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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Zero Effect

By Gary Singh

THE HISTORIC St. James Square neighborhood in downtown San Jose is now home to another worldwide center of creative exploits. ZER01, the organization that produces the 01SJ biennial festival of art and technology, officially opened its new permanent command center at St. James Place, 152 N. Third St., last week. Thanks to the donations of many entities, the new high-tech office occupies two floors and gives ZER01 a solid planning headquarters for year-round programming as well as a place to host visiting artists and a meeting space for its partners to gather and exchange ideas. The facility is slick.

At the party, plans for the third 01SJ Biennial on Sept. 15–19, 2010, were unveiled for the many movers and shakers who attended. The curatorial theme for the next biennial will be "Build Your Own World," predicated on the notion that "artists, designers, engineers, architects, marketers, corporations and citizens have the tools to (re)build the world, conceptually and actually, virtually and physically, poorly and better, aesthetically and pragmatically, in both large and small ways."

Several students from the CADRE New Media Lab at SJSU talked about their art projects, and one room even featured a video of the elaborate high-tech installations that will be located in the new terminal at the airport, some of which look pretty darn spiffy. For those who can't wait for a dose of the future, the SubZERO street festival will be part of the June 5 First Friday event downtown.

When contemplating the snazzy new ZER01 headquarters, coupled with the entire circus of putting on and executing the 01SJ festival—the long hard slog of fundraising; the analytical conversations and flowcharts in the boardroom meetings; the beer and the wine; the miles of Ethernet cabling, the borrowed server racks and the graphics processing cards; an occasional pre-dawn Linux remount before a high-tech installation debuts; student volunteers picking people up at the airport; local Japanese translators; video editing and stage rigging; Burning Man regulars yakking about embedded systems programming with rich art ladies over cheese and Ritz crackers; confused Redevelopment Agency bigwigs scratching their heads at DJ Spooky shows; downtown homeless people staring at the video installations in empty storefronts; local architects collaborating with YouTube hackers; the families and kids who came to the SubZERO street festival—as well as everything else that 01SJ has already exploded into just during its first two iterations, you get the impression that, yeah, this really could be the Silicon Valley version of the Venice Biennale, something that people from all over the world might actually start putting on their calendars.

The location of the new office is especially significant, so allow me to build my own world here: St. James Square was the central town square of San Jose 100 years ago. This is the reason for all the historic buildings still surrounding the park. The ZER01 headquarters is now sandwiched right in-between two of these structures—the old Eagles Hall front portico just to the south and the First Unitarian Church on the other side.

The Eagles Hall was originally the location for the San Jose Scottish Rite Temple, built in 1900. The Masons eventually moved down the block and built the ornate three-story neoclassical building that now houses the San Jose Athletic Club and Frank Shamrock's mixed martial arts studio, with the Order of Eagles later moving into the first building. All that remains of this original first building are the front Greek pillars and portico. The rest is an office complex. To the north of ZER01 sits the First Unitarian Church, built in 1891. Other historic buildings surrounding the park include the Gothic Trinity Episcopal Church at Second and St. John streets, Letcher's Garage (later the Oasis Nightclub) and the long-abandoned First Church of Christ Scientist right next door.

So it all falls into place. You have the vision of ZER01—to be a catalyst and platform for presenting some of the world's most innovative artists while transforming San Jose/Silicon Valley into a global epicenter for the intersection of art, technology and digital culture—with its offices now situated right smack in one of the city's oldest historical neighborhoods—San Jose's past, present and future all in one place.

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