SAN JOSE, Calif. - If Silicon Valley can rightfully call itself the breeding ground for technological innovation, shouldn’t it also host the pre-eminent digital arts festival in North America?
The organizers behind 01SJ, San Jose’s technologically smitten five-day arts gathering that started Wednesday, have posed the question with their self-proclaimed “global festival of art on the edge.”
San Jose's 01SJ digital arts festival has lofty ambitions
City officials, Silicon Valley tech companies, galleries, San Jose State University and some of the most acclaimed artists in their fields are among those also lining up to embrace the 01SJ, which will turn swaths of downtown San Jose into hotbeds of digital art.
From DJ Spooky’s “Terra Nova,” a multimedia performance piece that uses the sound of melting ice in the Antarctic, to Peter Hudson’s “Homouroboros,” a carousel-like spinning zoetrope with ape-like creatures, 01SJ’s installations and performances allow many artists to realize their sometimes kooky, often inspired visions through the latest technological advancements.
In other words, what the World of Warcraft is to Pong, 01SJ is to cave paintings.
The aim of the coalition of artists, administrators and dreamers behind 01SJ is to make the festival into a cultural calling card for the city, artistic director Steven Dietz says.
“This has the potential to be the South by Southwest of digital media in the United States,” Dietz said, referring to the annual music, film and technology conference in Austin. “More and more people are beginning to get that.”
The $1.9 million festival and its more than 100 art projects and pieces are the second incarnation of 01SJ, a biennial celebration first staged in 2006 and then known as ZeroOne. The initial 01SJ attracted 15,900 visitors over seven days, adding $9.3 million to the local economy, according to a city-funded study, said Kim Walesh, the city’s liaison to 01SJ.
Much of this year’s 01SJ is funded through $817,000 in grants from such organizations as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, David and Lucille Packard Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation. Also, the city gave $232,500, Adobe Systems put in $250,000 and Cisco Systems gave a combined $250,000 for the festival in `06 and `08.
Cisco also has 170 employees volunteering at the festival. The company - which employs 18,000 workers in San Jose - was so encouraged by the outcome of 01SJ in 2006 that it made an even larger commitment to this year’s festival, said Sandra Wheatley, Cisco community relations officer.
The company’s contributions include adapting or installing 25 signs with digital media capabilities around downtown and in the San Jose McEnery Convention Center. The signs will offer a sneak peek into the technological gadgetry in the proposed Cisco Field complex in Fremont, the possible future home of the Oakland A’s.
“It’s a significant event for San Jose because this is our community,” Wheatley said. “It provides a lot of benefits for the community, and as one of the biggest employers in the valley, it just makes sense for us to participate given the technological aspect of it.”
The first 01SJ had its growing pains. For one thing, many San Joseans scratched their collective heads over how such attractions as an ice cream truck-turned-mobile karaoke bar constituted art. In the end, the festival won over many skeptics.
The other sticking point - the difficulty in finding the center of the widely dispersed festival - has been addressed by putting many of the 01SJ activities, as well as an information and ticket booth, in the Circle of Palms in front of the San Jose Museum of Art. In addition, the festival - with some notable exceptions such a major installation at Santana Row - has been consolidated downtown.
Perhaps the biggest buzz generator of 2006 01SJ - artist Akira Hasegawa’s “Digital Kakejiku” - had motorists pulling over on Santa Clara Street to stop and let his dazzling illumination of the City Hall rotunda wash over them.
This year, 01SJ has commissioned Australian artist Craig Walsh, who will internally project imagery, such as as jungle landscape, inside the rotunda. His bit of tromp l’oeil-inspired electronic trickery, which can make a light projection appear three dimensional, reflects the little-known fact that the Grateful Dead in its infancy performed in the neighborhood off of San Jose State.
01SJ aspires to become the North American answer to the Ars Electronica Festival. The annual celebration of digital art in Linz, Austria, first staged in 1979, has helped give that city the most acclaimed event in the field of digital art. It has also established Linz’s own cultural identity in relation to Austria’s other renowned arts capitals, Salzburg and Vienna.
For San Jose, a city constantly aware of a certain, more artistically exalted city up the Interstate, 01SJ can only help the capital of Silicon Valley stake its own distinctive place in the arts world.
“Linz is now a cultural center for the country,” said 01SJ founder and board chairwoman Andy Cunningham. “We hope to do that with San Jose.”
Much as Ars Electronica has developed a permanent presence in Linz - including its Museum of the Future, which opened in 1996 - 01SJ is positioned to become more than just a biennial event. One of 01SJ’s long-term goals is to establish a permanent “center where you could actually have art and technology residencies,” Cunningham said.
Among the many local galleries and institutions involved in 01SJ is Anno Domini. In conjunction with the festival, the South First Avenue gallery will present the Graffiti Research Lab, which was at the New York’s Museum of Modern Art in May.
Anno Domini is also a part of 01SJ’s SOFA Street Fair, featuring bands and art installations. The block party will also include the Spanish VJ crew XPLSV.com, an acclaimed group from the computer art subculture known as the “demoscene.”
“If you are asking if something like (01SJ) could succeed here, I say `why not’” says Anno Domini co-owner Brian Eder. “If there are enough people who see this as possible, it’s going to come about.
“It takes a village to raise an art scene.”