The PULSE Festival opens this week at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center for the Arts on Thursday, January 30 with an opening reception featuring work and appearances by artists Rafaël Rozendaal, Annica Cuppetelli and Cristobal Mendoza, as well as a musical performance by psychedelic rock group Chalaxy. The festival is in its sixth year of presenting art that utilizes technology to provide immersive and interactive experiences for the viewer. Senior Curator of Education and creator of the festival Harry DeLorme took a moment this week to chat with SAI Editor-in-chief Kayla Goggin about this unique event and its impact on the Savannah community.
Kayla Goggin: This year is the sixth PULSE Festival the Jepson Center has presented. What inspired you to create the event?
Harry DeLorme: I’ve been interested in showing digital art for many years, since the early 2000s. Before the Jepson Center opened we showed work by Jennifer Steinkamp and Cultural Alchemy. For the Jepson Center, which opened in 2006, our education team and exhibit designers created a 2 floor interactive children’s museums space. Adjacent to that I wanted to show new media work. We started by showing interactive video and programming began in 2007. So PULSE really started in 2007 but we called it “art and technology week.” By 2008 we included multiple installations and the audience really began to grow.
KG: What makes the experience of going to the PULSE festival different from what patrons might expect from a typical visit to the Jepson center?
HD: At the Jepson Center the Telfair presents a diversity of art – from Near Eastern art to works from the Uffizi Gallery last year, silver, early 20th century Spanish paintings of Robert Henri, along with contemporary art. PULSE is a little different because there is usually an element of interactivity with the work, and there are often sound elements – so they are often noisier!
KG: As the creator of the festival and head of the Educational department of the Jepson Center, what is your process for choosing the lineup of artists and collaborators each year?
HD: I look for artists who have the ability to connect with a diverse audience, an audience not necessarily made up of folks who go to contemporary art galleries. I’m after art and performances that are accessible but have conceptual underpinnings and substance.
HD: I love the whole DIY/maker movement, and I think things are moving in a good direction in Savannah, particularly with the awesome new STEM Academy and plans for maker spaces locally. I’m really pleased that the STEM Academy students have participated in our workshops I think a big difference this year is that all of the works on view for PULSE are interactive. In the past we have had a mix of interactive an non-interactive works. I’m also excited that we will be showing works produced in schools – we will be showing games made by STEM Academy during our family day.
KG: You also spoke in that article about experimentation and creative problem solving as one of the major similarities between the arts and sciences. The Festival offers workshops and classes to the public each year that deal specifically with those themes. What can we look forward to from this year’s workshops?
HD: Our workshops actually began before the festival proper, so several have taken place. In workshops we are introducing kids to technologies like Makey Makey and 3D printers that allow for creative exploration. I hope to expand those next year. I am excited that we will be showing video and GIFs made by students in PULSE workshops this year. Those works will be projected on the walls and windows of the Jepson Center as part of the Bring Your Own Beamer event on Feb. 1.
KG: You’ve also commented that you see creating/tinkering as a means of empowerment and community building. How might the PULSE workshops have a lasting effect on the Savannah community?
HD: After a 3D printing workshop last year at Armstrong, the school purchased another 3D printer which was used in this year’s workshop and two generous individuals have offered to set Telfair up with 3D printers for future programs. Our Makey Makey workshop was attended by some of the students from the STEM Academy, who will be working with this same kit at the school later this year, so I think it was a good introduction. We are also showing more work from student workshops this year in the museum. I see PULSE as just one part of a larger movement in Savannah alongside other programs in the community that introduce youth to technology (AWOL, STEM academy, etc.) I think there are plans for a youth component to the Geekend when that comes back.
KG: Since the inception of the Pulse Festival six years ago, have you noticed any significant shift in the art world in terms of its connection with the digital?
HD: Definitely. New media artists such as Leo Villareal who showed during PULSE two years ago and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, who showed at SCAD a while back are highly sought after. I think also that parts of the art world are seeking the kind of crowd-drawing spectacles that are made possible by technology, for example rAndom International’s Rain Room installation at MOMA. I’m proud that we’ve done several exhibitions of video games and game art installations – games have recently begun to make their way into museum collections (again MOMA). Even locally there is more digital art on view. SCAD Museum shows media art regularly. Erin McNeil had a great show of GIF works at Non-Fiction Gallery this past fall and the Medeology Collective has a great offsite PULSE show on view at Indigo Sky Community Gallery this week thanks to Jerome Meadows who has partnered with the museum for PULSE several times.
KG: Artists like Rafael Rozendaal seem to be offering real, concrete solutions to problems of ownership and commerce in the evolving art world. How do you think changes to our digital world will effect the art economy of the near future?
HD: I think it could be a very liberating thing and that Rafael’s practice is one potential model of ownership, akin to owning a piece of public art. I also like the way that his works transition from the web to physical installations and most recently, lenticular “paintings” which are physical objects.
KG: Art that responds to its audience is a major feature of this year’s festival (I would cite Annica Cuppetilli & Cristobal Mendoza‘s interactive projection sculpture specifically) – In the past, have you observed any unexpected or surprising audience reactions?
HD: To me audience behavior is one of the most interesting things about interactive work. Last year people we smiling and waving to the robotic skeleton arms in Hye Yeon Nam’s work (though that was the type of behavior needed to activate the piece). I’ve seen video of people dancing in front of Cuppetelli and Mendoza’s work, so in some works there’s an opportunity for creative interaction on the part of the public. I also like the way that interactive work breaks down the usual museum behavior. Last year, legendary game designer Keita Takahashi was here for the 3D PacMan installation. He brought pillows in from his hotel room and people we lying all over the floor playing PacMan in the ceiling.
KG: You mentioned in a recent blog that “The dark side of digital infiltration into our lives will be addressed by Savannah/Atlanta artist group … the Medeology Collective“. What do you see as the “dark side of digital infiltration”?
HD: I would think both the revelations of widespread government and corporate surveillance of civilians (which is what the MC piece is addressing) or the massive hacking and theft that happened over the holidays.
KG: With the face of our digital world evolving constantly (and not necessarily for the better – would you like to comment on the recent passing of laws concerning Net Neutrality?) how do you see those changes effecting our physical world?
HD: There are others who could speak to that issue more eloquently than I can, but the recent court rulings don’t bode well for most of us.
KG: What do you hope patrons of the PULSE Festival will leave with?
HD: A smile – and an interest to try to do something creative and cool.
SAI will be providing coverage of the PULSE opening reception as well as the January 31 performances by Adam Matta and the Medeology Collective. You’ll also see us at the February 1 performance by KidSyc and the “Bring Your Own Beamer” event so stay tuned! For a full schedule of PULSE events, click here.