a a a


Vol.32 No.4 November 1998

The SIGGRAPH 98 Art Gallery: Touchware

Lynn Pocock
New York Institute of Technology

November 98 Columns
Real-Time Interactive Graphics CG Around the World

Lynn Pocock

The SIGGRAPH 98 Art Gallery: Touchware was held July 19-24, 1998, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL. Two-dimensional images, an artist book, installations, three-dimensional art works, an animation and interactive pieces were included in this year’s show. A portion of the exhibited artworks were chosen by a jury consisting of Annick Bureaud, Deanna Morse, Jane Stevens and Stephen Benton. Touchware was chaired by Joan Truckenbrod.

Touchware also hosted a 25th Anniversary Celebration of Pioneering Artists. This portion of the show was curated by Jane Stevens. The artists who were invited to exhibit have all participated in the digital arts community in a significant way in the past. This 25th Anniversary Celebration included older works, as well as recent works by the pioneering artists. The result was a show which was very exciting, and which presented a broad look at the digital arts.

Truckenbrod, who is a Professor of Art at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, approached Touchware with a specific vision. Her intention was for Touchware to “focus on issues of touch in the image, the responsiveness of an artwork through the sense of touch, or the ephemeral sensation of touch in VR, the Internet or telecommunications artworks.” Artists were challenged to “probe the simultaneity of touch as sensory experience, emotional experience or the ephemeral experience of being in touch electronically.”

The two-dimensional images in the show presented a wide variety of content and purpose. The Lacemaker by Victor Acevedo displays a complex layering of three-dimensional synthetic imagery and photographic portrait imagery, creating a juxtaposition of geometry and portraiture, as well as a rich composition of color and texture. While being very contemporary in its overall look and imagery, the artwork alludes to a 17th century painting by Vermeer. A Digital Frottage by Ho presents a very different type of image — an image which is unexpected with respect to the digital arts. The image is an abstract and textural traditional rubbing, created with the assistance of a homemade milling machine and plotter. While the process might be very high tech, the resulting artwork is very tactile, beckoning the viewer to caress its surface. Also worth mentioning are the striking works of Anna Ullrich and Anna Ursyn. Ullrich’s collections of almost-recognizable objects create beautiful, mysterious images which seem filled with meaning, yet which are completely intangible. Ursyn’s No Man No Shadow has a similar elusive quality. Its patterns and textures allude to landscapes — a beach scene, perhaps — and its suggestions of depth challenge the viewer to see well into the picture plane.

Bridging the gap into the realm of three dimensions is Replica by Madge Gleeson, which brings together several images of traditional still life imagery — fruit — real and plastic. There are two printed images of pears accompanied by one lone plastic pear. Large lights are conspicuously mounted to the frames. The combination of the parts creates an artwork which mocks museums and the standard definitions of art.

Touchware also included many interesting interactive artworks; Kage by Motoshi Chikamori and Kyoko Kunoh was one of the most popular. This interactive installation consists of a colorful collection of playful cones, placed in a small circular space on the floor. As participants sit around them and touch the cones, animated whimsical silhouettes are automatically triggered and projected onto the cones. The participants’ own silhouettes are projected as well. The design of the artwork encouraged many viewers to participate at the same time, and some of the artwork’s responses were a result of the simultaneous actions of several participants. Visually, the piece is inviting, and the experience is social and engaging.

Equally engaging was Case Study 309 by Tammy Knipp. This monstrosity of a construction consists of a large black structure with chains which support a large monitor, encased in black. With the assistance of a dolly device, the viewer rolls themselves underneath the structure, and thus faces up into the monitor. The position alone lulls the viewer into complacency, until they are bombarded with the visually unexpected. Case Study 309 is an unusual mix of intelligent and quirky!

The 25th Anniversary Celebration of Pioneering Artists also included a wide range of extraordinary work, and as a result, gave the viewer a wonderful sense of where today’s digital artists have come from. With a visual language uniquely her own, Barbara Nessim exhibited both older and newer prints, which made for an interesting comparison. While her visual vocabulary has endured her artistic development since the 1980s, her images as a whole have become more complex. In Tic Tac Toe, she layers and juxtaposes images to create a marvelous weave of stories, patterns and pictures, which are formally beautiful and which leave the compelling possibility of meaning to the viewer. With a very different artistic statement, Darcy Gerbarg’s Iceclif is a painted abstraction of beautiful color and mesmerizing shapes which bleed together and into the picture plane. The subtlety and complexity engage the viewer at a distance, as well as right at the surface of the image.

Lynn Pocock
New York Institute of Technology
Department of Fine Arts
1855 Broadway
New York, NY 10023

The copyright of articles and images printed remains with the author unless otherwise indicated.

The Celebration also included animation. Copper Giloth’s classic Skippy Peanut Butter Jars is an animation with content which transcends the technology. The story is about a girl who draws naked ladies just like all great artists have done, and then buries them in the ground in Skippy peanut butter jars. Both funny and poignant, this piece is still a pleasure to watch. This curated portion of Touchware was a respectful way of celebrating the talent and vision of the handful of artists who have broken ground and paved the way for today’s digital artists. It also gave the audience the opportunity to see some of these marvelous artworks again.

Overall, Touchware presented an intelligent and sensitive view of the diversity and quality of the digital arts — both past and present. If you missed the opportunity to see the show, you can still view the work in the Touchware Slide Set, the Electronic Art and Animation Catalog and CD ROM, all of which include images from the Art Gallery. These can be purchased from ACM at 1-212-626-0500.

(Editor’s note: Slide set images are reproduced in the paper issue of Computer Graphics. See pages 109-111.)