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06.11.08

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Keep 01SJ Real

By Gary Singh


LAST WEEKEND, the 01SJ Global Festival of Art on the Edge took place in downtown San Jose and it was a mammoth cultural achievement, both for the city and SJSU, as well as the public and private sectors—true collaboration as only Silicon Valley can achieve. Some random notes:

• At the festival, the sense of community prevailed above all else. A wide mixture of artists took part—not just big names cruising into town on stipends and not just academics. Local talent was featured much, much more than last time and everybody intermingled. Legendary playwright Luis Valdez spoke at the opening ceremonies and proved he is the only dude anywhere who can defend Robert Graham's Quetzalcoatl statue in Plaza de Cesar Chavez as "art & technology." I didn't take notes, but it had something to do with how the Mayans, not the Hindus, invented the zero and that the statue's coil represents the sacred spiral dance. Imagine the scene: Luis Valdez—playwright, actor, producer, filmmaker, SJSU graduate and lifelong pal of Cesar Chavez—celebrating what's commonly ridiculed as the "poop statue" in the park named after Chavez—with all the politicos and corporate bigwigs in the audience. It just doesn't get any more "San Jose" than that, folks. Wow.



• S.J. has always been a place that looks to the outside for validation and approval while completely ignoring the subcultures and scenarios already existing here, and this festival has the potential to change all that. And to see the city of San Jose finally taking an interest in having a cultural signature of any kind is downright refreshing, to say the least. Walking around during this festival, knowing that this is only the second incarnation of something that will constantly change and grow and adapt, as it should, was awesome. You felt like San Jose was no longer just an adult city with diapers on.

• The SubZero street event all along South First Street on Friday night was by far the bohemian cyberlicious crème de la crème of the entire festival and easily the hippest thing to hit downtown San Jose since the first SoFA Street Fair in 1992. All the galleries showcased tech-related zonked-out works; bands performed on three stages; videos projected on buildings; interactive exhibits flanked three blocks and the widest possible variety of people showed up: kids, adults, corporate types, Burners, artists, politicians, programmers and the lunatic fringe. The entire vibe was high-tech, planetary, abstractly machinic and downright rocking.

• Unfortunately, during the run up to the festival, the phrase "pop culture" emerged in a few radio spots, and all of a sudden it was being billed as "Art, technology and pop culture" for some reason. I would hope that the organizers don't let this wonderful event degenerate into yet one more colorless dumbed-down "pop culture" event. If this thing winds up on MTV, or if I even start seeing 01SJ shirts on the wall in Hot Topic, then I will be very disappointed. It must continue to be a cutting-edge provocative zonked-out latticework of activity that asks questions, challenges assumptions and does all the things that new media art should do. I don't want to see a 01SJ jingle wind up in an Audi commercial.

• Now, will the 01SJ Global Festival of Art on the Edge eliminate San Jose's structural deficit or fill all the potholes? No. Of course not. Nobody anywhere is saying it will. That isn't the point. The important thing is that this festival at least helps foster a creative class and makes people actually want to be here and create here and work here and stay here. A healthy city needs such things. A healthy economy is at least somewhat intertwined with a healthy cultural environment. A lot of smart people live here and we deserve a better culture than what we already have.


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