Dr Tegan Bristow was born in a little town called Makhado which is located in the north of Limpopo, South Africa. She did not think she wanted to become an artist when she was little until she went to high school and became completely fascinated with art. Her mother, on the other hand, wanted her to be a scientist or something that was technical. She encouraged her to do a lot of math and science which Dr Tegan also happened to be very good at. However, her desire to become an artist was really strong and so her mother finally let her pursue her passion.
She would later go to Rhodes University, where she describes her experience there to have been incredibly luxurious and some of the happiest times of her life. One day she was meant to go to a History of Art class very early in the morning but then by mistake, she walked into a Computer Science 101 class. She sat in the class and watched the students present some really simple games they had made. She explains how excited they were about what they were presenting because they had used their computer science skills to make a game. She was completely blown away because she had never seen anything like that in her life before then. She knew in that instance that she wanted to learn how to code. She went on to do a second degree at the University of South Africa (Unisa) that had Computer Science in it, then a master’s degree in Interactive Digital Media at Wits University.
After graduating from the master’s program she joined the department as a lecturer because the university loved the work she was doing. At that time her work entailed coding, sound design, building interactive websites and building interactive forms of art. She worked running the interactive media lab where she would bring her interactive masters class together with the electrical engineering class and the music class from the Wits School of Arts. They made amazing stuff together and it is at that point that Dr Tegan came to understand how people can interact in different fields.
For an artist to work with an engineer and for an engineer to work with a musician what does that mean and how does that work? These are the questions that lead to the innovation that is the Fak’ugezi Festival. The Digital Arts Department of the Wits School of Arts started Fak’ugezi Festival as a collaboration with Tshimologong Innovation Precinct and it was a way for them to pose as well as answer the question of what digital art is to the public. They found a way to bring animators and game designers, as well as people who were making beautiful things with technology into a festival giving people a chance to visit, have fun and engage.
Dr Tegan concluded with the following words, “ My advice is to always be curious like constantly learning is pretty much what you’ll do with technology. Technology changes on a three-monthly basis at the moment. What I was teaching and learning in my master’s is not even relevant now. Year to year we look at new technologies, and new things so it’s important to learn how to learn. It’s about being curious, it’s about unpacking, evolving and seeing as the world changes and being part of that change that’s really important. Yeah and I think follow your passion. It sounds like a weird thing to say “follow your passion” because everybody says that but to follow the passion is that tiny little thing inside of you that is curious, that wants to know more about one or the other thing and that will lead you. Like myself, I was always interested in art but I kind of had a bend for mathematics as well so I kept those two things with me even though my Mom helped me a little bit with that. It’s about kind of retaining what you are interested in and not letting people tell you you can’t be interested in this or you can’t be interested in that. You are interested and curiosity is your ticket essentially.”
Dr Tegan Bristow works in the Digital Arts Department at the Wits School of Arts at the University of Witswatersrand located in Johannesburg. She works at the intersection of art, science and technology. The intersection of art and technology entails the practice of art within a technological space for instance animation, gaming or virtual reality. While the intersection of art and science involves looking at art as a research encounter and how science can benefit from art.
This piece is inspired by an interview conducted by the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) which is the largest national non-profit stakeholder body for all science, engineering, technology and innovation organisations in South Africa.