I missed the first day of Zero1 due to an flight scheduling snafu that was totally my fault. From the reports I’ve read and the people I’ve talked with, it sounds like I missed out on some cool stuff. That said, I did make it to San Jose early yesterday morning and visited a few of the exhibitions. Rhizome already has some great coverage so I am not going to duplicate their thoughts.
Having not read much before visiting, I was expecting the exhibition to be very much in the realm of new media and digital technology as the primary focus. The show straddles the fence between technology as a driving factor in the creation of work, vs digital technology as the being only an enabling factor in much of the work. Its a good balance that seems to accurately represent the way many new media artists think; they dabble in many forms.
I would best describe Tantalum Memorial by Harwood, Richard Wright, Matsuko Yokokoji as a monument to retro computing, but it’s meaning makes it more solemn and morbid. It consists of several strowger switches, which a computer dials into and plays back recorded messages from London’s Congolese community’s circulating conversations. Strowger switches were the mechanical devices invented by Almon Strowger to replace human telephone operators. Strowger switches use Tantalum, as do many modern day electronics, including cell phones. Tantalum is mined in Congo, and is the source of considerable strife there, causing the deaths of many thousands in wars relatively underreported in western media. You can listen to the recording on a set of headphones. The sound of the switches echos through the gallery as if counting the rising death toll.
Global warming and climate change are themes that loom large in this exhibit and Zero1 in general. Rising North by Jane Marsching and the two other works by her address global warming more directly than perhaps any other work in the festival I’ve seen so far. The work consists of a almost sci-fi video showing the sea levels around the world rising, the mega-cities of the world shrinking and eventually being encased in some sort of biosphere and floatation device. The encased cities then move and converge at the north and south polls, the places on earth that will remain suitable for human habitation when much of the temperate zones become too warm. Watching the work, I can’t help but be both fascinated by the idea of moving entire land-masses and horrified that rising sea levels and temperatures is a future we are destined to see.
Ways to Wave is a virtual and physical sculpture; it exists both in the gallery and in a different form in Second Life. Participants in the gallery move the petals of the flower-like interface in the gallery, which effects a scene in Second Life projected on the screen just behind the sculpture. The movement of the petals also impacts a changing audio composition. There is supposed to be a way to visit the sculpture in Second Life, but I haven’t attempted that. It is an interesting way to bridge the physical and the virtual, and I’m always a big fan of work that encourages you to interact with it.
If/Then is Piotr Szyhalski’s contribution to the exhibition and the festival. Installed in the gallery and in changing locations around the festival are dispensers that drop leaflets designed by Szyhalski. The leaflets reference leaflets distributed by the US Military’s Psyops department in the Iraq and Afghanistan War. Visitors are encouraged to take some leaflets of leaflets that drop onto the gallery floor. The set of leaflets I received have the text “ Honor will never be regained, no matter what the cost”, printed in both arabic and english on the back, with pictures of Saddam Hussein and Thomas Jefferson on the front. The dual meanings of this are disturbing if unavoidable; Saddam Hussein will be remembered by many as a disgraced dictator, and the US has lost much of it’s honor and credibility in the world because of the war our government started in Iraq.
I’ve got a few more posts in store about the festival, so stay tuned.