Thursday, May 25, 2006

ZeroOne San Jose

When I think of cutting edge contemporary art, and especially cutting edge contemporary performance art, I don't think of San Jose. I think of New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Amsterdam. Vancouver. Toronto. Maybe Minneapolis. Even Cleveland, Ohio (home to an annual performance art festival for nearly twenty years)

But now San Jose will host ZeroOne: A Global Festival of Art on the Edge & the Thirteenth International Symposium of Electronic Art (ISEA2006). (ISEA moves around the globe and is held a different city each year). It makes sense to bring the symposium to Silicon Valley, actually.

So what will a "Festival of Art on the Edge" be? Mainly an excuse to shell out $30 a ticket a non-narrative performances, chock full of eye candy (video projection, real time manipulation of data to create sounds/lights/images. You can see improvised cinema. You can see Peter Greenaway veejaying. Ironically, you can see all this 21st century cutting edge stuff in a restored 1927 theatre. Hilariously, Villa Montalvo is hosting the experimental/noise "Bleeding Edge" music festival within the festival.

But I can already tell you what is going to sell out first: Machines beating the crap out of each other. Mark Pauline's Survival Research Laboratories don't build robots. They build machines. Machines that are built to destroy other machines. Machines that shoot fire, wield 8-ton crushing mallets, or hurl molten metal at other machines, or sometimes even towards themselves. SRL is known for putting on the most dangerous shows in the world. I tried to see them in San Francisco about 12 years ago, out on some pier in Hunter's Point, since Randall was working the tech crew (He's known as "Blaster" in SRL circles). The line stretched out to 3rd Street, and I never got in (counterfeiters had xeroxed thousands of extra tickets... and the fire marshall ALWAYS knows when SRL is in town). It is so hard to get the permits to host an SRL show that they only do about two shows a year.

Edgy? Sure. Noisy as hell (they attached jet engines to some of the machines just for the purpose of making noise). Digital art? Not really. Some of the machines require electronics: remote control, so the flying sparks, molten metal, and fire don't incinerate or puncture their operators, and probably some kind of built in controls so that the machines don't operate at their full lethal capacity. But SRL isn't about digital information.

SRL are taken very seriously in the performance art world. And I get their apocalyptic vision of contemporary life as devoid of humanity with just industrial technology unleashed upon itself. I even wouldn't mind catching their show --bring earplugs--(alas, I'm probably out of town). But if, given the choice between shelling out thirty bucks to see "stunning video images of landscapes... gradually abstracted into pure data" or machines the size of backhoes pummeling each other to death with fire and electricity, I'm guessing the population of San Jose is gonna spend their cash on the machines.

Okay. I'm done ranting about the performance art.

The actual contemporary art exhibitions and installations look really fun.

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