Where My Peeps At? Art in the Tech at SXSWi
As I approached my arrival for the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) festival in Austin, TX, I had three goals in mind: meet people, learn new technologies and get better at what I do. I had been in a funk in the last few months post 2010 01SJ. I wasn’t sure what direction to go into and I needed to address the needs of our audience and to make something dynamic. I wanted to get to know our “community” better. With questions such as who do I need to talk to? Who are you reading this? What do you want to see from me? ZER01 is smack in the middle of Silicon Valley but we still had not had the masses of the art/tech community rallying behind us as much as I had wished.
Over 23,000 people showed up for the Interactive portion of SXSWi. In all my conversations with people 1 out of 3 were from the San Francisco Bay area and several of those from our local technology companies such as Google, VMware, Cisco, etc. The hidden names and faces behind our internet browsers were now my friends and colleagues as we shared experiences listening to amazing music at the Microsoft Explorer Launch Party or sat next to in panels about the future of online gaming. I started to see the community I was looking for. Only this time it was in person and without the impersonal façade of an office space. I saw them in a bar, in a hotel lounge and on the street experiencing the same amazing Austin energy that was buzzing throughout downtown.
Within this crowd were some of our favorite 2010 01SJ Biennial artists such as the Sol Design Lab’s Solar Pump Charging Station, members from the growBot Garden and Canadian Film Center Media Lab just to name a few. Several Solar Pump Charging Stations were dispersed throughout the footprint charging the buzz for the frequent bloggers and app users connecting groups of friends together through the latest crowd messaging app, Beluga. Much of my time was spent with Leonardo Dell'Anno from the Canadian Film Center Media Lab who was promoting CFC Lab Alumni who created the app herd.fm who were in the top 50 of the SXSWi Accelerator competition. It was great to hear updates from Leonardo including news about his short film Tyler being picked up by the Documentary Channel and his new connection with Jodi Foster’s social cause To Write Love on Her Arms, an organization dedicated to helping artists with depression. Although I didn’t get to see Laura Fryes from growBOT Garden I at least did connect with her over Facebook.
Standing in line for the YouTube party I met the digital arts director for Sundance Film Festival who was quite impressed with 01SJ artists Blast Theory. To recap Blast Theory’s project was collaboration between BAMF, ZER01 and Sundance where their work at the biennial would end up at the Sundance Festival. I also was able to connect with our New York Museum of Modern Art friends in the web/digital media department. The bay area has the fortune of claiming one of their crew Lotte Meijer who recently relocated to San Francisco to work for the Exploratorium. In such a small world of New Media art we were all able to connect on common friends such as Scott Kildall and Victoria Scott who made the Trojan Gift Horse at 2010 01SJ.
Several of us Net Art lovers converged at the panel The Future of Internet Art moderated by Rhizome. Unfortunately I must say this was the most disappointed moment of my entire stay. I was excited to hear about what we should expect next for artists working in these new forms using apps, HTML 5 and Social Media. What I got was a series of unimpressive portfolios and very little question and answer. I was not alone in this sentiment. At the end of the panel an audience member spoke what most of us were thinking, that the panel was not interactive and not indicatives of what we all came to hear.
At the end a plea for community came from Art Gallery Chair at ACM SIGGRAPH, Mona Kasra. She came to find her community as well. She had the same questions as I had, where are the artists? Why do we have such low response from our calls for entries? Is Rhizome the answer to this or is there something else? Afterwards I approached her and offered my camaraderie. I let her know that I too was looking and would love to build the global community of though leaders and artists playing with the uncharted territories of technology.
At the end I returned to the Bay Area with a bag full of branded swag and a stack of business cards. I see this pile of clutter as an opportunity to take action and ignite the Silicon Valley in the community I discovered at SXSWi but am continuing at home. I arrived in Austin with obstacles in front of me but I returned with an app to navigate around them.