Alec Molloy

Where do you work now & what do you do there? 
Computer artist, working with artificial intelligence and computer graphics.
Currently working on a commission with two of London’s biggest disruptors, fashion’s Ozwald Boateng and Kano: the computer anyone can make. We’re going to have kids learning ancient computer codes written nine thousand-years ago in the warp and weft of fabrics.

What else should we know about you?
I’ve just followed my girlfriend out of London to quieter pastures in Malmö. It’s going to be quite the change from life in San Francisco and London. Malmö is Sweden’s third biggest city, and just across the border from Copenhagen, but it’s the kind of place where you run into friends almost every time you go out. I wonder how much I will miss the feeling of getting lost in the crowds of bigger cities.

What’s your historical London and New York connection? 
I was born in London and have lived there for the past two years, but I spent my childhood in a Connecticut suburb full of NYC bankers.

Growing up–New York was simply The City. No different than any other American city—with large buildings, traffic, a baseball stadium, restaurants with hundred-dollar steaks, and Very Boring Art. Exposure to New York was metered by my father: born and raised in Bronxville and an NYU grad. There were visits to his office on 48th and Park Ave. Trips every fall to Yankee stadium, wearing Red Sox caps. He wore a Katz’s Deli shirt on the weekends the summer we tried to build a treehouse.

The summer I turned sixteen I worked in the city, taking Metro-North into Grand Central and walking up Park Ave past my father’s old office to 63rd street. That summer I saw the city on my own terms. Taking taxis around Manhattan on deliveries, getting lunch on the upper east side, walking to Central Park in the evenings. I didn’t really appreciate the city’s beauty until I started coming back to New York for the Christmas and summer breaks of college, but it all started that summer. I found spots that grew on me and became staples of my return.
London was a place shaped by my parent’s stories rather than my memories—my family moved back to the states when I was not even two years old. We lived in Putney and then Wandsworth, under the flight path for Heathrow. My first word was “Concorde”—I would point at and announce its final descent twice daily from our family garden.

We only went back twice as a family, once in 2001, and again in 2004. My sister and I grew up with British passports, which was a fun conversation starter but nothing more. I didn’t know how I was supposed to incorporate it into my identity. I would occasionally spell things with extra ues, and change zees to esses. My mom would host tea parties and watch Jane Austen adaptations. I was American, but there was a longing to return throughout my childhood.

Describe your experience in London as a New Yorker.
When I bought a one-way ticket to London, it had been exactly ten years since I had last been in the U.K. I came with all the stories and recommendations about the city from my parents. But they had lived in London in the ’80s, and what was hip then had either disappeared or become a horrible tourist trap. Conversations about the city with my parents often became disjointed, as though we were speaking about completely different places.

I spent too much time working, and developed a habit of picking up Turkish takeaway when I lived in Dalston, and then Deliveroo when I moved to Islington—a symptom of an exhaustion I will not miss about London. But I suppose there are plenty of New Yorkers like me.

Looking beyond aesthetics, much is the same in both cities except for perhaps how international London felt. But I wonder how much this will change after Brexit—my Swedish girlfriend felt unwelcome in the city, and American friends with student loans are very much feeling the pinch brought on by the weak pound. Having access to all of Europe shaped my time in the city so much, and it would be sad to see London become much more insular as a result.

How can New York and London better engage with each other? 
The U.S. and U.K. should provide more opportunities for young people to travel and live in these cities. They both share the problems of affordability and strict migration laws that make it difficult to make a life. I’ve been so shaped by both cities and I would love for more young people to be given the chance as well.

Favorite NYC secret spot:
The Society of Illustrators. There is no place I could imagine being more New York than this creaky old building with a beautiful cafe. If you’re lucky you’ll find yourself sitting for lunch with some of the society’s members—the people behind the covers and cartoons of The New Yorker and the WPA National Parks posters. Peek your head up on the fourth floor and say hello to my grandmother Mary. Her office is covered in the best pieces from the museum’s permanent collection.

Favourite London secret spot:
The National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum. It takes up a whole wing of one of the city’s most famous museums, but I’ve only met one other Londoner who had heard about it. Its rooms overwhelm you with floor-to-ceiling Victorian bookcases with one of the world’s best art history book collections, which surround rows of desks for reading or working on your laptop. I’ve spent countless Saturday mornings floating between the library and the cafeteria down on the ground floor, which has London’s best cream tea.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Last month I followed my girlfriend to Malmö, Sweden. I’m learning Swedish and getting my art career off the ground. I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else right now, but I do have fantasies of living on the Galapagos. Sometimes I’ll find myself crawling the Pacific Ocean on Google Earth, looking for remote islands and then checking flight prices.

In flight entertainment: 
What’s playing in your headphones right now?
Steve Reich’s Three Tales. It is an opera in three acts, each about one of the 20th century’s biggest moments in technology. This work has one of the most important messages for today’s technologists, and it comes from from one of America’s greatest composers. But opera isn’t sexy. Perhaps a plane ride is the best place to give it a go? If you find yourself trapped in a tiny airplane seat with no other entertainment options I’d suggest you give it a listen.

And what are you currently reading?
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Reading this book has been similar to how I imagine a born-again Christian might read the bible for the first time. It is a book I will read to my children as a handbook for life.

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