michael naimark




Beaux-Arts conference, Paris

Michael Naimark


The conference was called "L'Oeuvre d'Art a l'Epoque de sa Realite Numerique" was organized by Beaux-Arts, Pompidou Centre, and Universities of Paris I and VIII. I was invited to be a panelist. This was a very French conference, with only five non-Parisian panelists. Most of the panelists were either high-tech producers, academic philosopher-critics, or artists caught in the middle.

I'm always amazed at how the Europeans maintain a cordial and open but unstable equilibrium between the art critical thinkers and the art techno-yahoos, while here the two camps live mostly on different planets. The critics wave literature by Foucault, Heidegger, and Adorno while the technos wave Sutherland, Papert, and Minsky. In the U.S. both sides draw blanks about the others' heros, while in Europe both sides appear to be better informed. And more confrontational.

My panel included a very critical and smug philosophy professor from Paris VIII followed by a very fast (English) speaking LA multimedia producer and ending with me (mostly but not entirely in English - translations were distributed in advance to the audience).

I gave my rant on "Presence at the Interface," suggesting that a good way to understand new paradigms of place is to understand old ones. This was essentially the same talk I gave at "Cyberarts" in LA last fall. Both audiences were about 200 people. I did my audience poll, to show hands for who has:

- email (Beaux-Arts: 20%; Cyberarts: 70% - these are my best approximations);

- seen an IMAX, Showscan, etc., large-format film (Beaux-Arts: 40%, Cyberarts: 80%);

- used VR goggles or booms (Beaux-Arts: 30%, Cyberarts: 80%);

- have decided where their remains would be scattered or buried after they die (Beaux-Arts: 5%, Cyberarts: 5%).

This last question always elicits amusing responses. For one thing, those who raise their hands raise them with no hesitation and with pride. Everyone else appears shocked and/or amused. (The point I'm suggesting is that our sense of place is uniquely different from everyone who lived, say, more than 100 years before us, anywhere, since virtually everyone died within a few miles of where they were born.) The I showed 14 minutes of videotape (of 9 projects) during my 20 minutes. It appeared to be well-received.

To this crowd, the hottest place right now has to be the Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, particularly Jeffrey Shaw, a longtime Amsterdam artist who now runs the ZKM Media Arts program. Jeffrey has been making interactive computer-graphic art installations going back to Apple II days (working with 100 straight lines) and using half-silvered mirrors and sometimes projecting on the floor - very environmental stuff. His most well-known works, both using SGI personal IRISes, are a bicycle interface to a virtual city of spatialized text and a rotating chair-and-display system for navigating through a "virtual museum."

The next most interesting place is CANADA, as a whole (which I may guess is due to a North American sensibility minus the abysmal US arts funding situation). Works from the McLuhan Program of the University of Toronto and the Banff Centre for the Arts were shown. Derrick de Kerckhove, Director of the McLuhan Program, gave a well-researched video presentation on artists working in tactile domains, including David Durlach's dancing magnetic filings, Paul Sermon's camera/projector arrangement pointing down on a bed with a live performer, and both SF's Chico MacMurtrie and Australia's Stelarc who've built robots slaved to human movement.

Some of the press folks were at InterChi, and tout le monde seemed to be aware of Interval. I was hit up with the usual questions, but when I would say "we'll talk when we have things to say," the responses were generally very non-American and very non-impatient.