Cool Fusion

January 25th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Went to a conference on Saturday that was sponsored by Baker-Nord at Case. It was about digital technologies and contemporary art–their merger and the cool things that emerge from it, the challenges facing contemporary art museums, and creating collaborative communities to support art museums. It was a fascinating conference if for no other reason than the presence of all these people collectively contemplating how collaborative communities can be created to support the creation of new approaches to thinking, addressing problems, making art, working regionally, and bringing people from different disciplines or schools of thought together.

Some of the guest speakers included: Ken Goldberg, Director of the Berkeley Center for New Media at UC Berkeley; Anne Balsamo, Professor of Interactive Media in the School of Cinematic Arts at USC; and Anne Murphy, Co-Chair of the Digital Promise Project.

For Ken Goldberg, one of the most fascinating “installations” he showed was this project he worked on that used the tracking of seismic activity of the earth. He noted that the earth is always moving and, of course, an earth quake in Japan can register in vibrations in the crust here in Ohio, etc., so the earth is this living thing that is constantly moving and reverberating right under our feet (even though we often think of it as just dirt, solid, etc). Regardless, it is constantly vibrating and these vibrations are captured by seismic equipment. Well, I’m not sure how it all came about, but he was next working with a musician, who found a way to amplify these vibrations and essentially turn them into music–live music coming from the earth (it makes me think of whale sounds)–and they created this installation in a museum that people could walk into and then lay down and just listen to the music of the earth. Then, a dancer became interested in it and they took the piece to the San Fransisco Ballet and played, live, the music of the earth while a dancer interpreted it physically. It was called Ballet Mori (which makes me think of Memento Mori, which is more gruesome/depressing). But the whole thing is not only fascinating, but demonstrates in New Media terms, how a project can move from a science sphere to a contemporary art sphere and then into a performing art sphere. Very fascinating and cool.

For Anne Balsamo, I was impressed with her “Reading Wall” which is like a plasma display oriented vertically that can slide horizontally along a timeline and as it passes over a point the plasma display brings up events, descriptions, “tombstones” as in art museums, etc. Her work surrounds new technologies and gender and culture.

Anne Murphy’s talk was about Digital Promise which has been re-named the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies which has received an “authorization” from Congress to exist, but needs an “appropriation” of funds to start. It hopes to be very like what the National Institutes of Health is for health/medicine–only, of course, for Digital Technology–i.e. massive amounts of money to put toward new projects and ideas.

Probably one of the central themes of interest to come out of this day, for me, was the tension between Art and Science. In fact, Goldberg began his talk by drawing attention to the root of each word: Art (ars: Latin, to bring together) and Science (skei: Greek, to cut). I think that is fascinating in and of itself. Nonetheless, this tension that revolves seemingly around the notion that Science is important because it is practical, has utility, has a value that can be concretely demonstrated and felt by all; where as Art deals much more in intangibles and has no perceived practical utility. I have been thinking about this and found myself listening to the moronic ravings of congressional republicans like Duncan Hunter and some other yahoo from Arizona who have been crying about the stimulus package providing $50 million to the National Endowment for the Arts. They all are saying, “what value is this?” They don’t seem to understand that, for instance, in Cleveland, the Cleveland Public Theatre complex on the Detroit Shoreway, in keeping with James Levin’s vision, has re-vitalized an economically depressed neighborhood: arts have the power of economic development. Actors, directors, tech people, writers, musicians, all earn money and pay taxes and buy food and contribute to the economy in other ways, too. The stupidity is staggering.

The confluence of this question and the Cool Fusion conference has me thinking about a play that deals with the issues surrounding Science, Technology, and Art and Jared Bendis and I have started some give and take with ideas. We hope to generate a performance piece this year.

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