Fall 2007

| v.03 n.01|

Posted: August 28, 2007

A Crucible for 21st Century Art: Boston Cyberarts Festival 2007.

Boston, Massachusetts April 20-May 6, 2007
Dan Hermes

Untitled 5 from Animated Gestures, Camille Utterback

Untitled 6 (with user/viewer)
from Animated Gestures
Camille Utterback

The Boston CyberArts Festival attracts over sixty organizations, hundreds of artists, and audiences in the tens of thousands. George Fifield, organizer and founder, explains: "This festival is a celebration of art using new technologies. It is not a conference but a crucible: a place where people may share their emotions and emotive powers through exhibits and performances."

Events range from visual art, dance, music, technology, and combinations of all of these. Artists, collectors, curators, critics, and enthusiasts with a mind for technology descend upon Boston for this biennial, three-week festival. Audiences begin at Cyberarts Central at Art Interactive, and then fan out to events in all parts of the city. At the Festival finale, the Cyberarts Gala at the Hotel@MIT, three artists received IBM Innovation Awards for outstanding contributions. Merit awards went to Animated Gestures by Camille Utterback and to Brian Knep's Aging: Works in Progress from the Harvard Medical School Residency, while the Grand Award went to Moonwalk.

Clea T. Waite

Moonwalk, Clea T. Waite

Clea Waite studied 3D graphics and animation at the MIT Media Laboratory, and has produced a catalog of almost twenty new media works, many of which tour continuously. Her award-winning artwork, Moonwalk, presented by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study with music by Helga Pogatschar, is an eleven minute unfinished piece.

Decidedly multicultural, the work begins with the word "moon", written and spoken as a mantra in thirty-four different languages. Proceeding from the raw material of countless photos, which comprise lunar atlases, Waite shatters the moon into pieces, and then rebuilds it. She characterizes this placid heavenly body as a living, scintillating force. Adept with imagery, she evolves the moon from it's familiar pregnant blackness to a jittering hive of voices and sounds, then into a frightening sliding wall which fully exploits the planetarium medium to encircle and entrap the audience. Waite weaves together "poetry, science, and strong imagery" into a form best described as a grand audiovisual hyperlink. Utilizing every song you've ever heard about the moon and many of the films, television shows, and news broadcasts, Waite succeeds in reminding us of the moon's ubiquity. These references are amorphous and non-narrative, compelling the viewer to reconstruct their own personal history of the moon. The work reaches beyond idealized childhood daydreams of the heavens, past the well-worn Apollo footage, and into the tender roots of culture, which weave throughout our daily personal lives. Watching Moonwalk we are reminded, as if for the first time, of the power, presence, and emotional gravity the moon commands.

When complete, the latter half of the work will delve into the moon's craters, named for renowned scientists and authors, such as H.G. Wells and Cyrano De Bergerac. With part two, Waite threatens to seduce the intelligentsia with her moon's siren song. Expected completion is in the Summer or Fall of 2007.

After such a lengthy "collage process" of existing footage, Waite looks forward to returning to original material, "I miss making my own images". She describes her creative process as an "intellectual, scientific searching, while open to what ideas this opens up... and I let the poetry find me." Speaking to the New Media Arts community, Clea T. Waite says, "I hope that the ghettoization of new media art is coming to an end. We work with hardware, code, and technical stuff, but we strive for content, beauty, and meaning."

Carmin Karasic

Handheld Histories as Hyper-Monuments
Carmin Karasic

Artist Carmin Karasic seeks meaning through cell phone, PDA, blog, and GPS technology. Karasic's Handheld Histories as Hyper-Monuments invites the user on a real-time tour of monuments in Boston, beginning at the Judi Rotenberg Gallery. This locative media work was a 2007 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts for its Turbulence.org web site.

When a cell phone user physically approaches a monument in the project, they are greeted by a welcome sound and an introductory historical video. They then have access to a blog-like commentary supplied by interested parties online. All media and information is location-specific, as determined by GPS.

For each of these historic locations, such as the Old South Church, Karasic "want(s) people to be able to construct their own interpretation of history." Initially Carmin asked historians to comment on the blogs, and they did, providing specialized knowledge about each of these monuments. Carmin reconsiders, "the expert commentary made laypeople hesitant to leave comments and add to the dialogue, and I intended this to be open to everyone". Most striking about this exhibit is the universality of Karasic's thinking. Her broad concept could apply to "all history" and "any location", from the newest luxury condominium in Boston to the city of Baghdad in Iraq. This technology would allow anyone to participate in the writing and editing of past and present historical accounts using text, sound, and visual media. As a practical proof-of-concept, her project is a demonstration of a real-time on-site wiki of historic Boston. The work is a harbinger of the fully-hyperlinked earth, where every location in the world is connected to the full body of history and informal commentary via the Internet, available and editable by anyone who is standing on location with a cell phone.


MIT's Stada Center Gallery housed the Festival's second largest and most technical exhibit, COLLISIONeleven, sponsored by the artist-run COLLISIONcollective. Curated by Jonathan Bachrach and Dan Paluska, this twenty-artist show spanned technologies from DVD video compression to artificial intelligence.

