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Year 7: Boston Cyberarts

In Art, Feature, Interview on April 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Premiered by George Fifield in 1999, the Boston Cyberarts Festival was launched with generous seed funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The biennial event is the only festival in the world inclusive to all art forms–both visual and performing, film, video, electronic, literature, public art and web art.

Boston Cyberarts Festival screenshot

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The 7th Annual Boston Cyberarts Festival

by Max Eternity

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The 7th Annual Boston Cyberarts Festival occurs April 22 – May 8, 2011, and with so many happenings coming together as a single occasion there is much to hear and see, like the work of the Urbano Project, an organization run thought MIT’s Urban Arts Institute. Heidi Kayser, who is an artist-in-resident and youth programmer for the Urbano Project says that “Urbano’s mission is to facilitate public art in public spaces.”

“In achieving this, the youth involved of all ages have 5 different programs they can be a part of,” she says.

The Axiom Center for New Experimental Media presenting an exhibition curated by Kayser entitled Move Me: An exhibition of Contemporary Kinetic Sculpture. Brandeis University will also have a presence at this year’s festival, presenting the “BEAMS Electonic Music Marathon,” which features electronic and computer sounds by an international roster of musicians and composers on April 30th from noon till midnight.

“Dreamtime” by Tom Haney (Image: Tom Haney and Boston Cyberarts)

Having a focus on digital art, this year more than 50 events and exhibitions will be showcased. An excerpt from a recent press release reads:

CyberartsCentral, the 2011 Boston Cyberarts Festival headquarters located at Atlantic Wharf, will feature exhibitions, music and dance performances, augmented reality, and real-time rendered audiovisual demonstrations…

Speaking to some of the audio/visual events, like “The Get Together” and “Cyber-Pool,” which combines installations and performances. Fifield says, “One of the distinctive features of the Boston Cyberarts Festival has always been its inclusiveness… from the beginning we have sought out events and exhibitions in all art forms, including not just visual art but a variety of performing arts as well.”

In an special interview, Fifield shared more of his thoughts on this year’s line-up of events.

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Max Eternity (ME): George, there’s one event that I want to ask about first, The Egyptian Oracle.

George Fifield (GF): The Egyptian Oracle – it’s a virtual reality project, which will be an archaeological accurate moment in Egypt, with an Egyptian high priest avatar controlled by an engineer. The audience can interact, asking questions.

Virtual reality is different from augmented reality. The institute of Contemporary art is going to be filled with augmented reality art. So it’s like this, when you put virtuality in real space, you can look at that real space through your smart phone, for instance, and the augmented reality will show up. Manifest.art is doing this project.

ME: Could you talk about what Greenway Conservancy is doing?

GF: The Greenway Conservancy is on blocks of what’s being called “occupation forces”… little signs and symbols. You will see standing around the symbols, little tiny spacemen that have taken over the planet, but nobody knows it because they are invisible.

ME: That’s curious. And there’s also a Festival of Art, Science and Technology.

GF: Yes. This year’s festival coincides with the 150th anniversary of MIT. They are doing a conference on dance and technology, and the other [event] is a daylong event with Autopinie–the founder of sky art. He’s doing one of his sky art sculptures.

At the List Visual Art center is Juan Downey.

“America is Back Together” by Juan Downey (Photo: Marilys Belt Downey)

ME: Wow, that sounds really interesting. And finally, tell me about the show you curated, “Drawing with Code: Works from the Anne and Michael Spalter Collection”?

GF: I used to be curator of new media there for 13 years. I met this couple who lives in Providence, collecting this work for the last 17 or 18 years; focusing on the early days–graphic prints from people who were working on mainframes and punch cards. This was the time when you said your work was made on the computer. But then, people said if the computer is doing it, then who are you?

Manfred Mohr, Frieder Nake, Daniele Laposky and Ken Nolton were some of those people in the 1950’s.

This show is one of a number of shows that talks about our history, because It’s important to have some discussion about the history. The Goethe institute is showing a collection of early German art.

ME: I do think it’s important to tell some of these historic back stories, especially when talking about how digital and new media arrived in its present state.

GF: This idea of balancing the most cutting-edge, with history, is always important to me.
The art world is finally paying attention to these pioneers. Computers were thought of as so differently back then.

ME: Sure, so much has changed. George, thank you for your time.

GF: Any time, Max, thank you.

