by Jennifer Recknagel
08 August 2001
To the many people who attend SIGGRAPH every year, the art gallery
is seen as nothing but a fun space to play. There are enough interactive
installations, video pieces, sculptures, and digital prints to dazzle
the senses of even the heaviest tech crowds. However, to simply
treat this venue as an afterthought to the 'real' convention is
to miss the significance of this space entirely.
new media artists make use of the very same cutting edge technology
as their commercial counterparts. In fact, in most cases, it is
the artists who are pushing the boundaries of what is possible using
these new tools. By combining intelligent commentary with a repurposing
of traditional technical functions, new media artists provide us
with much needed social commentary. As the rest of the convention
investigates the technical aspects of creating quality digital graphics,
the Art Gallery and N-Space program challenges us to explore the
cultural and psychological impact of the new media.
most popular pieces in the gallery are always, without fail, the
interactive installations. This year's show featured numerous works
ranging from sensor based vacuum poetry to a virtual guillotine
experience. However the most impressive and also one of the most
popular pieces was 'Protrude, Flow' by Japanese duo Sachiko Kodama
and Minako Takeno. Definitely this year's 'Wooden Mirror', this
interactive installation is best described as a manifestation of
with a surrealist impulse towards the transcendental or otherworldly,
this piece transformed a pool of black liquid into 3D organic forms.
Made by dissolving ferro magnetic micro-powder into a solvent such
as water or oil, this heavily magnetic solution was pulled into
various shapes via sound information effecting degrees of magnet
pull. Definitely one of the coolest pieces in the show, this work
embodied the spirit of alchemy. By bringing to life the inconceivable,
it presented us with the mystical quality of digital experience.
overlooked, the Art Gallery and N-Space performances are always worth
seeing. This year the piece that seemed to engage the audience the
most was Virtual Keith 2.0. The brainchild and altar ego of artist
Keith Robertson, VR Keith was an elegant study in the psychology
of interactivity. Subtitled "or why virtual avatars are better
than humans", VR Keith tempted unsuspecting viewers into entering
a world which satirized automated systems and real time interaction.
There is something quite remarkable about being able to explore
complex issues in low-tech form. Made from materials that could
be found in the average person's garage, VR Keith was actually more
interesting as a performance piece rather than as a robot you could
artist, who performed the short video pieces displayed in the robot's
monitor/head, maintained control of Virtual Keith's responses via
an airplane remote control. Though not always directly visible,
the artist also did not intentionally try to hide from the audience.
When the real Keith had a hard time seeing exactly what selections
people were making, they would become extremely irritated and walked
away. However, when the Virtual Keith responded to their request
in a reasonable fashion, they would often get excited to the point
of joining him in a conga line. This highly ironic piece was quite
interesting to watch, as it confronted viewers and forced them to
participate in the obviously absurdist affair.
2D and 3D Wall Hangings
Aside from the
more flashy pieces in this year's show, there are collections of
mixed media wall hangings that challenge the distinctions of traditional
media categories. One such work, created by artist Kyle Riedel,
is a giant 6 x 8 feet 3D-modeled still taken from a series entitled
'Intersections'. This photorealistic image depicts an empty room,
reminiscent of bad suburban decor, with a single chair placed just
outside the audience's point of view. As the only object in the
space, its odd placement teases us into looking deeper into an otherwise
In a David Lynch
/ Blue Velvet sort of way, Riedel's treatment of the image makes
this very familiar scene appear eerily strange. At first glance
it is difficult to tell that the image is actually a digital construction.
It is only after a while of exploring the space that we realize
that something does not quite make sense. The image seems more like
a film still than a photo of an actual living space. As a result,
the viewer is compelled to project his or her own narrative onto
the minimalist landscape.
This is significant
because it makes us aware of the fact that space is as much a psychological
construction as it is a physical reality. On a more technical level,
'Intersections' challenges our understanding of what it means to
create a realistic image using 3D modeling software. Where 3D worlds
tend to hit you over the head with tacky images that transcend the
laws of physics, Riedel's space suggests that viewers should be
given the chance to complete the image with their own imagination.
online collective Squid Soup, is representative of all that is cool
in multiuser design. This spatial composition takes traditional
sound composition and turns it on its head. By placing sounds and
musical structures in space rather than over time, 'Altzero3' investigates
the possibilities of acoustic design.
which features an underwater galaxy of bubbles, uses principles
of nonlinear narrative to generate unique sonic experiences. By
allowing users to navigate the space intuitively, the subtleties
and variations of the soundscape are explored.