on your trail, to quote Robert Johnson, the ultimate tortured artist. The normal people in your life are never going to exactly understand that. They are always there. One of those hellhounds is that to people like us, contentment is repellent. That is my worst fucking nightmare. Relaxation is allowing vacancy. And that is just not in the cards. There is always something nipping at your heels.”
Audria Larsen is a freelance writer, entrepreneur and professional entertainer. Her work has appeared in Rapid Growth Media, Revue Magazine and Michigan Blue Magazine. She is the founder of Audacious Hoops, Grand Rapids’ original “hula” hoop company, and produces a myriad of art and entertainment ventures.

Photography by ADAM BIRD
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