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  Reports from SIGGRAPH 2001


by Ben Wyrick
26 July 2002

I can’t say that I’ve ever given my own hair to an artist to be part of a worldwide publicly-accessed digital archive. Nor have I ever hoped for a virtual butterfly to land on my hand’s shadow. But attending this year’s art gallery I had the opportunity to experience both of these situations through some rather untraditional works of art.

The SIGGRAPH ’02 Art Gallery is not your mother’s art gallery. Walking through the gallery you hear strange electronic noises and glimpse LED indicators on laptop computers peeking outfrom behind temporary walls.

The works on display here use nontraditional techniques to create art pieces that are classically beautiful. Paintbrushes have been replaced by ink jet printers. Canvas has been replaced with projection screens. Yet still we find human guidance and creativity behind the lasers and silicon.

Over 60 pieces are on display at the Art Gallery in one form or another. Most galleries use the term “display” but SIGGRAPH’s art show could easily use terms like “now showing,” “currently computing,” “now inflating,” or even “in process.”

A major focus of this year’s Art Gallery is the process of creating digital art and interaction. To accommodate the process-oriented mission, seven artists are designated as “Working Artists,” who turn their space in the gallery into a studio. Visitors to the gallery have the opportunity to watch and learn from the Working Artists as they create digital art. Additionally, works accepted into the gallery are accompanied by a process statement which details the techniques used to create the art.

Visitors leaving the Art Gallery may be inspired to stop by the Studio and create their own art. The Studio was purposefully situated next-door to the gallery to enable SIGGRAPH attendees to become artists.

I spent an afternoon experiencing the Art Gallery. I use the word “experiencing” because “viewing” doesn’t quite cut it. Here are some of the highlights:

3-D / Interactive / Way Out There

* My favorite piece in the show made me feel a tremendous sense of awe and child-like playfulness. “Shadow Garden” created by Zachary Booth Simpson and a loose affiliation of game programmers takes the participant’s shadow and allows it to interact with virtual objects like sand, molecules and butterflies. I watched in wonder as my shadow attracted a butterfly to land in my stationary hand, and then felt a sense of loss as the projected butterfly flitted away. I don’t understand the technical details behind the simulation but the artist statement talks about “integer particle systems using a pressure map to promote plausible diffusion and detect compression.” All you really need to know is that it works like real life and it’s fun to play with.

* The “TextArc” by W. Bradford Paley is a novel method for visualizing language. It can take a book and display every word on the screen. The depiction looks like a jumbled mess at first but the computer finds order in the chaos. It’s really impossible to describe but the program reads through the text sentence by sentence, diagramming connections and associations between words in a mesmerizing visual pattern displayed on the screen.

* The question, “What can a computer know about me” is answered by Ioannis Yessios’ installation, homo indicium. The work invites visitors to surrender personal information and artifacts to the exhibit which are archived by Yessios and displayed on the Internet. The piece collects data such as age, gender, height, weight, fingerprints, voice, hair, etc. Hair is stored in barcoded glass tubes. I pick up a barcode scanner and step up to a lock of brown hair. I know nothing about this hair. Scanning it, I move to a computer which “recreates” the person. I picture her in my mind’s eye. I know her physical attributes, where she was born, where she went to school. I feel I know the person, even though photographs are not collected. Names and addresses are withheld from the public but I don’t mind that. Despite the anonymity I feel like I have made a connection. I neglected to enter myself in the database—it’s a little creepy. I am forced to explore why I think it’s creepy.

* I felt as if I had left the convention center upon entering the darkened room where “After the Hunt” was being displayed. Multiple projectors send beams of colored light throughout the room, illuminating colorless, semi-transparent garments which hang suspended from clotheslines. The clothing sways in the breeze created by computer-controlled fans. A floor composed of Texas straw gives a smell of barns, farms, the countryside. Whispered prose, bird-chirps and environmental noises complete the environment. The piece was created by Carol LaFayette, et al.

* “Front” features two inflatable “ceremonial conflict suits” composed of plastic air sacs. Exploring aggressive and defensive behavior is the motivation behind the piece, which allows two people to suit up, shout into the suit’s microphones, and by the intensity and duration of the user’s voice, cause their suits to inflate and deflate. It’s really hard to describe. The piece was created by an artistic collective known as the Millefiore Effect.


* If evil corporate executives were ever to be reincarnated as insects, I think they would look very similar to Viktor Koen’s portraits of evil corporate executive insects. Koen’s piece, “Transmigration, Cases of Corporate Reincarnation,” combines images of the executives and various tools of their trade in very striking and evilly-beautiful photo illustrations printed on canvas.

* Kenneth Huff draws inspiration from organic forms to create three-dimensional sculptures with Maya which are extraordinarily beautiful. The arrangements take from 200 to 2,000 hours to render and are output as large-scale Lightjet prints on photographic paper.

* Other artists who have created three-dimensional sculptures and then output them as 2-D prints include Mark Stock, Masa Inakage and Kent Oberheu. Their works are phenomenally conceived and executed and are masterful in their understanding of form, composition, color and texture.

* * *

Karen Sullivan, chair of the Art Gallery committee, summed up the methods used by the gallery’s artists: “They never use something for what it’s meant for.”





The Art Gallery at SIGGRAPH provides some of the most memorable experiences at SIGGRAPH.


Great Web Pages for the SIGGRAPH Art Gallery including statements of the Artists and other cool stuff.



Conference Art Gallery Page



Don't miss ET, aka, the Electronic Theatre!



Photos from SIGGRAPH 2002


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