Bonny Lhotka’s Digital Alchemy

In Art, Feature, Interview, News on March 14, 2011 at 4:39 pm

“Book Place” (phantogram)

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“Way back, when Walt Disney came out with the movies in theater…the first time I saw Tinkerbelle go up to the screen …I decided I wanted to do that” says Bonny Lhotka of one of the early experiences that inspired her as a child to grow up and become an artist.  Lhotka, who graduated in 1964 from Bradley University–having been schooled in printmaking and painting–did just that.  She became an artist, and has since gone on to exhibit her unique form of digital and mixed-media prints worldwide.

Lhotka’s art has been commissioned by and/or resides in the collection of several hundred patrons, including United Airlines, Lucent Technologies, Wells Fargo, Charles Schwab and The U.S. Department of State.

She is the winner of a Smithsonian/Computerworld Technology in the Arts Award, and in 1997 Lhotka organized Digital Atelier: A printmaking studio for the 21st Century at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, which included her being an artist-in-residence there for 21 days.

Lhotka has used her impressive wealth of talent and her pioneering skill set to inform others through speaking engagements, educational forums, in her prose and visual art , and recently published is her book Digital Alchemy: Printmaking Techniques for Fine Art, Photography and Mixed-Media.

Last year Lhotka exhibited at Walker Fine Art in a group show and this year will exhibit solo there in an exhibit entitled Horizons , and over the six months via email, post mail and phone conversation, she took the time to share her heart’s artistic passion—the pulse of her life’s work.

Digital Alchemy by Bonny Lahotka

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Bonny Lhotka’s Digital Alchemy

by Max Eternity

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Max Eternity (ME): Hi Bonny, thanks for taking the time to speak to me on behalf of The Huffington Post and AD MAG.

 

Bonny Lhotka (BL):  I’m glad to do it.  That’s a very nice magazine you have online.

 

ME:  I want to ask about your early beginnings as a traditional artist, then how you became a digital artist.  What inspired you to be an artist?

 

BL:  Way back, when Walt Disney came out with the movies in the theater.  The first time I saw Tinkerbelle go up to the screen and the image fell out of the brush, I decided I wanted to do that.  The other thing was a field trip to the art institute of Chicago.  I saw an exhibition of Seurat, Cezanne and Monet.  Seeing those original oils in person, I remember that to this day.  That luscious surface as opposed to what I had seen in a book.  I was just drawn to that.

 

My training in college was in printmaking and painting.  I did acrylic and collograph prints, and oil painting.  I worked like that through 1990.  Then in the Denver, the art market plummeted.  There were no sale, little interest. I decided I would give up my studio, or expand and create something beyond traditional media.  At that time HP [Hewlett Packard] had come out with the first color printer.  When I saw a print at a MacWorld convention in San Francisco,  I knew at that moment the direction I wanted to go.

 

At MacWorld I figured out what I needed to go that route; it was about 1992.

 

Had life been different,  I would have ended up being an accountant or going into medical research.  At one point I thought to be a speech therapist.  But it made more sense to stick to my training in fine art.

 

ME:  How did you go from there? What did you start out doing first?

BL:  I heard about a workshop that Dorothy Krause was giving called Beyond the Digital Print.  It was a workshop combining traditional printmaking with inkjet.  I met Dorothy and Karen Schminke.  The three of us from that day on began a collaboration to gain access to equipment and test it for fine art applications.

 

We have written hundreds of articles about the research.  Even today we continue to explore; getting feedback to artists and companies of what we’d like to see in the next generation of hardware.

 

I think what’s important is that none of us liked the straight digital print, so because we came from the traditional background we were missing that experience.  That’s what drove us to create all these new techniques of mixing traditional and digital.

 

“Party Friends”

 

ME:  In the past we have referred to artists who work in multiple mediums as multi-disciplined artists.  But a few years back I came up with the term TADAE, which stands for Traditional And Digital Artist Engineer, because it occurred to me that some artists weren’t just working in a variety of media, they had also become entrepreneurs, writers, programmers, engineers, inventors, editors, publishers, educators and the like.  You’re working on a book right now.  You’re also an inventor, and you’ve got your own line of products, called DASS.

 

BL:  I’m an inventor and I apply my creativity to get to where I want to go.  I see an end vision—working backwards to a starting point.  I draw on common everyday observation in material and experience to find a solution to create the image that I’m after.  When I wanted my digital prints to look like they were on plaster, I researched frescos, how they were made; the chemistry of it.  I applied that research with what I had in my kitchen, putting together the gelatin and calcium carbonate.  I found that any liquid I could convert to a gelatin state, I could lay [a print] on it and the image would move to the gelatin.  You could never do this with an inkjet.

 

That gelatin can be made with marble dust, sand, ground up gravel, and other things.

 

So it’s that treating the inkjet print on film as the plate.  That would be parallel to a traditional ink plate, which can be treated a variety of ways, making part of it scraped away to create one of a kind pieces of artwork.

