TEATIME at Boston ACM SIGGRAPH 2006
SIGGRAPH 2006 presented The Teapot as Object and Icon “to showcase the long association of the teapot with the worlds of computer graphics, art, and our host city of Boston.” The exhibition features juried and curated work by artists, crafts persons and scientists who create fascinating 2D and 3D teapots using computer graphic technologies or interactive techniques.
Author: Jen Grey (aka JEN ZEN), Los Angeles ACM
Inspired dually by the Boston Tea Party and the R(evolutionary) Boston SIGGRAPH 1989, the exhibition program is the brainchild of veteran ceramicist Marc J. Barr, SIGGRAPH 2006 Teapot Exhibit Chair, Middle Tennessee State University and his team Sonny Kamm, Kamm Teapot Foundation and Guanping Zheng, Middle Tennessee State University.
The magnificent teapot exhibition was underscored by three terrific events:
Teapot through the Ages, a fascinating talk by Peter Shirley, University of Utah, about the research and development of the iconic teapot modeled by Martin Newell at the University of Utah more than 30 years ago.
Enjoying the World’s most Popular Beverage, a wonderful exposition on the nature, history, manufacture and enjoyment of tea by Frank Sanchez of Upton Tea Imports.
Teatime with Dr. Martin Newell, Adobe Fellow and Inventor of the Utah Teapot, sipped tea with friends and guests including Jim Blinn, both answering questions and making quips about historic achievements… while signing free, limited edition ceramic teapots generously donated by the Upton Tea Company.
The Teapot as Object and Icon (The Teapot Exhibition)
Reading the Artist’s Technical and Esthetic statements for the Teapot Exhibition is a “must do” for a quick lesson in the evolving history of benchmark teapots featured at the SIGGRAPH conventions since 1976. There’s enough material to write a fascinating book, and settle a few esthetic arguments about the seamless marriage of form vs. function, information vs. esthetics, art vs. science. Guy Godin provides perhaps the oldest precedent in the show by tracking ray tracing to the model for catoptrical anamorphic images, originally invented in 1630, the year Boston was founded.
The exhibit featured the complete, original table setting for the iconic Original Teapot designed by Martin Newell, together with its successors the Aluminum Utah Teapot by Gershon Elber and the Plastic Utah Teapot by Steve Sady - all historic benchmarks specially fabricated for this show by Ann Torrence, University of Utah. From Digital to Analog, or the Rebirth of a Teapot, by Sebastien Dion, further honors the evolving model originally developed by Martin Newell and Jim Blinn. This piece was achieved using heat-resistant molds and advanced rapid-prototyping to process 3D digital files.
“Where better to foment a revolution in a teapot than Boston!” touts Stephen Barrass. Totally invisible, his revolutionary Air-Teapot is rendered interactively using computer-generated touch and sound. You can feel and hear it when you tap it with a teaspoon, but you just can’t see it! Whether programmed in C++, scratched into metal, or inspired by Victorian embroidery, each teapot in the show is uniquely beautiful, embodying the vision and imagination of its maker. Paul Desai uses “very simple concepts to create an elaborate and expressive” teapot in Raku fired clay. Scott Rench “fuses today's technology with one of the oldest traditions” in creating his delightfully anthropomorphic ceramic teapot Head Full of Dreams. Hi-tech and lo-tech creations coexist gracefully, unified by a sense of history and visionary spirit.
Humor based on illusion is an undeniable unifying force in the show. Robert Engle playfully points out that his TEAPOT: The Movie Teaser “plays homage to the trailer originally produced for the film Alien and, of course, to the Utah teapot… in space, no one can hear you steam…. the sound effects were sampled from a gas stove and a whistling tea kettle.” Combining function and fantasy, the playfully surreal fur-and-feather creature designed by John van der Zalm doubles as a teapot reminiscent of Man Ray’s fur lined teacup turned inside out. Gene Greger generated Boston Skyline, Rendered With Teapots using a mosaic of 466,000+ tiny teapots, his tribute to the city as a double entendre. The amazing Wuyi Mountains by Julian Landa are subtly enhanced to metamorphose as teapots steaming in the mist. Nothing is as it first appears. The art of the double take is vital to human engagement and intrigue.
Finding a universal language is what the show is all about… whether it is the linkage between ancient Japanese tradition and mathematical multi-vertex constraint equations in Tomiro Tachi’s 2D Origami Teapot… or the connection between Nature and particle primitives set in motion by Andy Lomas to generate artificial life in The Aggregated Teapot. The balance of innovation and stability in evolving structures for global communication is not taken for granted. In Homage to Typography, David Ross builds a history of teapots based on a scholarly and compelling use of archetypal fonts. Copper Frances Giloth exploits computer graphics vocabulary in Alphabet Word Gestures, culled from professional glossaries generally used for SIGGRAPH technical and art journals from 1977 through 2005.
