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SIGGRAPH 2007:  Global Eyes art exhibition - a vm report

Shahrokh was able to critically appraise the festival from a non-western perspective and also to discuss, with reference to his work relating Persian music to computer music, how computer music has compounded the globalising approach of western music.  This was a major and unexpected highlight of the visit - read the summary of this interview or hear it all as a podcast HERE .

At ISEA 2006 in San Jose Kooj fortunately met Vibeke Sorensen who became the curator for the art exhibition at SIGGRAPH 2007, and subsequently Vibeke invited Virtual Migrants to exhibit there.  The wider exhibition we participated in was titled "Global Eyes" and was a considerable departure from the usual SIGGRAPH exhibitions by consciously including a substantial and strong number of social aesthetics, critiques and discussions around various global issues. 

This report, from Kooj Chuhan and Aidan Jolly, focuses on aspects of SIGGRAPH and the exhibition with particular relevance to migrant reflections and aesthetics, and some more general cultural critique.  It is in four sections:


Our installation "What If I'm Not Real" with accompanying performances

The performance elements of this installation were accompanied by three fantastic guest musicians - Fabio Oliveira (Brazil) - percussion, James Ilgenfritz (New York) - double bass, and Jose Ignacio Lopez (Mexico / Peru) - electronically generated ambient sounds. Also worth mentioning is that Exhale was also presented as an ongoing single-screen DVD installation in the adjacent area.  An overview of the various performance events that took place as a part of SIGGRAPH 2007 can be found at .

The simplest and probably most objective look at our work is perhaps from a review, the original of which is available at .  Here follows an extract taken from that review, with shots of the installation and also of some of the musicians accompanying it with their live performance:


SIGGRAPH 2007 Art Gallery Digital Performances

by Joann Patel - An extract from her overview of some of the wonderful work exhibited at the Art Gallery Special Performance weekend

What if I’m not Real, directed by Kooj Chuhan, in collaboration with Tang Lin, Aidan Jolly (music director), Jilah Bakhshayesh, Miselo Kunda, Hafiza Mohamed and others, represents two years of work which addresses issues of refuge, asylum and migration. Kooj Chuhan describes the narrative, “Three masked figures on rafts at sea appear in each of three screens arranged as a circular triptych: an official, a migrant parent, and a child. The anxious official denies the parent access to safe land and community while engaging in lucrative military games. The conclusion poses an inevitable consequence of current conflicts.”

whatifimnotreal_01.jpg whatifimnotreal_02.jpg whatifimnotreal_03.jpg

The hounds tooth gauze screens are framed on top and bottom by bamboo poles, and hung from the ceiling on thin lines. The jagged edges of the screen, in combination with the bamboo, give it a raw, earthy feel. The three screens are arranged in a circular triptych and surrounded by black walls. As you walk around the screens you experience a different view of the story. From some directions the images overlap, weaving into each other. From other directions, an image projects through the screen onto the black wall, creating an interesting distorted ghost image.

whatifimnotreal_04.jpg whatifimnotreal_05.jpg whatifimnotreal_06.jpg

The music changes over time, lending a slightly different mood to the visuals with each change in musical intensity. At one point the recorded music was turned off, and Aidan Jolly performed live with two local musicians. Every live performance is improvised, so it is always a little different.

What If I'm Not Real? What If I'm Not Real?
What If I'm Not Real?
 What If I'm Not Real?  What If I'm Not Real?  What If I'm Not Real?

What if I’m not Real is not a piece you walk away from after a few seconds. It takes time and concentration to really understand the narrative, but when you take the time to fully experience it, it makes powerful statement.

A pic-blog and selected works and presentations, by Kooj Chuhan.

Ignacio and Martha from Discos Invisibles, and experimental socially-conscious electronic music collective from Tijuana, took us over the border with Mexico for a brief taste of Tijuana. This border interested us, and it interests many people - activists and artists against borders as well as the redneck variety of US citizens. 

Without going into this too much (there is plenty to read about it elsewhere on the net), here are a few shots.  This is the car park on the US side, with the barrier wall straight ahead.  The lights over the wall are in Tijuana, you can see San Diego and Tijuana are practically one city with a dividing wall to segregate one kind of people from another.

Below are two shots of the wall a bit closer up, a suitably provocative statement glowed forth and inspired us.

