Creators Series Explores Intersection of Art, Technology

As a herd of art-world movers and shakers headed to Europe for the feeding frenzy that is the Venice Biennale, Art Basel, documenta, and the London auctions, a buzz, much smaller but still cosmopolitan, was forming around a new event happening here in Chelsea. A world away from the European scene—both literally and metaphorically—The Creators Series, from June 8-10, offered a glimpse of irreverent, cool, and cutting-edge projects in filmmaking, visual arts, fashion, and music.

Tomorrow Unlimited, a new curatorial group that launched the weekend of artists’ panels, performances, and accompanying exhibition, called The Creators Series a gathering of “artists who are showing us things we’ve never seen before, applying new methodologies to their crafts, and pushing the boundaries of their disciplines.” At the heart of the conference was technology’s intersection with art—a look at the ways artists are using technology to make works that engage their audiences directly.

Projects were highlighted in a temporary exhibition at the Altman Building in Chelsea, discussed in panels, and spotlighted in live performances, making for a well-rounded weekend that engaged not only the brain but the body as well (visitors were encouraged to try out most of the projects in the exhibition).

Take, for example, the ReacTable, a "collaborative electronic musical instrument" that enables a group to create music by nudging plastic squares, circles, and their fingers across a round, illuminated table. The vibrantly colored instrument (which the singer Bjork has recently begun using in her concerts) was available for visitors to play in the gallery. Two of the ReacTable's Barcelona-based developers, Martin Kaltenbrunner and Marcos Alonso, from the team at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra’s Audiovisual Institute, gave a demo of how the instrument works on June 9. And both were on hand the next day to talk about the project in a panel called "Social Interfaces."

The developers said they set out in 2003 to create a tangible interface so intuitive that even small children could master it without instructions, yet sophisticated enough for professional musicians to use in concert. And aside from making music, the ReacTable also is meant to explore social interactions. 

Social interactions also were the focus of another Creators Series highlight, works by Amsterdam-based artist Theo Watson, who makes site-specific installations that look at how humans relate to various situations and spaces. Watson has collaborated with Eyebeam OpenLabs New York-based Graffiti Research Lab, which temporarily "tags" buildings using a projector, camera, and laser (this technology was also available for Creators Series attendees to test).

In the gallery, a patch of flowers Watson created using a projector lit up the floor. Buds "died" and re-bloomed as mesmerized visitors stepped over them.

A giant record projected onto the floor, which spun and seemed to magically emit music as people walked on top of it, also attracted attention. Watson expanded on those works and others in the "Social Interfaces" panel.

"It's kind of a surreal moment when you create a certain system and then see what someone actually does with it," he said.

I was also fascinated by Brooklyn artist Jonathan Harris's We Feel Fine, an Internet project that scours blogs for emotions—or "human artifacts," as Harris calls them—then catalogs them according to demographic characteristics, and turns them into a swarm of feelings represented by multi-colored dots on his Web site (caution: exploring the site can be addictive).

Other artists included Chris Doyle, Matt Hanson, and Martin Percy, who discussed three completely different methods for making collaborative films; Jennifer Leonard and Sarah Rich, who talked about their designs and writing that focus on environmental sustainability; and London-based designer Gareth Pugh, who spoke about his challenging fashion works.

The Paris-based artist Nieto showed some creepy, yet laughter-inducing, paintings of diseases and "self-porn." He also wrapped up the weekend with a hilarious performance that combined stand-up comedy, filmmaking, visual art, and magic tricks.

One of the things I found most refreshing about this work—and The Creators Series as a whole—was the escape the event offered from market talk and the social jockeying that saturates mainstream art at the moment. There was not one mention of fairs and biennials, or of bloated auction prices. Most of the artists were simply happy to direct you to their Web sites, where—for free!—you can find out how to make similar projects yourself, or even copy their software. The exhibition almost had the feel of a video arcade, and it was energizing to see the artists eschewing the hands-off approach of traditional galleries and inviting visitors to touch the works.

If you didn't make the New York event, you can still catch the series in Los Angeles this weekend, at the Rec Center event space and the EchoPlex, through June 17. Events are ticketed, but admission to the exhibition at the Rec Center is free Friday through Sunday.