Ultimately, the art exhibition reveals the teapot as a ubiquitous symbol of civilization itself, politically correct in diffusing boundaries between gender, culture, art and science. No wonder that tea has been enjoyed for at least four and a half thousand years, with no sign of diminishing popularity. Apart from water, tea is the most popular beverage in the world. As Jesse Miele confidently affirms in The Common World of Tea, “Tea provides distinctive ways for cultures to connect to other cultures.” What better way to intertwine individual people, companies, and nations in the spirit of SIGGRAPH than with this special celebration of the teapot!
Teapot through the Ages and Teatime with Dr. Martin Newell
Legendary, Historic, Pioneering, Canonical, Iconic… the infamous teapot created by Martin Newell has been sliced, shot, shattered and rendered by the best in the business. The bunny couldn’t beat it, underwater caustics didn’t destroy it, and the Buddha will want to challenge it again. Out of the thirty of fifty most famous papers written in the first twelve years of its inception, the Utah teapot was mentioned only once. Otherwise it just wasn’t there. And it couldn’t hold water, much less tea. Fish (standing on Driskill’s shoulders) gave it a solid bottom in 1992. Now, of course, Newell’s original paper is referenced as one of the two or three most important treatises ever written in the field of computer science.
Since its inception in 1975, the benchmark Utah teapot has become “the” highly recognizable, utilitarian, topographically complex reference for texture mapping, shading, ray tracing, renderosity and other such data. It packs into a small storage space…. and is free (even though Homer Simpson thinks, “It looks really expensive…”). It has interior and exterior concavities and convexities, together with “saddle points” useful in checking algorithms associated with continuing research and development. As a long-standing insider joke in the computer graphics industry, the teapot enjoyed cameo appearances in Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, as well as The Simpsons…not to mention its appearances in the Windows Pipe screensaver and other popular industry products. The highly evolved Utah teapot now boasts retroactive status as the “Teapotahedron, (The Sixth Platonic Solid)”.
Jim Blinn said he “squashed it shortly after Martin created it, as a demonstration targeted to the Department of Defense to get new research funding. They didn’t get it, but they kept the squashed version anyway, about 2/3 the scale of Martin’s original model.” Just goes to show what you can learn by joining a tea party. Trust in the nature of evolution! Knowing this piece of trivia won me “the delightful teapot tile prize” awarded by Peter Shirley during his fascinating lecture. At teatime, Martin Newell was kind enough to sign it by saying “It was my wife’s idea!”, and went on to explain that after donating her original Melitta teapot to the Boston Computer Museum in 1984 (the very one that inspired his own model), that she demanded a replacement. Because of its iconic stature, the once inexpensive pot could only be replaced on e-bay as a collector’s item worth upwards of $350.00… a fact truly appreciated by the growing number of teapot trivia fans… and reinforced by his own infamous remark at a SIGGRAPH presentation in the late 80’s “that of all the things he has done for the world of 3D graphics, the only thing he will be remembered for is That Damned Teapot".
Enjoying the World’s most Popular Beverage with Frank Sanchez
Despite common misperceptions, all the different kinds of tea…red, green, white and black…all come from the same plant. Each tea has its own unique piquancy and provenance. Sri Lanka is the mother lode of the richest and most robust of teas. Tea from Australia has a flavorful nutmeg nuance. Although it was considered unpatriotic during the Revolutionary War for Colonists to drink tea, the love of tea generally crosses all cultural boundaries.
Whether grown in Indonesia, Australia, South Africa, China, Japan or India, the best tea pluckers return to the same rows of tea plants to harvest only the freshest new shoots. Although source is essential to definition, processing systems are key to flavor. Harvested from only the smallest buds, it can take as many as 170,000 pluckings to create the very finest tea. The method of plucking, withering, shaking or rolling, shaping or cutting, oxidation, pan frying or firing (drying), packaging, and final shipping strategies ultimately determine the unique quality and essential character of each tea.
Judging moisture, crunch and aroma are standard esthetic criteria applied to a tea’s potential for sweet, bitter, or tangy flavor. Yet tasteful tea connoisseurship also references brightness, luminescence, sparkle and aroma. (Doesn’t this sound like a wine tasting?) Lu Yu, the Patron Saint of Tea, was famous for testing his tea-time guests by asking if they could judge which water tasted best…. that from the middle of the stream, or that from the edge of the stream? Ultimately, Lu Yu judged, “Tea’s goodness is a matter for the mouth to decide!” Steeped in tasteful tradition, this is the secret of success in the world of tea.
To see the teapots:
A Critical History of Computer Graphics and Animation at: