INTERVIEWS

Rick BarryRick Barry teaches at the Dept of Computer Graphics and Interactive Media, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY. He chairs "Courses" at SIGGRAPH 2003

What first drew you to computer graphics?

My introduction to CG was due, in part, to the emergence of desktop publishing. For a special occasion in the late 70s, my wife asked my stepson, Daniel, whether he wanted a large party or a large gift. He chose the gift: an Apple IIe. Up to that point, I had no interest in computers and minimal interest in technology. I'd been a professional graphic designer, illustrator and art director, and I could see little practical use for these early personal computers.

Yet, for some reason I still can't quite fathom, I found myself intrigued by the green, blinking prompt and the whirr of the huge, dual floppy drives. I began reading reference books on Apple DOS and Apple BASIC, and magazines like Byte and Nibble (I kid you not). Before long, I was using Daniel's "Tooey" for all of my business records and correspondence. But it remained useless for professional design.

When the Macintosh was introduced in 1984 with real typefaces (incorrectly called fonts), I could see the potential for professional use. And though the accompanying 90 dpi ImageWriter printer was wonderful, it still didn't produce text and graphics of professional-quality resolution. But when the LaserWriter appeared in 1985, everything changed for me.

I took out a loan for a new Mac and LaserWriter (an arm and a leg), and within a few months, I'd incorporated them into my design studio. I designed, co-edited and produced one of the first desktop-published newsmagazines (MacTimes). I changed my business name to DeskTop Design Studio. I introduced the computer into the creative and production structure of a large Madison Avenue ad agency. In short, I began a new career as a "digital" designer, illustrator, consultant and instructor. All of this took place within a couple of years of my LaserWriter purchase.

This experience, in turn, introduced me to the larger world of CG, to special effects, to gaming, to interactive media. And of course, to SIGGRAPH.

Do you have any favorite CG mentors? Not the usual ones. From a distance, Steve (The Woz) Wozniac. Loretta Jones, who was running the new CG program at the School of Visual Arts in the mid-to-late 80s. I'd already been an admirer of her digital art when she called and asked me to teach for her.
Isaac Kerlow, who founded the CG program at Pratt Institute and hired me away from SVA.
Bert Monroy, a fellow Brooklyn boy who blew me away with his early adoption of, and enthusiasm for, digital art. He still does.
Jim (Jimbo) Kingston, who demonstrated that elegant Beziér curves could be created from an input device that reminded me of a horse's hoof (a mouse).
What was the first time you contributed to SIGGRAPH?

I joined the New York City ACM SIGGRAPH Board of Directors in 1996. My first major contribution to the SIGGRAPH conference was in 1998, when my Binary Biker Project was featured in the Outreach venue. This was an amazing project, involving a collaboration between Pratt Institute (me) and the School of Visual Arts (Bruce Wands), and a small crew of wonderful people.

Starting at the Guggenheim Museum's "Art of the Motorcycle" exhibition, specially-rigged motorcycles were ridden from Manhattan to Orlando, documenting the journey with digital video and photography. This imagery, along with an online diary, were posted daily to a web site, where artists were invited to download the images and use them to create original art, then submit their art to an online gallery for jurying. The Binary Bikers juried the works while en route, and sent the selected work ahead to the Guerilla Gallery for digital printing.

When the bikes arrived at the convention center, one of them was ridden directly inside (much to the chagrin of the setup crew) and strapped down in the center of our exhibit space. Attendees could sit on the bike and watch a re-run of the journey's highlights on the rear-projection wall. Another wall was covered with prints of the juried art. And a third wall was furnished with computers connected to the web site for attendees to examine, and to contribute their own art. It was a great success, and a wonderful memory.

What year/city was your first SIGGRAPH? Which was most intense? Why? My first SIGGRAPH was in 1995, in Los Angeles. It was quite an eye-opener.
But obviously, the 1998 experience was the most intense.
What contributions to SIGGRAPH are you most proud of? Without question, the SIGGRAPH 98 and the Binary Biker Project and the SIGGRAPH 2003 Courses Program.
How does it feel to be appointed chair of courses at SIGGRAPH 2003?
I feel honored. I also think it is a testament to SIGGRAPH that an artist was appointed as Chair of Courses.
So what is new this year at the courses?

There were two new things we tried this year:
1) In place of the previously costly Creative Applications Lab (CAL), we tables inside a wireless session room so that attendees could bring their laptops along, or rent them. There were many issues to be addressed in order to make this happen, but fortunately our careful planning and determination paid off.
2) The Monday morning course in the dome of the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park was a huge success.

What do you think of SIGGRAPH 2003 overall?

I'm definitely prejudiced because of my involvement <laughs>. However if I were to be totally objective about it, I'd say it is GREAT.<laughs>

That is interesting. What do you think of the importance given to art at SIGGRAPH?

Maybe a fair way to respond to that is as follows:
SIGGRAPH is primarily a technical conference. I believe that it should never lose the integrity of that core mission. It is a technical conference that supports art, and inspires the art to be technically innovative. This distinguishes it from purely digital art conferences. I think SIGGRAPH is evolving and I am grateful to ACM for this. Art doesn't have to be given 51% importance at the conference. I think SIGGRAPH is one of the few major annual venues for digital artists held in North America. Europe and Asia seem to be ahead in that respect, with more support for the arts.
Look at the way the sciences tend to be supported. Investments by both the public and private sectors are based on the belief that eventually those investments will pay off. Unless there are mechanisms that enable the arts and sciences to explore and evolve, they will stagnate and die. SIGGRAPH is vitally important to both the arts and sciences because it supports the integrated evolution of both.

What do you think about the confluence of art and technology at SIGGRAPH? Well, there has probably always been a love-hate tension between artists and scientists, and I think that is for the good. It inspires art to be technically innovative, and science to be imaginative. This creative tension is rarely expressed in negative ways; good artists respect good scientists and vice versa. Since SIGGRAPH is where the best digital artists and scientists meet, I think it's just wonderful.
Would you rule out the possibility of some programs being works of art? Art might simply be defined as a work which earns one's respect because it connects with one's humanity. You might doodle on that pad and walk away, and if someone picks it up and responds to it emotionally, intellectually, viscerally, or all of the above -- it might be considered art to that person. In my view, however, it isn't art unless it's creator intended to transcend the simple act of making something. And even then, it might not be art. A talented artist might put their heart into the creation of a work, but if it doesn't do anything to anyone -- if it just doesn't make that connection, then I'm not sure it's art.
So, to answer your question, yes, some computer programs are not simply art; some of them are masterpieces.
How do you feel now? Great! I'm ready to party. We have a reception set for tonight and I can't wait!

 

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Last updated 8/11/03.

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