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The Arts
June 6-13, 2007

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Synthia Payne

Photograph by Jim Mackenzie
Digital jam band: Synthia Payne chats with musicians around the world as they collectively improvise a track through the popular NINJAM program.

The Evolution of Form

UCSC's Digital Arts and New Media masters of fine arts program shows off its second graduating class

By Steve Hahn

In post–World War II America, musicians used the electric guitar to add new sounds and tones to previously acoustic musical forms. This new technology coincided with the rise of artists interested in blending these and other popular musical forms together into new genres. By the mid-'70s, synthesizers and turntables made routing musical forms from the past through sound-manipulating technology even easier, leading to the creation of yet more new genres.

With the digital age upon us, other artistic media have gone through a similar process of technologically informed evolution. Digital technology has given artists an unprecedented ability to experiment with blending artistic media and traditions into creations that resemble, but are notably distinct from, yesterday's art. In scientific and artistic theory, this process is known as emergence, or the forming of a new "property" out of a specific combination of smaller parts.

UCSC's Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) masters of fine arts program, started in 2004, specializes in emergence. DANM trains students in using new technologies to synthesize artistic and academic traditions often practiced separately.

"I think the tools, the technology, are making a lot possible," says Felicia Rice, the program's manager. "You see it onstage, you see it in performance art where there are projections, sound and different performances going on collaboratively in different parts of the world."

A number of installations featured in this weekend's DANM graduate showcase use the Internet as an example of a tool that can help expand upon ideas from past artistic traditions and apply them in the digital era.

For instance, Doodler by Tyler Freeman allows people from across the world to use his web-based application to place hyperlinks, sounds, videos and drawings onto the same page. Freeman is applying principles from the Surrealist tradition--namely the convergence of subconscious expressions from multiple sources--to a technology that allows contributions from a larger and more diverse pool of participants than the Surrealists originally imagined.

Applying this idea to web-based sound and video programs exemplifies the show's theme of ushering past traditions into an emerging novelty using digital technology. If that sounds somewhat cerebral, it may be because the DANM program is relatively unique in its attempt to balance out knowledge of artistic technique with a hefty dose of theory.

"At a graduate level, it's really important that people have the ability to talk about their work and place it in a contemporary context," says Rice, who notes the wide range of academic disciplines her program draws from. "To be able to function as artists in the contemporary scene, you really need to be able to talk the walk and walk the talk."

Yet the installations are more than simple thought experiments. Many of the pieces take a wholly original angle on whichever media or traditions they're working within.

James Khazar, one of this year's graduates, blends associational hyperlink thinking and the medieval manuscript format to present a dynamic model of dream interpretation. Instead of equating images with universal meanings, common in dream and religious interpretation, Khazar uses the medieval manuscript model as a road map to his subconscious.

Acknowledging that the road markers will be different with every individual's experiences, Khazar maintains that this model will lead to a deeper understanding of how events in your waking life can end up leaking into your dreams.

"I'm trying to show how all these things relate to each other and, hopefully, point out to people how they might be able to make these associations in their own dreams and take these ideas and run with them," he says.

The collapsing of technology from the past and present into a single space in Khazar's installation exemplifies the emergence theme of this year's show. Yet Rice is quick to point out that "emergence" also relates to the artists themselves.

"We have a community that we want to share with people here," says Rice. "That's part of the emergence theme--an emergence into the world for these students and their work. They emerge into the larger world."

DANM will holding receptions Fridays June 8 and June 15, 7–10pm, at the Digital Media Factory, 2809 Mission St., Santa Cruz. Installations will also be on view June 9–10, 16–17, 10am–4pm. There is no cost, and all members of the public are invited.

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