Artistic technology provides access

This week’s 5th Star Expo adventures revolved around technology and art. Can I admit that technology annoyes and overwhelms me? It consumes our culture and is so hard to track. Through my adventures, I found the beginning of salvation this week by experiencing delightfully unusual pairings of technology and art.

My favorite story of the week came from Tommy of Roth Robot. I asked him his story of becoming a circuit-bender (see Wikipedia [link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circuit_bending] for a quick definition). He told me that as a child he used to circuit bend without knowing what it was called. He even created a flying helicopter out of his mom’s train set. It wasn’t until years later that he attended a circuit-bending workshop at Lizard Lounge hosted by Patrick McCarthy of RubberMonkey [link: http://www.rubbermonkey.org/] (who would later become his partner in Roth Mobot). As he described what he did with circuits and machinery, Patrick told him, “You are an artist.” Prior to that, he had just thought himself a meddler of machinery.

I was introduced to circuit bending through Patrick who never speaks of the art form without making sure you know that you can do it, too. I love that access he creates. All you have to do is raid a two-year old’s toy chest for all the electronic toys they no longer use, go down to Lizard Lounge on any Saturday at noon, and Patrick will make a circuit-bender out of you. You will have a new musical instrument that will impress your friends and relatives during the holidays.

I found another unusual pairing of art and technology at a lecture we attended on Sunday as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival [linke: http://www.chicagohumanities.org/en/Genres/Arts-And-Architecture/2011f-The-Computational-Artist-Jason-Salavon-in-Conversation-with-Hamza-Walker.aspx]. The artist, Jason Salavon, creates his own software processes to generate art and reconfigure data into new pieces of art. One of his most fascinating pieces is a work commissioned by the U.S. Census, American Varietal [link: http://salavon.com/work/AmericanVarietalPrints/grid/12/]. For this piece, he created a three-dimensional graph of census data from 1790 to 2010. He then color-coded the data by counties, unfolded the graph, manipulated the dimensions, and chose aesthetically pleasing angles to create his art out of data – everyday data. He is working on an interactive piece that will allow people to interact with this beauty and explore the census data for themselves.

I am thrilled about my growing appreciation for the relationships that exist between technology and the arts. Maybe instead of my annoyance at its distraction, I can adopt an inquisitive nature for how technology is being used to draw people into creativity processes. I may hold on to my fear of machines taking over the world. It may be come in handy some day.