From solar powered robots to art that knows when you’re looking at it, get ready for a look into the future. Next week, the Telfair’s arts and technology festival, known as Pulse, kicks off an 11-day showcase of installations, workshops, lectures and performances from a scintillating mix of artists, geeks and scientists presenting programming that you won’t need an advanced degree to enjoy. You won’t need a lot of money either, because all of the festival’s events are free (although some do require registration in advance).
“The festival is not an esoteric sort of program where you’re going to a conference and you’re listening to very specialized language,” says Harry Delorme, Senior Curator of Education at the Telfair. “I’m very concerned with being a very accessible festival.”
Now entering its second year as an official “festival,” Pulse actually began three years ago as a short string of technology programs that has now grown into a comprehensive series that will illustrate emerging technologies’ impact on fashion, music, art, video games and the human experience. No small feat.
“Some of these installations will give audiences here a chance to see the world a little differently and create a potential in the technology that’s around us as well as some of the new technology and new media that artists are working with,” says Delorme.
The festival opens Wednesday, Jan.20 with an impressive pair of installations from internationally acclaimed artists. The first, which will actually remain in the Jepson on display beyond Pulse is Counterillumination by Shih Chieh Huang, who is known for transforming everyday objects ranging from over–the–counter consumer electronics to water bottles and plastic bags into elaborate alien environments.
The second installation, called Body Beats, by Thomas Chan and Si Cho is musical sequencer combined with facial recognition software that allows participants to create melodies with their body parts.
One of the non–local acts who is returning after a well–received performance during last year’s festival is Eric Singer, who is the founder of L.E.M.U.R., the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots.
On Friday, Jan.22, Singer will be joined by fellow L.E.M.U.R. artist Zemi17 and the duo will unleash their new invention, called the GamelaTron, a robotic version of a traditional Indonesian gamelon choir.
“This will be the furthest it’s ever travelled,” explains Singer, who must, after inventing these robotic musicians, find ways to transport them around the world. “The thing is, no one makes a case for a GamelaTron or any part of it. We have to make our own.”
Although building robots that make music seems unassailably awesome, Singer is clear that it is the music, not the engineering that is the most important part of what L.E.M.U.R. does.
“There’s the cool tech factor to the robots, but if the music isn’t there, if human expression isn’t part of the process, then all you have is gadgets,” he explains. “I wanted it to be about a new way of making music.”
And that’s all in the first few days. As the rest of the festival unwinds, programs will touch on fashion technology workshops to outdoor video installations and more.
“I think we’ve got some really exciting folks coming in for the festival,” says Delorme. But, the festival isn’t just about importing exciting eccentricities from around the country, and Delorme remains focused on highlighting some of the interesting artists and projects that are here locally too. “I want to give these local artists working with technology a chance to show their work or try new things.”
One of those local talents is SCAD professor Andrew Hieronymi, who is a member of the Interactive Design department, and an accomplished artist in his own right, whose work has been exhibited at shows around the world.
During Pulse, he’ll be conducting a workshop in Casual Game Design, and he’ll debut a new installation piece, which he hopes to take beyond Savannah very soon.
“This new installation I’m showing here, which is a first, I hope I’ll be able to show it a bunch of places,” says Hieronymi.
The “casual” in his workshop title describes the relaxed pace of the games participants will be designing, not the availability of the technology that goes into making them. Although designing a game from beginning to end can take months or years, Hieronymi will show break participants up into teams who each design basic game concepts. Then using something called computer vision and a projector, everyone will interact in their new games.
“Computer vision is very simple,” Hieronymi explains. “It’s just the idea that you’re using a camera to track and make sense of what’s in front of it.”
Instead of using complicated motion capture suits, a camera recognizes the motion of a user’s silhouette and sends that to a computer. The computer than takes that and translates it, using open source software, into something that is used to control the graphics that are projected onto the screen. Basically, you move around in front of the camera, and in real time, you are controlling a character in a game you and your team just designed. Whoah.
Interactivity is part of what makes Pulse such a unique offering at the museum. Unlike the average visit to observe art, this is one festival that allows visitors to participate and to hopefully gain something more in the process.
“I hope that they’ll be excited and challenged,” says Delorme. “I hope they’ll be engaged in a participatory way.”
Even though technology can begin to seem mundane in an age when every tween has a cell phone and never known a world without the internet, Delorme sees the 11 days of Pulse as an opportunity for everyone, especially young people, to see beyond the ubiquity of gadgets, and understand not only the engineering behind them, but the capabilities for self–expression that exist beyond them.
To get a full schedule of events, visit www.telfair.org and to reserve space for programs that require registration call (912) 790–8822