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Five days of cutting-edge cyber culture at the Jepson
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SINCE 1886, the Telfair Museum of Art has played host to countless exhibitions of fine artwork in a variety of styles and mediums, such as painting, sculpture and paper. Since 2006, the Telfair’s latest addition, the Jepson Center for The Arts, has displayed more contemporary work.

With a keen eye to both the present and the future, the Jepson celebrates it’s 2nd Annual Technology & Art Week: an in-depth and multi-faceted peek into the ever-growing retro-nouveau world of electronic and computer-based creativity.

Some of the artists and movements represented throughout this five-day series of lectures, installations, music concerts, workshops and film screenings include: Hunter College Professor Mary Flanagan, a pioneering essayist and activist designer/programmer; Dan Schiffman, a NYC-based video and computer graphics artist; Matthew Akers, a locally-based “circuit bender”; Nullsleep, a prominent figure in the world of “chiptune” music (played on older, hacked Gameboys and Nintendo units); and Andrew Schneider, who’s been featured in both the New York Times and Wired Magazine for his unique Experimental Devices for Performance —including wireless shoes which make music and special “video masks” which allow wearers to “trade expressions.”

The Telfair’s Senior Curator of Education, Harry DeLorme, says such art forms have finally begun to come into their own after years on the fringes of the art world.

“This is a phenomenon that artists have really begun to explore over the past decade. ‘Nullsleep’ is a great example. Around 1999 he formed a collective mainly to produce and distribute chip-based music.

“There are other artists who will actually disassemble the videogames themselves to exploit the bugs and faults in their programming. They tweak them so they produce visuals and sounds the games’ developers never meant us to see. This is how contemporary artists have responded to the popularity of videogames. They use the games and machines as a medium.”

DeLorme, who conceived and oversaw the Jepson’s first Technology & Art Week last year, says that although the museum took a while to embrace some of these new media, it is now enthusiastically promoting awareness of such works, and will likely become increasingly committed to archiving such work for posterity.

“Until now, the museum has not really collected new media works. That’s something we’ll surely be addressing in the future. We should be showing the work of our times. Artists are not just using bronze or clay or paint these days.”

DeLorme says that many of these cutting-edge artists are choosing to exploit both the quick pace with which videogame and computer technology advances, and the aspect of today’s culture which finds many folks scurrying to upgrade to the latest and greatest devices, at the expense of older —yet still functioning— equipment and software.

“The chiptune movement takes advantage of this fast development,” he explains. “They gather up old, discarded gear that’s left behind. They take apart cast-off computers and game systems and use them for their own artistic ideas.”

“For example, some artists have developed software which allows you to ‘infiltrate’ online war games and spray paint anti-war propaganda like heart symbols and teddy bears onto the buildings and tunnels other people’s characters are fighting in! That’s one example of creative and subversive ways in which people use technology to challenge the way we all think.

“If you look for them, there are lots of projects that are true crossovers between science and technology and the fine arts. Some relate to genetics, biology and robotics — elements often found in entertainment or videogames. That’s our focus this year, but the Jepson could easily touch on other aspects that artists are delving into.”

DeLorme says the initial idea behind this event was merely to show off the Jepson’s Technology Gallery, but the overwhelmingly positive response they received last year shows a great interest in our community for work of this nature year-round.

“For example,” he relates, “Dan Schiffman’s pieces at the Jepson are extremely popular. People of all ages are drawn to them. They like being able to interact with the artwork. They’re not just observing it, they’re taking part in it. Our Children’s Gallery and Technology Gallery function alongside each other. They’re both examples of giving the viewer a more interactive experience in our museum.”

At last year’s Tech Week, over 600 people turned out for the Jepson’s Family Day event, which included a concert by celebrated chiptune musician Bubblyfish. DeLorme says that with the increased awareness of these new styles of art, he is expecting as large a crowd for some parts of this year’s event — if not larger.

“There’s definitely interest in this from elementary school kids up through college students. That’s one of the rationales for showing this videogame-based work. It’s a major part of our culture right now. It’s useful to see how artists exploit that as a medium and what it says about how we as a society look at and question technology Plus, kids are naturally into technology.”

Understandably, DeLorme is enthusiastic about most every aspect of this intense, five-day showcase, but, when prodded, he lists a couple of specific exhibits or performances he is especially looking forward to.

“Well, I’m excited about Nullsleep, and to see what Matthew Akers will come up with. He’s opening for Nullsleep, demonstrating a circuit bent Atari system. That’s a new approach to repurposing old videogames to make new and unusual sounds. I’m also anxious to see Mary Flanagan, who’s written eloquently about games and cyber culture and how they affect our view of the world in a larger sense. I may be biased, though. (laughs) Again, I find these things interesting.”

So, to quote the Jepson’s own ad pitch for this event (“Unleash Your Inner Geek!”), does that mean DeLorme himself is a closeted geek? Or does he merely have Geek Pride?

“It’s more like geek envy or something,” he says with a hearty laugh.

For a schedule of Technology & Art Week events (all of which are free to the public, but some of which require registration), see Week at a Glance.