Above: These are the bars of the fence dividing USA and Mexico, seen from a beach in Tijuana.  Apparently, some Mexican guys swam out (you have to go a good way out to sea to clear the barrier) to get to the USA but only one made it, so he gave himself in so that the authorities might look for and find his friends, which they didn't and he got deported back anyway. Above: I rebelled and popped through a gap in the fence to take a pic of Ignacio - a local kid was amused and came to look too.

Below: a shot of Tijuana as we drove past - incl. a large Angel statue.  No sign of the regimented planning that defines the US.

Below: Couldn't resist this sign illustrating how close the two cities are, really like one city with a wall across it.
Below: Traffic piling up as usual to get into the US - massive wait every day for people who work in the US but can't live there. Road the other side (coming from US) is empty. Below: Another shot of this traffic queue from a bridge.


OK, so this is a typical presentation session at SIGGRAPH.
Above: Really interesting project discussed by Ricardo Domiguez - check it on ,  Shahrokh is on his left and Sheldon Brown (creator of Max MSP) is standing at the lectern. Above: - Ricardo's piece was about his Transborder Immigrant Tool, using Mobile phones equipped with GPS facility to assist migrants from Mexico cross the US border.
Below: Cristina Venegas discusses Cuba and digital culture Below: still from Cristina's presentation.
Above: Really interesting presentation of research by Lisa Parks about mobile phones and how they work in Mongolia. Above: A performance by Pauline Oliveros which really grabbed me, people in three locations hundreds of miles apart playing in real live synchronised time along with their video signals mixed artistically also in real time, using Internet 2 connectivity for amazing telepresence.
Below: signage to our slot. Below: Aidan and Kooj stand either side of Shahrokh Yadegari for a quick pose...

And this is a quick glimpse of the UCSD campus where our performance-installation was hosted  - a small part of this sprawl that is too big to walk across easily.  Very clean, slick, clinical, with amazing facilities and serious credentials.

OK, so we begin with a few shots of art works.  On the right are some prints from Philip Mallory Jones, you can't see them too well but they were fantastic, as was a book and interactive-animated work he had produced, working with richly poetic texts from his mother, and vividly conscious of an Afro-American experience.
Below: A fascinating triptych by R E A reflecting on Aboriginal experience in Australia. Below: Closer up to the triptych by R E A reflecting on Aboriginal experience in Australia.
Above: An endless corridor at the San Diego Convention Centre. Above: Heitor Capuzzo in discussion with Francisco Marinho, both from Brazil, while in a restaurant.  Both these guys were great - Heitor's presentation was critically incisive and Francisco's playfully interactive artwork was one of my favourite pieces.
Below: crazy exhibit slicking up the convention centre, in the vein of the usual computer-phile stuff. Below: Kooj setting up his presentation for virtual migrants.
Above: Goodbye San Diego! Above: The vastness of the US.
Below: next year, Sept 08 in Manchester, Ignacio gave a talk with Kooj about Tijuana and his work alongside some discussion about VM and SIGGRAPH, hosted by Community Arts North West Below: ...and in spring 2009 Kooj and Aidan included reflections on SIGGRAPH as a part of their 'Collaborations, Migrations and Territories' talk at Manchester Town Hall.  (More details HERE.)

Aidan Jolly's take on SIGGRAPH and its San Diego setting

 Global narratives

Or,  ‘One Operating System Under God’ as GW might have put it

 Techno-crossings in the Age of Terror….Siggraph is primarily an industry and consumer graphics conference. I was struck by its immensity, especially as we were cloistered in UCSD (University of California - San Diego) to begin with.

 Then I was struck by its homogeneity – at UCSD the geeks reigned, and corporate sponsors lurked behind the more than state of the art equipment. Some of my downtime from rigging our exhibition was spent watching programmers try to make a couple of huge three-D immersive environments work. They never did. UCSD was a stage set. San Diego was a stage set.

 The conference centre was also a stage set – here the predominant look was Californian and Japanese, the current meme of the Pacific. But within this it was possible to seek out the other – a few presentations and a few exhibits in the art gallery brought you right up against the contradictory nature of the subject. Over the road from the centre was the ‘Historic heart of San Diego’. It was still under construction.

