Bonnie Mitchell - SIGGRAPH 2006 Art Gallery Chair

Interview by Dee-Marie - Guest Columnist

 

This year’s SIGGRAPH Art Gallery Chair is Bonnie Mitchell: an innovative award winning artist, as well as an Associate Professor in Digital Arts (at Bowling Green State University, Ohio). Bonnie sees art and artists through a fresh and imaginative viewpoint, exploring and applying non-static and untried variations of experimental art; then blending and combining that art with traditional and CG art formats. Her works are not only visual delights—they touch all the senses— which makes Bonnie the perfect match for this year’s SIGGRAPH Art Gallery Chair





As a computer art trailblazer it is easy to see why you were appointed this year’s SIGGRAPH Art Gallery Chair. Would you please give our readers a brief explanation of your fascinating project, Experiential Extremism?

Experiential Extremism is a collaborative interactive installation artwork that merges experimental audio and animation to create an immersive environment that evokes the various phases one goes through when undergoing extreme experiences such as bungi jumping. The installation is divided into three physical areas, each representing one aspect of an extreme experience. Phase One, the “psych up” phase, mimics psychological and emotional “states of being” prior to engaging in an extreme event. Phase Two, the “event” phase, abstractly portrays the event itself. Phase Three, the “cool down” phase, represents post-experience reflection. Each phase evolves over time, creating a unique, individualized experience with each visit.

Visual and sonic events are triggered by stepping on electronic pressure sensors placed throughout the installation. The sensors are connected to MakingThings Inc.’s Teleo System, a modular input/output circuit board. Three networked computers running Cycling ‘74’s Max/MSP/Jitter, a real-time processing application, receive and manipulate information from the Teleo System, creating the abstract experience.

One integral element of this installation work is precise integration between the audio and visual elements to create an immersive visual and sonic experience. Elainie Lillios’s electroacoustic sonic events combined with Bonnie Mitchell’s digital animations take participants on emotional and psychological journeys, creating the sense of being immersed in an extreme activity. Gregory Cornelius completes the group by providing the integral technical and interactivity design/support necessary to realize the project.

The user experience involves entering a large room with semi-transparent rectangular monoliths placed throughout. By walking throughout the room you trigger animations created using particle systems, 3D animation and manipulated abstract video. The visuals are projected onto and through the monoliths creating the illusion of animated pillars. The sensors also trigger localized audio from an 8-channel sound system with speakers placed throughout the space. Overall the user is immersed in an environment of abstract sound and visuals. Both Elainie Lillios and myself used the elements and principles of music and art to create the psychological experiences.

The piece won the International Computer Music Association’s Commission Award and exhibited in 2003 in Miami. The piece has also been on display at numerous other venues.

As Art Gallery Chair, what are your main functions?

The most important function is to select a team of talented, reliable and hardworking volunteers with different expertise to work with. The exhibition is a juried show and the jury members were selected because they are internationally known digital artists familiar with the SIGGRAPH art exhibition. Each one represented a different facet of digital art, audio and performance. The Art Papers chair, Paul Brown, is an internationally renowned writer, artist and author. He selected the reviewers for the theoretical papers, managed the review process, and helped edit the content for publication. We have an onsite committee that will take care of the installation and maintenance of the work at the conference and oversee the performances and presentations.

Most importantly, I selected the administrative assistant, Anne Behrnes, who helps me with all aspects of the exhibition. In spring 2004, most of the work involved developing the vision of the show and preparing the Call for Participation. In the fall, I worked with the electronic submission web master to prepare the website for the submissions. In the early spring, Anne and I prepared the submissions for the jury meeting. You can imagine how challenging it was to review 1250 submissions over the course of 4 days.

The rest of the spring was spent editing the artist and technical statements for the catalog, dealing with logistics such as the AV for performances and installation artworks, the presentation and performance schedule, the jurying of the animations and Sketches, the web documentation, the promotional materials, soliciting donations, and planning the arrangement of work in the gallery. It is a massive volunteer job but very rewarding because you get to work with incredible artists from around the world. The downfall is that you become very inspired by the work you see but you are too busy to make art yourself.

