By Cat Gilbert
The inaugural LISA 2012 (Leaders in Software and Art) brought together a mix of students, professionals and artists at the Guggenheim this past October to discuss the opportunities and the pitfalls within the realm of software and electronic art. A one day conference that was packed to the gills that founder Isabel Walcott Draves, admitted “next year, we’re going to hold a 2 day conference.” Keynotes were given by Laurie Anderson and Scott Snibbe (creator of Bjork’s Biophila.)
The morning started with an introduction from Draves and the first panel “Collecting New Media Art” which mostly focused on galleries supporting new media artists. While there were interesting and valid variations on what artists sell in this genre, many of the gallery owners admitted collecting and selling new media art is difficult and often molded back into forms of traditional consumer engagement: limited run prints, books, videos etc. They also noted the unique problem of deprecation and works being unviewable once a technology becomes obsolete.
Following was a keynote from Laurie Anderson, whose credentials include NASA’s first (and last) artist-in-residence and well-known musical/artistic innovator. Laurie is an endearing speaker, talented technological artist, and her ability to “break-down” what is sometimes a complex art form is at the heart of why she was keynote at this conference. In speaking about her 2005 World Expo project “Hidden inside Mountains” Laurie zooms through slides, joking about her “hellish” interpretation of the landscape. She also made some mention of her conflict with encouraging young artists at college commencement speeches, in the face of increasingly tough economic conditions for artists.
After Laurie’s speech came the first round of lighting talks. Some of the most interesting insights and projects came from Martin Wittenburg, Philip Stearns, Sophie Kahn, Tristan Perich, Eric Sanner, Claudia Hart, and Jake Barton. Each had a unique perspective on how to utilize technology whether it be through sight, sound, or even emotional response. Some notable pieces include Perich’s well-known compositions using one bit sounds to distort our “reality” of hearing, (see Interval Studies) and Claudia Hart’s avatars plunge into the aspects of the uncanny valley and the idea of “reanimation” and “capture” that is at once both disturbing and fascinating.
Following the first round of lighting talks, the 2nd keynote address was given by Scott Snibbe. Known as the creator of Bjorks’ interactive album Biophila and currently at work on an app for Philip Glass’s music, Snibbe’s speech was interesting not only in the demonstration of the projects themselves, but in his tough questions about distributing new media art. Snibbe concedes that apps pose the problem of being somewhat gimmicky and proposed creating new, smarter, more complete apps, and perhaps less of them. Certainly that coming out of the mouth of someone who has made a career creating apps must be taken with a grain of salt, but for that same reason, taken seriously. Biophilia is the work of someone with a great love and understanding of the inner working of virtual space.
The 2nd panel of the day focused on creative coding tool kits. Moderator Golan Levin begin with a “builder” apropos quote attributed to Abraham Maslow “To a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail…” In general, the discussion focused mostly on displays of what the programs can do as well as the community usage of the programs. The evolution of programs like MAX from Toni Dove to Luke Dubois’ “Hindsight is Always 20/20” is fascinating. Andrew Bell’s commentary on CINDER was also intriguing not only due to the intricacies of the program itself but also due to CINDER being mostly used for advertising purposes. With a palpable sense of duality Bell spoke of the potential but also the limitations to the mass public in comparison to Zach Liberman’s encouragement of something like Open Frameworks being all about community participation.
Following was the 2nd round of lighting talks which typically included more physically manifested ideas. There were notable talks from Kenji Williams, Golan Levin, Mark Shepard as well as Ann Spalter, Karolina Sobecka, Mary Huang, and Kurt Ralskie. The panel was interesting juxtaposition for later questions of how software and media art is producible and profitable within a consumer art world (a question that arose more specifically in the 1st panel “Collecting New Media Art” and most prominently in the last panel “Software Art and Art Establishment.”) Golan Levin, and Huang focused on, among other things, creating clothing and “spare parts” out of 3D printers, while musician Kenji Williams played a brief piece from his (hopefully) Broadway bound work, Bella Gaia, a love letter to the Earth, with a timely focus on the effects of climate change.
The 3rd Panel (Crowdsourced and New Media Art) included Scott Draves (creator of The Electric Sheep), Melissa Mongiat and Mouna Andraos (Daily Tous Les Jours), Jason Eppink (MOTMI) and Fernanda Viegas. Eppink’s projects focused on social trends and engagement from the physical to the screen, including meme based projects and the reanimator lab. Daily Tous Les Jours’ engagement in crowd participation (see swings) through physical manifestation of technology initiated the question, is crowd sourcing for the “crowd” or about the “crowd?” Other main points included, monitoring trolling and software hacks on crowd sourced work, as well as the authenticity of data collected in crowd sourcing. Viegas’ collaborative project with Martin Wittenberg, Wind Map (left) was also seen this last week in lieu of Sandy and displayed effectively how aggregation can be put to use.
“Media Art and the Art Establishment” was the final event of the day and palpably the most anticipated. Panel members included Amanda McDonald Crowley, Christiane Paul, Barbara London, Marius Watz, with painter with critic Ken Johnson as moderator. Discussion focused on s/e artists struggle for acceptance and placement in an community that sometimes lacks resources to provide the proper staff, technology, and in rare cases, understanding of the work itself. Interesting points included, how shows are curated for anthologies and books. There was a larger discussion about documentation of new media shows and panelist, Marius Watz, lobbied for his show (Electra-Oslo, 96′) as a forgotten precursor to many of the larger scale media shows curated today. In contrast to this debate, one main point that unfortunately was not addressed was media art in relation to public accessibility By nature there is some exclusion to those without access to certain tools. That being said, it would be wrong to shame this area of the art world for exclusion, as digital art has really only become viably “popular” within the last decade or so and is still evolving and working towards end goals of inclusion for all, or sometimes inclusion at all. More and more efforts are made for public dissemination within schools and it was good to see LISA offer scholarships to students to attend. It would be amazing to see future conferences offered in conjunction with public interactions and displays with the art. Both things that would raise public awareness of and increase understanding of this art form. As this was the first LISA conference the wealth of successful new media artists, information, and discussion it delivered was truly satisfying. The talent and minds going into creating digital terrains and interactions is every bit as captivating as the strokes of a master painter, or the strikes of a master sculptor. Beyond that, there lie dimensions with media art, that are able to document and rethink the world unlike any other art form and if it is explained to and engages both artist and audience without exclusion, the possibilities for creation are endless.