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Finger on the PULSE
What to know about this year’s PULSE Art + Technology Festival
"Robotic Voice Activated Word Kicking Machine" by Neil Mendoza.

It’s the 13th year of the annual favorite festival.

For over a decade, Telfair Museums has hosted the PULSE Art + Technology Festival, which highlights the intersection of art and tech. Senior Curator of Education Harry Delorme heads the festival each year, exhibiting artists who best exemplify that intersection. The festival runs from Jan. 22-26 and fits a lot of learning into each day.

There are two exhibitions this year.

Last year, PULSE broke from the norm and featured one artist, Japanese video game artist Keita Takahashi. The exhibition was a big success, but Delorme says it’s not typical for PULSE to place so much attention on just one artist.

So, PULSE returns to its usual form this year by hosting two group exhibitions, “Machines of Futility: Unproductive Technologies” and “TechSpace: Second Nature.” They both open on Jan. 23 and are designed to present opposite ends of the spectrum in regards to how technology can be used in our society.

“We’ve got these two different ends of technology. Is it our friend or is it our enemy?” asks Delorme. “Will it end with AI destroying us all, or are we going to use technology to solve all our problems? Or is it somewhere in between?”

First, on the more negative side of the spectrum is "Machines of Futility."

The exhibition asks the viewer to consider the usefulness of technology and features the work of Neil Mendoza, Alicia Eggert, Blake Fall-Conroy and R. Luke Dubois.

“I think some people think technology is a lot more useful than it actually is,” says Delorme. “I think the interesting thing about Neil’s work, and some of the others, is that it gets to this idea that none of us really know what’s going on with some of this technology. Or if we do, we have blinders on.”

Included in the show is Mendoza’s piece, “Robotic Voice Activated Word Kicking Machine,” which highlights the seeming uselessness of voice-to-text technology.

“When we talk into a device, it might as well be a robotic foot kicking our words around, because we don’t know what the process is behind it and we don’t know who’s listening,” says Delorme.

"Minimum Wage Machine" by Blake Fall-Conroy.

Fall-Conroy’s “Minimum Wage Machine” is particularly relevant here in Georgia, where the minimum wage is quite low. The viewer has to crank the machine to dispense minimum wage in pennies, which of course is a timely statement.

Dubois’ “Learning Machines” is made of altered voting machines, also a relevant issue in Georgia right now with the introduction of new voting machines later this year. Dubois used analog voting machines to comment on the illusion of choice.

“You may be voting for something like ‘us or them,’ but he’s making the choice of what you’re voting for,” explains Delorme. “Do we have a choice, or is this an illusion of choice?”

Eggert’s piece, “Now,” comments on the futility of capturing a present moment by using constantly moving clock hands to spell out the word “now.”

“Her work is a lot about language, but this one seemed to tap in to this idea of futility, because how do you represent the current moment that’s constantly racing past us?” says Delorme. “It’s a very poetic sort of piece.”

Next, "Second Nature" is a bit more optimistic.

This exhibition brings back festival favorites Max Almy and Teri Yarbrow.

“We’re really lucky to have them here in Savannah,” says Delorme. “They’re working with the tree of life, and it will be a projection sculpture hybrid, but on top of that they’re adding an augmented reality experience, so there will be video content that comes out of the work through augmented reality.”

Daniel Rozin is also included in this exhibition. Known for his mechanical mirrors, Rozin brings “Sunset Mirror,” where the sun sets as you walk towards your reflection.

"Sunset Mirror" by Daniel Rozin.

“It’s kind of an interesting statement,” says Delorme. “We’re walking towards the sunset. Is this an ominous thing, like humanity walking towards its own demise?”

There’s also plenty of virtual reality experiences, including the first ever VR footage of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary and a piece called “Immerse” by a group called The Hydrous.

One of the purposes of PULSE is to encourage STEM and STEAM participation in youth.

“When I program this, I’m trying to think of things that are, if possible, family-friendly and something that younger folks can connect to,” says Delorme. “One of the real goals of PULSE is to be inspiring. We certainly want to support efforts towards STEM and STEAM education in Savannah, so I think that’s something we’ve really focused on for a long time. We’ve tried from the very beginning to involve young students in the programs.”

There’s a full roster of daytime events and workshops.

In keeping with the education component, PULSE has plenty of workshops and panels that include the exhibiting artists whenever possible, as well as local experts. One such panel is “Tech Talks for Students: Technology, Design and Climate Change” on Jan. 24, where Dr. Russell Clark of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Dr. Catherine Edwards of the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography will speak.

“I want to show students how people in our community are using technology creatively to address real-life issues, real problems, and hopefully inspire them to think about these things,” says Delorme. “We certainly want to encourage them to creative careers and careers in STEM and all those good things.”

In keeping with local love, the Chatham County Free Family Day and STEAM Expo will feature demonstrations by students of Heard Elementary, Savannah State University and SCAD. There will also be a youth poetry slam with interactive visuals presented by Deep to close out the festival.

The opening reception is a must-attend event.

PULSE opens Wed., Jan 22 with a bang. Delorme will host a panel with Mendoza, Eggert and Dubois, and local artist John Colette will show projections created with data from the trees in Telfair Square. The event is free for museum members and $8 for non-members, which is still a great deal for an event like this.

Admission is free for all Savannah and Chatham County residents and students with an ID.

Yes, really: if you’re a local or a student with a valid ID, you can go to PULSE for free, so take advantage of the opportunity to see this festival for yourself.