In 2016, thousands walked by a larger-than-life animated dog that waved to them from the windows of an art gallery in downtown Manhattan. Few passersby knew that the dog’s movements were directly tethered to the artist, Will Wheeler, who was living in the gallery behind the window. This exhibit, like much of Will’s artwork, uses technology to address issues of equity and inclusion to audiences outside of the traditional art world. As an undergraduate at Vassar College, Will studied philosophy and studio art, and won awards in community service excellence, specifically for teaching art to underserved elementary students. In 2015, Will joined Yale’s sculpture MFA program as the youngest in his class and began introducing sensors, mixed reality, and robotics into his artwork to elicit active participation from unsuspecting audiences. As a member of Yale’s Blended Reality research group, he continued to integrate art and technology to explore social norms. He exhibited techno-philosophical artworks in the U.S. and abroad, and prototyped electronics for the sculptor Nari Ward. In a 2017 exhibition, he connected a handmade, virtual reality headset to a vintage voting booth, revealing that while immersive technology can allow us to inhabit fantasy, surreal politics make us skeptical of reality. In 2018, Will moved to Washington, D.C. to manage artist Sam Gilliam’s studio.
His recent exhibits include an enormous robotic pencil that erases its own scribbles in a Sisyphean struggle and a collection of fleshy, autonomous spheres that challenge the conventions of human-machine interaction. For the last two years, Will has taught art concurrently at a bilingual elementary school, at the Corcoran School of Art, and at George Mason University. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, he realized that current technology did not support the collaborative, spontaneous exercises necessary for art education. To address the gap, he worked with coders, teachers, and art therapists to build an art-making app that allows people to create together in real time, yet at a distance. Will is excited to continue developing new ideas and technologies that promote creativity, collaboration, and connection—especially among disparate communities.