 

ME:  But of course, as you probably know the art world can be sometimes be a very conservative place, often resisting change.  Have you experience with this?

 

BL:  I still think there’s a resistance today amongst collectors thinking of digital prints of something of value.

 

We had our first exhibit of digital prints in 1994 at Sandy Carson Gallery.  It was the most people she had ever had at an opening.  And when we did the event at the Smithsonian, people show up angry and hostile, saying that it was not art.  The curators didn’t know what to think.

 

ME: So, has this mentality changed at all?  What’s stopping collectors from taking digital prints as seriously as they should?

 

BL:  [sighs] The ease at which an artist can use the editioning process, and the lack of a guarantee, it’s just too easy to make them.  And I think that’s what has driven me to combine the hands-on, because the digital part of it is just a step to get to where I’m going.

 

ME:  Art forgeries are historically legendary.  There’s the real possibility of fakes, with oil paintings and other traditional media?

 

BE:  It’s a lot harder to fake an oil in quantity.

 

I have seen very few signed limited edition digital prints, and certainly photography is 98% of the market.  And photographers have never really limited what they did.  So fine art artists are fighting that paradigm set up by photographers.

 

Certainly, prior to digital imaging, artist could only integrate photography into collage or a transfer method that was very toxic, similar to what Rauschenberg did.  Artists were sampling and collaging from newspapers and magazines.

 

What I find very curious is that 5 years ago I had an an exhibit in Denver, to discover i had been voted the best experimental photographer in Denver.  And I was like okay, I’m a photographer?  That is hung around my neck that I’m a photographer, but i don’t know why, because I’m not a photographer.

 

I think it’s strange how the marketplace has to put a tag on someone.

 

ME:  So how do we work to remedy this?

 

BE:  When we first started i came up with the term unique edition.  That edition was an edition of a one-of-a-kind print that came from the same matrix of the computer.  And, I will say that with my cured ink flatbed printers, there is a difference how the artwork is perceived.  These prints are much more accepted by collectors.  They commission them.

 

ME:  But many fakes do exist with traditional media, so doesn’t it go back to trusting the dealer and the artist for authenticity?

 

BE:  Yes, that’s what it’s about.  You have to know who you’re buying from.

 

I’ve heard stories of traditional artist signing blank pieces of paper, later to be printed by whomever.

 

Me.  Yes, me too—specifically about Salvador Dali being one of the ones who was supposedly notorious for doing this. Okay…so, tell me about your new book.

 

BE: I’m writing a book named Digital Alchemy:  Techniques for Fine Art, Photography and Mixed-Media.  It’s going to be about all of the products and recipes I’ve made for creating digital art.

 

It’s strictly process; it will not tell people how to be artists.  I’m just giving people tools to go beyond that digital print.

 

“Blue Memories”

 

ME:  Anything else new and exciting happening?

 

BL:  A gallery in Denver, Walker Fine Art, will have an exhibition that I’m in, and that work will be new work with lasers–laser flatbed.  I’ve taken these transfer techniques, where i can get my digital image on wood or metal.  I sent that to the laser and it transfers that into a print. Also I’ve devolved a process of putting digital images on crystal colorless glass, which look like daguerreotype. There’s an example of those to be in my book.

 

ME:  You have some very informative tutorial podcasts on Youtube, many of which I’ve seen.  Great ideas, it’s very inspiring.

 

BL:  Taking really old photography to contemporary media, it’s really unique.  Every day I get up is a new dawn, and I never have a plan.  Something starts.

 

I’m a little like a canoe in a fast floating river.  When I hit a rock, I just go the other way.  My mother said I collect solutions for problems I don’t have.

 

That’s why [I’ve written] the book.  I’m giving solutions to other people.

 

ME:  That’s wonderful.  I enjoyed speaking with you.  Thanks again.

 

BL: Well, thank you for the interview.

 

 

 

Art and Technology Enrich a Community

In Art, Feature, Interview, News on January 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm

WACTC Director, Felton Cogell (Image: Max Eternity)

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Technology is all around, in abundance.  And some might even complain there too much technology at our avail.  As with a tsunami or hurricane which turns the positive benefits of water into a destructive force, what good are stores filled with pricey techno-tools if those who most need it can’t afford to buy it?

Digital literacy is not always de jour, because in the world of technology, you have to pay to play.  Computers and broadband access cost money, and for those on fixed incomes, very low-income or no income, participating online can sometimes seem next to impossible.

Some non-profit organizations are addressing this issue.

In a neighborhood close to San Francisco’s City Hall is the Western Addition Community Technology Center.  It’s a place of community devoted to using digital photography, art and technology to transform and heal the lives of young and old alike.

