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  Reports from SIGGRAPH 2001

Interview: Karen Sullivan , Art Gallery Chair

By Ben Wyrick
25 July 2002

It’s not easy running the world’s premier computer graphics art gallery, even if it is only open for a week. The responsibility of orchestrating the myriad elements responsible for a gallery—artists, jurors, technicians, donors—falls upon the chair of the Art Gallery, Karen Sullivan.

“Everyone tells you how much work it is but they never tell you how much fun it is,” Sullivan says of her sizable undertaking. Sullivan and a crew flew into San Antonio on Wednesday night. The next morning they began directing the construction of the art gallery (walls, lighting, carpet, etc.) and by Sunday the gallery was populated with artwork and open for business.

The Art Gallery features over 60 works, ranging from two-dimensional still images to interactive, three-dimensional virtual reality installations. Sullivan explains that chairing the gallery committee is a volunteer position which is usually only held once to promote fresh ideas. “Everybody says ‘I can’t believe you’re doing it for free,’” Sullivan quips, but is quick to add that the reward is worth the work. When asked her opinion on other areas of SIGGRAPH, Sullivan was unable to talk in detail about favorites: “When you’re chairing a venue, you don’t get out very much.”

Sullivan entered the computer graphics world in 1981. At the time she was a printmaker in the art department of Indiana University, working mainly on etchings of women’s clothing. She took a FORTRAN class and decided she wanted to use the university’s plotter to make prints of her work. The only problem was that the plotter belonged to the computer science department. Undaunted, Sullivan routinely offered bribes to the plotter technician. A “3 Musketeers ™” bar for the technician and a yellow pen to replace the green pen on the plotter (for better color mixing) proved to be an effective strategy.

Sullivan began her involvement with SIGGRAPH in 1994 as the conference newsletter cover editor. She continued to work for the newsletter for several years and also worked on the art show subcommittee in 1997. Over the years her development as an artist has shifted focus from electronic installation work to more traditional techniques: “I use pencils a lot lately.”

Sullivan says her early electronic work was hard to maintain and expensive to finance. Nowadays she has less time for complex art due to family and professional commitments. Sullivan lists such artists as Charles Csuri, Copper Giloth and Donna Cox as being influential to her artistic development.

Looking at long-term trends in computer art, Sullivan observes an ebb and flow between technological innovation and content. In the past, technology outpaced content, but now Sullivan believes technology is a foundation for art and what the artist is trying to say is more important than the technology itself.

Sullivan currently teaches in the computer animation department at Ringling School of Art and Design.

Karen's Art Gallery

People make SIGGRAPH what it is. Here a small sampling of the people here in 2002





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Jan Hardenbergh
All photos you see in the 2002 reports are due to a generous loan of Cybershot digital cameras from SONY