In a panel discussion on Thursday evening, members of Charlotte's arts community gathered to consider whether the convergence of art and technology produced conditions for a transformative experience or just a gimmick.
This panel discussion opened the Ulysses Festival, whose 2013 theme is "Brave New Worlds: Technology and Art." Featured speakers included UNC Charlotte dance professor Sybil Huskey, Opera Carolina's Director of Production Michael Baumgarten, School of Architecture student Evan Danchenka and theatrical video designer Jay Morong. Each participant briefly examined the ways in which technology enhances or distracts in their artistic ventures.
Huskey discussed Dance.Draw, a 2012 art and technology project that joined UNCC's dance department with the software and information systems department. Dancers wore or held a tracking device that created and projected digital images based on their movement. You can watch an excerpt here.
In the opera world, there has been a big move toward digital projections as replacements for painted backdrops and scenery. This method eliminates lengthy set changes, large stage crews and presumably updates an artistic genre that needs younger patrons to buy tickets. Baumgarten discussed the steep learning curve required of him when Opera Carolina purchased projectors, but showed that this streamlined scenic delivery allowed sophisticated subtleties: a giant moon can change position over the course of an aria. Digital projections will be used in Opera Carolina's production of "The Pearl Fishers," opening April 13.
(To see the ultimate tech gimmick in opera, go see Robert Lepage's "Ring" cycle at the Metropolitan Opera.)
Danchenka worked with UNCC's Digital Arts Center and music series, Fresh Ink, to create digital projections accompanying a performance of Morton Feldman's "Crippled Symmetry." For the February performance, audience members laid on reclining lawn chairs borrowed from the Y to watch the series of images as they listened. Watch Danchenka and other contributors talk about the experience here.
Morong designs video for theatrical productions that usually challenge the traditional--a word Morong doesn't like--perception of theater (for instance, that all speaking parts will be played by a live actor). In UNCC's upcoming production of "romeo.juliet," well-known characters will be represented digitally.
From Morong's point of view, technology is definitely a gimmick, just like costumes, props and make-up. And he's absolutely right. This discussion of technology is really a discussion of digital multimedia--technology as a concept is not new. Imagine the first time dancers used canned music rather than a live orchestra: new technology. Wagner wrote music for an instrument that didn't exist, and then created it. The Wagner tuba is a gimmick if I ever saw one.
That this evolution of artist production is simply a part of how time passes does not make its discussion futile. The desire to bombard performance art with another visual stimulus, to possibly overload the audience (a reaction most panelists heard from portions of their audience) is merely a testament to the idea that art reflects culture.
Leah Harrison is a Charlotte Observer intern. She covers the arts as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance. She hails from Campobello, S.C., and adores Baroque oratorios and southern murder ballads.