At WACTC one can learn how to build a resume, use computers to learn about genealogy, search online for jobs, edit digital photos, paint in Adobe Photoshop, troubleshoot computer problems and develop a host of other useful skills.

Felton Cogell is the center’s director, and in a recent group discussion, he and a few of the center’s clients shared their thoughts about the WACTC.

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The Western Addition Community Technology Center

by Max Eternity

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A photo by Felton Cogell

 

Max Eternity (ME):  So how did the center come about?

Felton Cogell (FC):  During the late 1990’s with President Clinton, he allocated so many dollars, because he felt there was going to be a digital divide.  Many states had money, so we got support from the feds, the state and the city to open the center.

ME:  How did you get involved—why?

I’ve been seeking out this type of work since the late 90’s.  I had worked as a network administrator, and when I realized how much I knew, I felt like this is what I wanted to do.  A friend who knew me thought I would be a good fit, but they had hired someone already.  So I tried to get the next position; taking a position as an instructor.  Then I got promoted, working with seniors—the elderly.  I realized then that everyone works at a different rate, in a different way.

ME:  So, tell me about your connection to technology and creativity.

FC:  I’ve been a photographer for 40 years.  I’ve always had that artistic edge in me.  I’ve never been school trained, but I’ve been painting for many years.  I’d been using Photoshop for several years—growing along with it.  So, I teach courses that I have a lot of interest in.

I also teach genealogy.

I’m doing the things I like to do.  It’s not work.  I’ve established some great relationships.  A lot of people have come here to learn.

ME:  How do you describe the digital divide?

It’s people who don’t have access to the digital world by having a computer at home that’s working, and having access to the internet.  They miss out in those two areas; not able to come home and practice. A lot of homework has to be done online.  So, that affects homework, because there’s not computers and broadband at home.

Today the digital divide affects mainly the poor, who can’t afford a computer and broadband. And what makes it even worse, is that there are [physical] community divides.

ME:  How are you clients benefiting from what you offer?

Some people have gotten better jobs, and they’ve gotten promotions if they’ve already had jobs. This particular community has a lot of crime; a lot of people who were dealing drugs got a second start here.  I have personally hired people from the community who had been prior incarcerated.   Not all have had problems with the law, but many have.

I’m finding people in the 50’s are struggling, because they don’t’ know the programs—Microsoft Office, et all.  And they are competing with high school graduates. This group is in a tough place, but with the 20 to 40 crowd, I’ve seen a lot of success.

A photo by Felton Cogell

A photo by Felton Cogell

 

WACTC Students Comment


Louvenia Williams says:

I’m 81. I was here when they built the building.  I’ve been here 8 or 9 years, first learning general software, then Photoshop.  I found that I loved it–that’s been my focus ever since.   Some of [my] the old family photographs, I’ve tried restoring.  Because they were in black and white, I’ve added color to a few of them.

Well, since I am retired, I feel like a family here. I look forward to coming to the center.  We have our picnics, field trips…we celebrate birthdays.

It keeps my mind active to be involved.  I walk to the center, so it’s good exercise.  It benefits me in many ways.

James Smith says:

I’m 75 years old.  I’ve been coming here since the first of the year.  I found out about it through one of my lodge members.    I need to learn about computers, and about taking pictures.  Every time I go somewhere people ask me if I’ve brought pictures back.  I never did, but now I’m trying to play catch-up to bring pictures back.

I’m meeting my expectations.  I enjoy the camaraderie of all the people here.  They’ve all been helpful.  Sometimes the students tend to help with the instructors.  It is beginning to be like a family.  When someone is missing, you miss them.  You get used to them being here.

I had been buying computers for my children.  I didn’t want to get involved myself, but I reluctantly decided to switch over.  I’m enjoying it too.

Doretha Albert says:

I’m 72.  I’ve been coming here since 2002.  I worked as a registered nurse for 36 years and at that time I had secretaries doing data input.  Once I returned, I knew nothing about computers. I knew nothing about email…or nothing.  One day I was at church and they announced they were opening a computer center, and I enrolled.  I came and learned how to do emails.  At the time we learned how to do copy and paste. We had different programs, like Publisher.  We learned how to make mailing envelops, and how to do business cards. The class did a newsletter. This was in the first year.

I enjoy working on computers, using Photoshop.  It’s my pride and joy.

For more information about the WACTC, contact Resource Manager, Melanee Hall @ 415 431 2206

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The WACTC blogspot, which has images of student’s work can be found here.  and a PDF document showing the WACTC February schedule of classes and events can be found here.

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