THIS IS NOT YOUR MOTHER’S ART GALLERY
I can’t say that I’ve ever given my
own hair to an artist to be part of a worldwide publicly-accessed
digital archive. Nor have I ever hoped for a virtual butterfly to
land on my hand’s shadow. But attending this year’s
art gallery I had the opportunity to experience both of these situations
through some rather untraditional works of art.
The SIGGRAPH ’02 Art Gallery is not your mother’s art
gallery. Walking through the gallery you hear strange electronic
noises and glimpse LED indicators on laptop computers peeking outfrom
behind temporary walls.
The works on display here use nontraditional techniques
to create art pieces that are classically beautiful. Paintbrushes
have been replaced by ink jet printers. Canvas has been replaced
with projection screens. Yet still we find human guidance and creativity
behind the lasers and silicon.
Over 60 pieces are on display at the Art Gallery
in one form or another. Most galleries use the term “display”
but SIGGRAPH’s art show could easily use terms like “now
showing,” “currently computing,” “now inflating,”
or even “in process.”
A major focus of this year’s Art Gallery
is the process of creating digital art and interaction. To accommodate
the process-oriented mission, seven artists are designated as “Working
Artists,” who turn their space in the gallery into a studio.
Visitors to the gallery have the opportunity to watch and learn
from the Working Artists as they create digital art. Additionally,
works accepted into the gallery are accompanied by a process statement
which details the techniques used to create the art.
Visitors leaving the Art Gallery may be inspired to stop by the
Studio and create their own art. The Studio was purposefully situated
next-door to the gallery to enable SIGGRAPH attendees to become
I spent an afternoon experiencing the Art Gallery. I use the word
“experiencing” because “viewing” doesn’t
quite cut it. Here are some of the highlights:
3-D / Interactive / Way Out There
* My favorite piece in
the show made me feel a tremendous sense of awe and child-like playfulness.
“Shadow Garden” created by Zachary Booth Simpson and
a loose affiliation of game programmers takes the participant’s
shadow and allows it to interact with virtual objects like sand,
molecules and butterflies. I watched in wonder as my shadow attracted
a butterfly to land in my stationary hand, and then felt a sense
of loss as the projected butterfly flitted away. I don’t understand
the technical details behind the simulation but the artist statement
talks about “integer particle systems using a pressure map
to promote plausible diffusion and detect compression.” All
you really need to know is that it works like real life and it’s
fun to play with.
* The “TextArc”
by W. Bradford Paley is a novel method for visualizing language.
It can take a book and display every word on the screen. The depiction
looks like a jumbled mess at first but the computer finds order
in the chaos. It’s really impossible to describe but the program
reads through the text sentence by sentence, diagramming connections
and associations between words in a mesmerizing visual pattern displayed
on the screen.
* The question, “What
can a computer know about me” is answered by Ioannis Yessios’
installation, homo indicium. The work invites visitors to surrender
personal information and artifacts to the exhibit which are archived
by Yessios and displayed on the Internet. The piece collects data
such as age, gender, height, weight, fingerprints, voice, hair,
etc. Hair is stored in barcoded glass tubes. I pick up a barcode
scanner and step up to a lock of brown hair. I know nothing about
this hair. Scanning it, I move to a computer which “recreates”
the person. I picture her in my mind’s eye. I know her physical
attributes, where she was born, where she went to school. I feel
I know the person, even though photographs are not collected. Names
and addresses are withheld from the public but I don’t mind
that. Despite the anonymity I feel like I have made a connection.
I neglected to enter myself in the database—it’s a little
creepy. I am forced to explore why I think it’s creepy.
* I felt as if I had left
the convention center upon entering the darkened room where “After
the Hunt” was being displayed. Multiple projectors send beams
of colored light throughout the room, illuminating colorless, semi-transparent
garments which hang suspended from clotheslines. The clothing sways
in the breeze created by computer-controlled fans. A floor composed
of Texas straw gives a smell of barns, farms, the countryside. Whispered
prose, bird-chirps and environmental noises complete the environment.
The piece was created by Carol LaFayette, et al.
* “Front” features two inflatable
“ceremonial conflict suits” composed of plastic air
sacs. Exploring aggressive and defensive behavior is the motivation
behind the piece, which allows two people to suit up, shout into
the suit’s microphones, and by the intensity and duration
of the user’s voice, cause their suits to inflate and deflate.
It’s really hard to describe. The piece was created by an
artistic collective known as the Millefiore Effect.
* If evil corporate executives
were ever to be reincarnated as insects, I think they would look
very similar to Viktor Koen’s portraits of evil corporate
executive insects. Koen’s piece, “Transmigration, Cases
of Corporate Reincarnation,” combines images of the executives
and various tools of their trade in very striking and evilly-beautiful
photo illustrations printed on canvas.
* Kenneth Huff draws inspiration
from organic forms to create three-dimensional sculptures with Maya
which are extraordinarily beautiful. The arrangements take from
200 to 2,000 hours to render and are output as large-scale Lightjet
prints on photographic paper.
* Other artists who have
created three-dimensional sculptures and then output them as 2-D
prints include Mark Stock, Masa Inakage and Kent Oberheu. Their
works are phenomenally conceived and executed and are masterful
in their understanding of form, composition, color and texture.
* * *
Karen Sullivan, chair of the Art Gallery committee,
summed up the methods used by the gallery’s artists: “They
never use something for what it’s meant for.”