This is the sixth year of the Pulse Art + Technology Festival at the Telfair, and the incredible artists just keep pouring in. From world renowned creators to up and coming students, the range of perspectives, experiences, and commentary is growing rapidly.
Interactive art is not a new concept. It first appeared (arguably) in Duchamp’s “Rotary Blades” in the 1920’s, and the digital side of interaction spread full tilt in the early 90’s. But for some reason, there still seems to be a kind of fourth wall surrounding all artwork that requires people to stand up and play. Why? Maybe it’s something to do with the aristocratic and exclusive atmosphere that still cloaks museums today. Pristine stretches of white walls and burly security guards giving you the eye. For the everyman, art is still surrounded by electric fences. It’s still up on pedestals. But this festival is the answer. This is the type of festival that our city needs.
When I arrived at the Notational Field installation by Detroit based artists Annica Cuppetelli and Cristobal Mendoza, the room was absolutely silent. There were about fifteen SCAD students sitting on the floor, and no one was moving. If no one moved, the art didn’t move. But for some reason everyone was taking notes judiciously on an interactive piece that everyone was too afraid to interact with. Do you see the problem here?
The installation is made up of strung elastic cords mounted on the wall while a computer-generated video of those same cords is projected onto them. When any movement is registered in front of the projector the lines in the video bend and warp accordingly, waving like thin strands of hair as the projection interferes with the strings and their shadows. But here, everyone sat still. No motion. No art. In either sheer boredom or frustration, the security guard ran in front of the strings, waving her arms and moving the piece finally. The optical effects swelled and ebbed, and an almost monochromatic, metallic color shone around the edges like the colors of an oil slick.
Cuppetelli and Mendoza made this work to explore relationships between humans and computers, between the real and the virtual, between perceptions and perspectives. The very problem they addressed sat in the room with the solution. This festival needs to happen over and over until not a single person has a second thought while wildly running back and forth across a museum. We’re getting there.
Local artist Ross Fish is also attempting to topple this sort of timid reaction to art with his interactive installation, A Breath of Fresh Air. The piece consists of containers filled with water which conduct electricity, grounded with a metal plate in the center. When the connection is bridged between the voltage and the ground, the computer converts it to original music and lights. The installation becomes interactive when people act as wires in the circuit, expanding this bridge by touching each other and conducting electricity, with different noises and pitches resulting from the different positions and placements of bodies. This city needs the Pulse Festival because we need to take technology back, and Fish’s goal is just that– retooling technology to bring us back together:
“I feel as if today we’ve created all these new incredible technologies to try and unite the world, and as a result we’ve put two dimensional barriers between ourselves and the people in front of us. We have iPads and iPhones and computers separating us from the people that are across the table. What we should be doing is breaking down these barriers and reintroducing ourselves to our physical environment.”
We need to break down the fourth wall of sterile museums and engage, and this festival is the first step. This new era of art is important because it demands of us. It embraces us. It pulls us out of our cubicles and bedrooms and anxieties and makes us a part of something. So next time you’re in a museum, don’t hesitate. Touch things, feel things; run across the gallery, make noise when it’s begging to be made. Take art and technology back.