Saturday, September 30, 2006

Useful Thought for the Day

"I want to be the invisible pilot at the centre of the popular storm, not some dupe afraid to rock the boat because my financial well-being depends on pleasing all the other buffoons toiling within the art system." --Stewart Home, 1994

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

ISEA2006 and ZeroOne San Jose

This summer, I was an Associate Producer on ZeroOne San Jose: A Global Festival of Art on the Edge (August 7-13, 2006). I have now finally recovered enough from the experience to recap some of the highlights. ZeroOne brought artists from around the globe to San Jose for a week to realize 140 art installations, as well as performances, workshops and the ISEA2006 Symposium.

The festival had three main nodes: San Jose McEnery Convention Center South Hall (Interactive City exhibition), Parkside Hall (Symposium) and The San Jose Museum of Art (SJMA - Edge Conditions and C4F3). My main responsibility was to produce the installation C4F3: The Cafe for the Interactive City at SJMA (of which I was also a co-curator) and public space installations in the adjacent Circle of Palms/Fairmont Plaza. I was also the producer of Container Culture, a Pacific Rim-themed exhibition of artworks from China, South Korea, New Zealand, Japan, India, Singapore, Vancouver and Hong Kong installed in 20' shipping containers within the South Hall.

I'll do my best to recount my favorite works within each exhibition area. As anyone who has produced a project like this knows, the work doesn't stop when the show opens, so there were a lot of projects that I missed, as well as all the workshops and symposium lectures. Staying in one place for more than 20 minutes wasn't really an option for me. If you're interested in a more impartial observer's view on the festival, We Make Money Not Art has some good coverage.

C4F3: The C4F3 exhibition was organized by a curatorial committee consisting of Steve Dietz (ZeroOne's Director, formerly of the Walker Art Center and the Smithsonian), Mike Kuniavsky (freelance interface/industrial designer, proprietor of and C4F3 Chair), Karen Moss (Curator of Collections, Orange County Museum of Art), JoAnne Northrup (Senior Curator, SJMA), and myself. The exhibition was installed inside the SJMA's concession, "Cafe Too!" and the adjacent Wendell Education Center. As per ISEA's rules, an open call for artworks was posted. We selected a jury of artists, critics and industrial designers to evaluate each submission on the basis of artistic merit, interactive design and relevance to the cafe environment. Our goal was to preserve the functionality and comfort of the cafe while rendering the space unrecognizable to regular patrons, and taking our best shot at completely reimagining the nature and context of a cafe.

One of my favorite artworks was Secrets by JD Beltran, which consisted of short films played on several tiny (2"x3") LCD screens embedded in unexpected places such as tabletops and bar counters. The screens were hidden, to be discovered by cafe patrons going about their normal business. JD went to a lot of effort to create the illusion, on the order of an installation artist and not at all the stereotype of a typical "new media" person popping a DVD into a player and calling it a day. She built custom tabletops to camouflage the screens, bought tablecloths and salt shakers and generally went all out. It was well worth it, because the surprise of discovering her tiny movies at your table was only the beginning. The films themselves are remarkable because they evoke the cinematic at this tiny scale. They consist of non-narrative images juxtaposed with narrative subtitles which describe real people's real secrets. The secrets are engrossing, all the more so because they're true, and the images move the story of each film along with a languid beauty that suggests introspection and contemplation.

Another of my favorite projects in the C4F3 was CNN Plus Plus by Heidi Kumao and Chipp Jansen. Full disclosure time: I confess I was originally opposed to this project's inclusion because I didn't feel it met the criteria for interactivity that we had set forth. In the initial proposal, it was difficult for me to see how the audience might participate locally rather than from afar. However, the project in its final form proved me wrong. It was interactive, and great fun. Visitors to the C4F3 could input their own banner headlines, which would run across the bottom third of the live CNN broadcast in place of the network's own banner. They could also link certain keywords to image searches on Google, so for example every time the newscaster said "Ann Coulter" an image of "Hitler" from Google would pop up in the upper left corner of the screen. Hours of enjoyment!

Vanishing Point by Mauricio Arango is the last project I'll talk about here. This was a projection of an interactive map of the world, in which the countries receiving the most news coverage for the day appeared most visible and those the international media was ignoring disappeared from view. A straightforward and poignant commentary on inequality, the map could be navigated using a mouse to locate vital statistics on each country, such as its population and GDP. I liked this project because it was both topical and educational, and it had an elegant design to boot.

Everyone who participated in the C4F3 deserves accolades, and no one more so than Mike Kuniavsky and Liz Goodman. All the artists put in incredibly hard work to make the exhibition a success. Thank you especially to Will Pappenheimer, Thom Hutchinson, Orkan Telhan, Tony Bergstrom, Francis Lim, Mat Yapchaian, Aaron Zinman, Karrie Karahalios, Jill Coffin, John Taylor, Osman and Omar Khan, Ghosh, Michael Schneider, Kenneth Haller, Riyako Horimizu, Kentaro Okuda, Ami Wolf and Germaine Koh for being responsible about your own installations and sometimes other people's as well. I wish we had had more resources to offer you, but I couldn't have wished for a better result from all your amazing work.