How did this year’s entries to the juried art show vary from past SIGGRAPH conferences? Was one theme (realism, abstract, fantasy, landscapes) more prevalent than another?

In general, there were far fewer images that dealt with realism, landscapes, portraiture, and fantasy. Many of the works submitted were abstract or stylized reality. A lot of people submitted series of images, with up to 20 images in the series. I was hoping to have more 3D still images, sculptures and artistic web sites submitted. These areas were under-represented yet we were still able to select some fabulous works to exhibit. There were many interesting art installations submitted that seamlessly merged electronics and video capture with natural and man-made elements. Overall, with over a thousand submissions to review, the jury had to make hard choices. There were plenty of pieces that were really interesting but could not be included because of the limited size of the gallery and budget.

In the Call for Participation, we included a new category called, Electronically Mediated Performances therefore we received a large number of proposals for musical, dance, theater, magic, art and hybrid performances. We also incorporated installation art back into the art gallery whereas in the past few years it has been part of the Emerging Technologies venue. Therefore we received submissions for a lot of really interesting electronic installation artworks that used visuals, audio and electronics in innovative ways.

We received submissions for a large number of 2D images that were created using interesting technology or algorithms as well as digital paintings and image collages. There was a new category called 4D works (motion paintings or time-based wall hung work) therefore we received artworks that changed over time and was not meant to be seen in a theater setting. Web art that merged conceptual and technical innovation as well as sculptures using rapid prototyping techniques were also submitted.

Dreams in High Fidelity © Scott Draves
Permission to publish granted by SIGGRAPH


We reviewed numerous art animations that pushed the boundaries of artistic expression using abstraction, narrative language and metaphor in creative ways. Many of the animations had a heavy focus on the relationship between audio and visual. And we received many submissions that crossed categories and merged media in unexpected ways. With such a large variety of diverse work to choose from, the jury had their work cut out for them. Overall, they selected works that used computer graphics and interactive techniques in creative ways and were conceptually, visually and/or technically really interesting.


Ray Tracings of the In Between: Tractor Space © Shawn Lawson
Permission to publish granted by SIGGRAPH


The art created using Voice over Internet Protocol is intriguing, what is the concept behind VoIP and how is it exhibited within this year’s conference?

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) changes an analog voice to a digital signal that can be sent over the Internet. If you are using a phone to receive the signal, it is converted back to voice at the other end. We have a web art piece in the SIGGRAPH 2006 Art Gallery called Voice Mosaic by Martha Carrer Cruz Gabriel, from the Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil, that uses VoIP. The piece allows users to call into the website using the telephone and select a color tile for their contribution to the mosaic. They can also leave a message that becomes embedded into the artwork. The mosaic is built collaboratively by participants from around the world as they phone in to the site.

What specific kinds of software and hardware are involved in creating 3D sculptures?

The advances in rapid prototyping and production technology have expanded tremendously over the past few years. Not only is it becoming more affordable, but the process is beginning to allow a more flexible choice of materials. The SIGGRAPH artists’ sculptures are created and prepared for the rapid production process using either custom built software, modo, 3ds Max, Maya, Zbrush and/or Magic X for STL file manipulation.

A few of the artists used ProMetal’s Rapid Production process which allows them to output the models directly in aluminum, copper alloys, ductile iron, grey iron, or steel. Other artists used rapid prototyping printers such as Zcorp’s ZPrinter 310 Plus, 3D System’s SLA solid imaging system, then cast the resulting model in bronze and the LOM (layered object manufacturing) process, an old rapid-prototyping process that cuts cross sections of the model on layers of glued papers with lasers.

Mask of Whispers © Gil Bruvel
Permission to publish granted by SIGGRAPH


This year’s panels have an eclectic range of discussions: generative art, interactive spaces, locative media, and pioneering digital art. Can you give our readers a brief synopsis of each?

