Summing up SubZERO
South First Street was alive with high- and low-tech art for new media festival
By Gary Singh
IN WHAT can only be described as a huge success, the second annual SubZERO festival took place all along South First Street in San Jose last week. You were either there or you missed out. Dozens and dozens of original and passionate folks displayed art, tech and innovation—not just in booths but on the street, around the trees, in the bars, upside-down, on all fours, on stages and pretty much everywhere else in the immediate vicinity of that entire three-block stretch. Without exaggeration, thousands and thousands of people showed up to partake in the proceedings.
Since the event coincided with South First Fridays, each of the galleries and spaces held opening receptions at the same time and each one probably doubled its regular numbers on the night. Just like's last year's festival, the entire vibe was high-tech, low-tech, planetary, cosmic, ritualistic, transmigratory and abstractly machinic—all at the same time.
SubZERO occurs every year now, while its parent festival, the 01SJ Biennial, takes place every two years all over downtown. Next year, for 01SJ, you will finally see a huge swath of downtown—City Hall, SJSU, Plaza de Cesar Chavez—all connected and highlighted through a gargantuan festival scene comprised of artists from all over the world who use technology as part of their aesthetic. It will be Festival City Silicon Valley, so to speak.
A few highlights from this year's SubZERO: The local band Good Hustle staged a huge percussion jam and miniparade for 30 minutes. Hundreds jumped into the procession. The San Jose ICA set up a dunking tank, with San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo graciously volunteering to get dunked. A Japanese-style butoh dancer performed in costume on the sidewalk in front of the Quilt Museum, stopping many passers-by in their tracks, which was sort of the idea for the entire evening.
Various events—some random, some planned—took place at various locations throughout the entire night. Some attendees arrived, planning to see specific things, some just walked around to see what they would discover, while others, who apparently didn't even know the event was going on, stumbled into it by accident and promptly sent Twitter messages. Custom lowrider bicycles were on display. Tattoo artists showed their stuff. The gorgeous recycled clothing shop Black and Brown staged an alternative fashion show on the Anno Domini Stage. With kick-ass musical chops, the San Francisco Judgment Day played sick heavy metal on amplified violin, cello and drums, which looked pretty damn spectacular on a stage right in front of the empty California Theatre.
It didn't stop there. Some other action: Local poet Mike McGee staged Summer Slumberfest '09, a 24-hour-long poetry slam-a-thon in the MACLA theater. People continuously showed up at various times from 6pm on Friday until 6pm on Saturday. Blankets were included. The "Urban Yarn Bombers" weaved stunning intricate fabrics around several of the trees and people constantly stopped to have their photos taken next to the works. If San Jose the city was that creative, they would have unleashed throngs of Urban Code Enforcers to shut down the festival for not having a public sewing permit. On another front, with the new cosmetic changes to the SoFA District, people were actually able to dine outside and close to the street, directly involving themselves in the atmosphere. It was great to see someone besides Irene Dalis occupying the outdoor tables at Eulipia.
All in all, the only complaint thrown about the landscape was that the event wasn't promoted enough (huh?). During the festival, those who stumbled upon it were aghast that no one had personally walked into their living rooms and physically force-fed them the information. "I didn't even know this was going on," they sobbed. "I had no idea. Why wasn't this promoted better?"
Even after the fact, when SubZERO came up in several conversations, people seemed almost irritated upon hearing about it for the first time. After I said that many of us have been writing about this for what seems like years now, people said, perhaps dismissively, "The papers? Oh, I don't read the papers.ws.com