Off the wall

Reno Interdisciplinary Festival of New Media

Remko Scha, left, and Arthur Elsenaar use the human face as a medium for computer-generated art.

Remko Scha, left, and Arthur Elsenaar use the human face as a medium for computer-generated art.

You don’t necessarily have to be an expat to be one of the artists visiting town this week for the First Reno Interdisciplinary Festival of New Media, a multi-venue showcase of art that doesn’t hang on the wall or fit on a pedestal. But all of the participants are graduate students, and geographical fluidity seems to come as naturally to this generation of artists as Myspace and instant messaging do. They come from both coasts, several points in between and most continents. A few come from closer to home; New England-based artists Jake Lee High, Jeanne Jo and Pete Froslie, (remember his self-perpetuating Etch-A-Sketch sculptures?)—are all recent UNR grads.

With one eyebrow arching unnaturally high, Arthur Elsenaar, a Dutch artist who lives in London, turns the tables on the concept of artificial intelligence. In a performance at the University of Nevada Reno’s Black Box Theater, he’ll demonstrate his “machine-friendly interface” by gluing wires to his face and letting a computer control his facial muscles as he talks. The computer will generate a wider range of contortions and asymmetrical scowls than most humans could manage on their own.

Si Jae Byun, a Korean New Yorker, will project video animation sequences inside a billowy, fabric sculpture. It looks like a section of cartoon-like intestine that’s large enough to walk into and takes up much of the floor space in the Sheppard Gallery.

At the Nevada Museum of Art theater, four UNR music students will appear on four separate laptop screens playing a saxophone composition by Gudmundur Steinn Gunnarsson, an Icelandic artist and Bay Area resident.

“New media” can mean electronics, robotics, computer animation, performance, video, images generated by computations or any combination thereof.

Festival Director and art department chair Joseph DeLappe points out that when the term “new media” was coined in the 1970s as a catch-all for artwork created electronically, using then-newfangled technology to make art could be daunting. Computer programs were cumbersome and expensive, and, for most artists, learning how to use them was a difficult task. For artists on the forefront of new media now, using computers is second nature, and connectivity is old news.

In the same way that technology has changed how the rest of the world works, new media is having an effect on the inner workings of the art market, too. Traditionally, art students could expect to graduate into the gallery system, where, with luck and dedication, they may sell some paintings. While new-media pieces have gained enough clout to qualify for museum exhibitions and public funding, they’re rarely created under the assumption that they’ll generate a source of income for the artist. The tradeoff for not fitting into the old marketing structure, however, is the potential to reach an instant, global audience. Web-based art projects can be disseminated to millions with breakneck speed, and festival organizers accepted proposals for the online portion of the festival until early this week. Comparatively, for an exhibition of tangible artwork that would be shipped to a gallery, the submission process would take months, at best.

DeLappe says he hopes the festival will become an annual or biennial event. “It could help put us on the map as a place where new media can happen,” he says.