The Generative and Genetic Art panel consists of pioneers in the field such as Karl Sims, Yoichiro Kawaguchi and William Latham as well as contemporary artists such as Andy Lomas. They will be debating issues such as “chance and creativity” and “can art be an equation?” The use of generative systems has permeated our lives through video games and embedded features in contemporary 3D modeling and imaging systems. This panel will discuss both the historical and contemporary issues involved.

The New Interactions: Communities and Informationpanel consists of experts from Australia and the US such as Ian Gwilt, Melinda Rackham, Paul Vanouse, Ernest Edmonds and Ted Selker. They will be discussing a trend that focuses on community building in information-rich art environments. The panelists have each conducted extensive research on global interaction and will share their experiences on how to use new technologies to create culturally specific yet intimate participatory experiences.

Locative Media: Urban Landscapes and Pervasive Technology Within Art will focus on location-aware technologies and their potential for art. The concept of data always available regardless of where you are opens up new avenues for artistic exploration. Presented by contemporary artists and theoreticians, Michael Salmond, Hasan Elahi, Mike Philips and Carlos Rosas, this panel will discuss the shifting of power and the redistribution of media control in the new world of locative media.

The Beyond Brush and Easel: The Computer Art of Charles A. Csuri from 1963 to present panel is a rare opportunity to hear the pioneering artist, Chuck Csuri speak about his artwork. He will be accompanied by panelists Janice M. Glowski, Margit Rosen, and Bruce Wands, each of which have conducted extensive research on the development of Csuri’s work over the years. This panel will reveal the important concepts and techniques behind the work exhibited in the Beyond Boundaries retrospective exhibition in the art gallery.

Jam'aa for Haile © Gil Weinberg
Permission to publish granted by SIGGRAPH


What exciting revelations will attendees experience this year in the always captivating Art Gallery Sketches?

All of the accepted Art Sketches reveal something about the artwork that cannot be seen by viewing the work. For instance, when you view Shawn Lawson’s Ray Tracing of the In Between series, you would have no idea that he used a hand-held laser pointer to create the rays that were traced by a digital camera in a completely darkened room.

In Jeff Lieberman’s artwork Slink, the viewers in the gallery will be asking, “How did he do that?” Lieberman’s sketch presentation will reveal the fact that he used a voice-coil actuator and twelve banks of 165 strobing LEDs each to create an unbelievable optical illusion.

Nathan Selikoff will disclose that his image is actually an entire evolution of a simulated population of stick figures that have been captured using the concept of “chronophotography” and a technique where by his OpenGL program accumulates the thousands of frames into a single image. These are only a few of the amazing presentations that will add a deeper level of understanding to the work seen in the gallery.

Biophilia © Mark Cypher
Permission to publish granted by SIGGRAPH


There seems to be numerous non-traditional computer generated art featured in this year’s conference. Do you see this as a trend in computer graphics?

The phrase “non-traditional” has always permeated the field of digital art. Over the past decade, mainstream media and the traditional art world have begun to embrace certain types of digital art such as digital imaging, digital painting, and narrative 3D animation but still reject the works that cannot be archived easily and have ethereal non-permanent attributes.

The SIGGRAPH art jury and myself felt that SIGGRAPH needed to look beyond mainstream accepted forms of art and seek out works that pushed the boundaries and merged the technical with the artistic in innovative and creative ways. I have always felt that installation art, electronics and art, 3D imaging and algorithmic art were art forms that could not exist if it were not for the blatant integration of the technical component.

As graphic programs have become widely available and easier to use, we are seeing less innovation in the field of digital arts. It is important for SIGGRAPH to embrace and showcase works that do not follow traditional paths and reveal new, innovative approaches. We are all inspired by our visual environment and experiences. If we are exposed to innovation, we become inspired and strive to create unique approaches in our own work. If we are only exposed to traditional main steam approaches to creating art with computers, we are less likely to know that alternatives are available and acceptable.