String Beings
Jonathan Bachrach
Snappy Dance Theatre

Bachrachs's own work, Sketchy (wood, computer, LCD panel, gooze, 2ft x 2ft x 4ft), ascribed the role of artist to the computer. The device was mounted on a pushcart, allowing the user/viewer to point the attached video camera at any scene or person. The screen displays a rough sketch with a black background, including natural-looking errors that a human might make. The effect is a vibrant, childlike, hand-drawn, moving world. The software is developed using gooze, a real-time, interactive multimedia OOP language created by Bachrach. The technology behind this exhibit is combined with modern dance performance by Snappy Dance Theater and music by composer Michael Rodach resulting in a multimedia dance performance called String Beings.

Visual Music Marathon

Daydream at the Visual Music Marathon, Jean Detheux

The most extensive exhibit at the Festival was the Visual Music Marathon, a twelve-hour screening at Northeastern University of an audiovisual genre called Visual Music. Curated by audiovisual artist and educator Dennis Miller, this watershed event is possibly the largest, broadest, and most historically representative Visual Music exhibit in history. The open call portion of the show received three hundred and twenty five submissions from thirty-four countries, of which sixty screened. This exhibit is only the beginning for the Visual Music Marathon, as portions will tour internationally, beginning with New York, Los Angeles, and Dresden.

Ranging from video works to computer animation to hand-drawn animations, these works explore pure sound and video as a medium conveying emotional impact and intellectual interest. Elements of music such as melody, harmony, dynamics, and form intertwine with their visual counterparts: line, space, color, rhythm, and composition. Composers team up with visual artists, or the artist does both the music and the visuals themselves, such as in Miller's own work. The show includes works from such artists as Robert Seidel, Jeffers Egan, Larry Cuba at the iotaCenter, Dennis Miller, and historical work from Hans Richter, Oskar Fischinger, Hy Hirsh, and many others.

Visual Music and its artists are challenged by the value that critics and audiences place on the work. Miller says, "People can't tell the difference between well-crafted visual music and screensavers." The genre has developed in relative obscurity for over a hundred years, but the commercialization of flat screens, cable television, high definition video and the Internet collaborate to bring this work into the public eye. Video art festivals are, for the first time, setting aside exhibits explicitly for Visual Music, perhaps marking the rare beginning of an underground genre of art going mainstream.

Aspect Magazine at Axiom Gallery

headphones, Tony Cokes

Axiom Gallery, a new media venue directed by Heidi Kayser and Phaedra Shanbaum, exhibits works drawn from the video art collection of Aspect, a biannual DVD magazine with nine releases. Though Aspect DVDs can be found at Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum (NYC), and the Centre Pompidou, this event is Aspect's first physical exhibit. It is fitting that the magazine's first exhibit should occur in the Festival of its birth: DVD Volume 1 in Spring of 2003 was Artists of the Cyberarts Festival.

While oil painting images propagate via prints, video art faces complications: duplication lowers their value. Aspect Magazine fills a niche of affordable video art by a wide range of artists. While teaching video at Emerson College, Aspect founder Michael Mittelman encountered difficulties in locating materials, "Half the reason I founded Aspect was for educational purposes. I couldn't get my hands on any video to show to students." A video artist himself, Mittelman's organization also serves the artist community, "without the availability of video art, artists will repeat ideas and the genre will get stuck in a rut." Phaedra Shanbaum agrees, "I think the most interesting thing that is happening in new media art is the push by artists, curators, and scholars to actively document and conserve their work."

At Axiom Gallery, these four Aspect works are shown: Jim Campbell's #2 and #5 from his Motion and Rest series, headphones by Tony Cokes, L.O.V.E. by Jill Magid, and Christopher Miner's Making God Happy.

Imagination + Technology = Flash

A talk entitled Imagination + Technology opens New England's Institute of Art's contribution to the Cyberarts Festival, a workshop series on Adobe Flash, Flex, and interactive media. Craig Swann, an internationally recognized educator, curator, writer, and founder of the award-winning company, CRASH!Media, delivers a riveting keynote on trends in new media software development. His circus-like, improvised, even high-wire demonstration introduces his Mac as semi-sentient being with eyes, ears, and a powerful sense of awareness of the environment. Swann reveals his creative process as a symbiotic interaction with a machine that can simultaneously record then control images and sounds of himself, then have these images and sounds wildly reinterpreted and played back in direct response to his additional real-time sounds, motion, and the occasional wave of his Nintendo Wii.(a gyroscopic hand-held mouse) Swann transforms his Mac Powerbook into his own alter-ego which responds, dances, waves, and speaks on Swann's command. This is accomplished using Adobe Flash, a homespun pile of USB keyboard interfaces, and a webcam. Swann's point is constructively destructive: a chaotic divergence from conventional thinking about how we relate to our machines achieved viscerally through what can only be described as performance art. Minds like Swann's prevent us from continuing to think of computers as inanimate, in more ways than one. Said Swann, "When you program a computer, you're not really talking to the machine, you're talking to all the people who built it and all the people who wrote the programs that live there. When I program, I'm interacting with people."

Epilogue: Fifield's Three Stages of Artistic Development

Regarding the development of new forms of art, the Cyberarts Festival founder George Fifield says, "There are three stages: First, the Gee Whiz stage. This is where the artist discovers a new technology and tries to demonstrate how cool it is. Second, there is a Developmental stage where the artist begins to realize the emotive power of the tool and endeavors to create a strong work of art. Last, there is Mastery, where the artist succeeds in using the tool to create a fully emotive and intellectual experience." The Cyberarts Festival provides a crucible in which the creative forces of artists may interact with curators, critics, and audiences to negotiate together these stages of artistic development and forge new directions for art and technology.