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August 16-22, 2006

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Art in Crazy Town

By Gary Singh


OUT IN FRONT of the San Jose Museum of Art, a man with a ponytail is talking to himself out loud as he piles up small pieces of wood on top of one of those stone pillars that line Market Street near the museum. I can't tell if he's a transient or a halfway-house resident, but he has about 15 pieces of wood, all different shapes and sizes, each no bigger than the palm of one's hand. He is engrossed in his plight to make a sculpture out of these wooden blocks, and he will not shut up.

Meanwhile, hordes of nicely dressed folks are flowing into the museum for the VIP party for the ISEA/ZeroOne festival of art and technology. The sun beats down on the pavement while members of the general public explore the art projects outside, one of which involves a white shipping container turned into a sarcophagus by etoy.CORPORATION, a notorious collective from Switzerland. Cameramen and newsfolks drift in, around and through the Circle of Palms, covering the event, interviewing artists and just hanging around waiting for the pigeon blog project to launch. Many of the reporters seemed confused as they listen to the artists explain their work.

The ponytailed guy continues to yell loudly, and I can't tell if he actually realizes that the wooden blocks are elements of an ISEA 2006 undertaking called IN[]EX. Located inside the South Hall behind the convention center, the main component of IN[]EX is a 20-foot-long shipping container. Three thousand small wooden blocks are attached to the outside of the container by embedded magnets, and folks are instructed to remove the blocks and distribute them all over downtown San Jose. If you find one of these blocks somewhere out in the urban neighborhood, you're encouraged to move it somewhere else. Or take it on a train with you. Or, especially, bring it back and stick it on the container. You see, inside the container one heard an audio soundscape of prerecorded sounds from throughout the valley, and folks were invited to enter the container and listen. And that soundscape is subtly affected by the sounds of the wooden blocks being attached back to the outside of the container or being removed from the container. So you have to look at the sounds that folks make by physically placing the blocks throughout downtown as just an extension of the audio sculpture.

Back at front of the museum, the ponytailed guy looks intently at the sculpture of wooden blocks he has just piled together. Upon deciding he's finished, he suddenly screams: "ART!" And then he parades away up Market Street, continuing to yell at something or somebody. He doesn't seem to have any idea he was part of someone else's project.

"The aspect that this guy had in the project was a sculptural aspect," explained Jean Routhier, one of the IN[]EX artists. "Him playing with the wood blocks, it makes a sound like castanets ... it's an interactive sound sculpture. The wood blocks came from our electronic [sound sculpture], and he brought it to an acoustic level, a very simple level that didn't interact with the soundscape that's inside the container, but it was still exploring the soundscape of San Jose by creating sound out of the wood blocks that we distributed."

There you go, folks. ZeroOne had something for everybody, even the local bums. After all, the festival and symposium were all about interactivity, and he was definitely interacting with the project.

Not everybody had a great time at ZeroOne, however. The sheer volume of activities and exhibits overwhelmed and confused many people, which is understandable. It really did take some serious planning if you wanted maximize your time. But the festival looks like it will play a serious role in 1stAct Silicon Valley's grand scheme to turn downtown into a creative urban center. If corporate bigwigs are all investing in ZeroOne, it looks like they have the faith.


Contact Gary Singh or send a letter to the editor about this story.