Each year the work in the SIGGRAPH Art Gallery is a product of the vision of the SIGGRAPH Art Gallery chair, the selections made by the jury and the artwork that is submitted. I chose to seek out non-traditional works that merged concept, technique and art and design principles in unique ways. It is hard to say what the future of digital art nor the SIGGRAPH art gallery will be, but I hope to always see artists striving to express themselves by pushing boundaries and experimenting with new methods of creating art.

shape.69c © Tim Borgmann
Permission to publish granted by SIGGRAPH


One of the highlights of the conference will be the body of works by the father of digital art, Charles Csuri. Will the artwork on display at the conference reflect his varied styles? Along with his images, will there be an explanation of how each image was created, and the use of AL software?

As well as showcasing the evolution of his work chronologically as well as stylistically, the focus of the exhibition will be educational and informative. Overall, in the entire gallery, we will be including didactic boards with information about the artworks. The Csuri works will be accompanied by text that explains the process, concepts, as well as the innovative and creative aspects of the works. Many of the informational caption boards were written by the artist himself, while others are reflections on the works by others.

The Csuri retrospective exhibition will be an amazing display of work from his earliest transformations and plotter drawings to his recent works on tile and his real-time animations. Many of Csuri’s works are large-scale and very colorful and thus will immerse you in the artistic worlds he creates.

I think this is an extremely important exhibition as it bridges the beginnings of digital art (struggling to demonstrate artistic potential and significance in a mathematically and commercially-driven field) with the future of artistic expression using technology as a medium rather than just a tool. Charles Csuri is an inspiration to many artists around the world. In 1963, he was as obsessed with exploring the potential of computer graphics for artistic expression as he is today. He is always looking at new techniques, digital hardware and software yet never loosing sight of the concepts that drive his work.

With SIGGRAPH expanding its exhibitions and panels each year, can you suggest a strategy for the average attendee to organize their “can’t miss” list? Also, are there unlimited seats open to specific sections, such as the Art Papers’ sessions?

It is always a balancing act trying to see the exhibits, attend sessions, visit with old friends and make new connections all within the week. I would suggest that you visit the Art Gallery and Emerging Technology area Sunday or Monday. There will be less of a line if you wish to participate in the installations and it is far less crowded. By Wednesday, there are many exhibits and installations you will not be able to get close to because of the crowd.

For the first time, the SIGGRAPH Art Gallery is hosting an entire venue dedicated to electronically mediated performances. There are some really amazing performances and seating is limited. The Audio Ballerinas, Paul Sermon and his telematic theater performance and Ben Vigoda’s improv electronic jam session will only be performed on Sunday and Monday.

If you love programming, you shouldn’t miss Ge Wang’s On-the-fly Counterpoint on Tuesday and Thursday—A performance where two programmers create music as they type and project the code in real-time. The world famous Addictive TV (UK) and Palindrome (Germany) will also be performing during the week and should not be missed. Most of the performances are performed twice throughout the week so if you miss one you can try to catch the second performance. The performers will also presenting a Sketch after their first performance to discuss the concepts and technology involved in their work. Overall there are 13 different on-stage performances and 3 off-stage performances.

The Art Gallery and Emerging Technologies venues will be having a reception Sunday afternoon 3:00 to 5:30. This is a great time to meet the artists and mingle with old friends. In the evening, there will be the Kawaguchi Opening Barrel Ceremony at the Marriott.

All presentations have limited seating. Last year I was surprised to see the Sunday morning 8:30 session full with people waiting outside the room to get in. Get there at least 10 minutes early if you really want to see something because chances are, everyone else will want to see it too. If you are looking for a place to escape the chaos, the art animation screening room in the art gallery is a great place to relax and take in some of the most creative and experimental artistic animations produced this year.

Overall, my best advice is to look at the program carefully and mark your calendar with the sessions and events that you really want to see and try to stick with it. It is too easy to get swept away by all the exciting things happening around you. At the end of the week it is common to look back and realize you missed many sessions you really wanted to see (of course you probably saw tons of amazing things you had not planned to see—it’s a trade off). Overall, you can’t go wrong. SIGGRAPH is an awesome event with incredible people. You will have tons of fun and come away inspired, motivated and educated.

Driven 05/06/07/08 © Saritdikhun Somasa
Permission to publish granted by SIGGRAPH


 

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Guest Columnist Dee-Marie

July 10, 2006