 And of course, 15 miles away was the border with Mexico. Thanks to our Mexican collaborators Discos Invisibles we were taken round Tijuana. A few polarities became immediately obvious – to be blue collar in SD is to be Hispanic – you may need to spend three or four hours a day in the queue to get work. But in TJ people are out on the streets – in SD they are indoors by ten, as the bars and restaurants close early. SD is a navy town, like Plymouth. The border was never mentioned, but on the TJ side you can follow the fence down to the sea where signs in poorly translated Spanish warn of the dangers of swimming across the border, backlit by the searchlight from the Coastguard Hummer on the us side of the beach

 The technology is both fetish and freedom – to the Japanese anime addicts, both are combined in endless avatars that are hyper-representations of human sexual characteristics, but to the indigenous peoples of California Baja and Alta, cheap DVD making technology and internet distribution means they are able to break the silent genocide that began 500 years ago.

 In the shining Manga dream we would have teleported or surfed on a wave of light to California. In reality all technology has to offer the traveller to the US is iris scanning, constant explanation of the contents of your bags, x-rays of instruments and equipment brought by hand, and the last word, found when I opened my guitar case to check for damage on return to Manchester, was a message from homeland security – just checking….






Small sections of the vast areas of hands-on tech demos / tryouts (left) and displays of current developments and research (right).
A more typical look at the artistic exhibits for SIGGRAPH - in the more commercial sector. Difficult to get away from the stars and stripes in the US, this was hanging in the airport lounge.


While exhibiting at SIGGRAPH, we were incredibly fortunate to have as our key contact and host the very insightful Shahrokh Yadegari, composer and sound designer, and expert in both computer music and Persian music.  As we trawled the various parts that made up the whole, we came to realise that Shahrokh had the best handle on the festival that we could find from a non-western critical perspective, as well as more than capable of setting the broader scene for what SIGGRAPH and the Global Eyes exhibition was about as he had worked closely with curator Vibeke Sorensen on it.  His own research and work on exploring ways to connect Persian music with computer music is also a metaphor for and a microcosm of the wider ways in which global dynamics have taken a narrow route for quite a few hundred years.

In order to keep our reflections on the festival and the Global Eyes exhibition concise, interviewing Shahrokh was the perfect opportunity to firstly get a broad take on the event, then move quickly to a strikingly deep immersion into a developing critical debate.

PODCAST 1 - play here: 
or download (right-click here and select "save target as") 12 MB
Shahrokh Yadegari interviewed by Kooj Chuhan about the context and significance of the Global Eyes Art Exhibition which took place at SIGGRAPH 2007 in San Diego, USA. 

Shahrokh discusses:

- the connection between fine art and commercial/technical computer graphics;
- the role of the festival in this respect;
- the connection with border issues given San Diego's neighbour city of Tijuana in Mexico;
- the original vision of curator Vibeke Sorensen for the Global Eyes exhibition in the context of a "west-centric" medium;
- issues between first and third world economies and artists in developing and exhibiting such work;
- the inclusivity agenda; comments on and contextualisation of virtual migrants' work;
- the role of such an exhibition in developing consciousness about such issues;
- the curatorial process of Global Eyes in response to such agendas;
- current material, philosophical and critical shifts in technology-based arts for cultural/aesthetic production within poorer nations. 

(Podcast produced and edited by Aidan Jolly for Virtual Migrants; copyright 2007, virtual migrants).




PODCAST 2 - play here: 
or download (right-click here and select "save target as") 12 MB
Shahrokh Yadegari interviewed by Kooj Chuhan discussing how computer music has compounded the globalising approach of western music, using the example and his deep knowledge of Persian music.

Shahrokh discusses:

- the contrasts and separations between traditional Persian musicality and computer music;
- his impetus to finally bring the two together with respect for both;
- maintaining a Persian music approach against the dominant western model based on tonality;
- the development of relevant discourses within both fields;
- the need to build his own tools, grapple with critical issues and also musical issues;
- the need to engage critically in the current time;
- the historical development of a 'scientific' rhetoric and rationale about music theory;
- discourses of power within the model of classical music as a political and economic project;
- the globalisation of music through the rationalisation of musical processes;
- 'atonality' as a mythology and a western construct;
- traditional hybridity in Persian culture of poetry and philosophy;
- reflections on the Persian philosophical poet Omar Khayam, and resonances between old Persian poetry and modern western concepts.

(Podcast produced and edited by Aidan Jolly for Virtual Migrants; copyright 2007, virtual migrants).