The Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) workshop is cluttered with stacks of wood, dismantled computers, multi-colored wires, prosthetic limbs, empty cans of Mountain Dew and couches manned by fitfully sleeping graduate students.
For DANM’s ten participants, this represents two years of work coming to fruition. This year’s Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) new media exhibition, entitled “Permutations,” will be open to the public this Thursday through Sunday.
Those in the DANM program study digital media and the cultures they have created. According to the program’s website, faculty and students from a variety of backgrounds “pursue interdisciplinary artistic and scholarly research and production in the context of a broad examination of digital arts and cultures.”
“This is a very non-traditional program,” DANM student Andrew Pascoe said. “It crosses the boundaries of art by employing different types of technology.”
The yearly MFA presentation began in 2006, but has only been able to move onto campus since the completion of the new digital arts facility. Ten projects will be on exhibit, each with their own twist on DANM’s inventive sensibilities.
Pascoe composed a musical piece for “Permutations” entitled “God: The Opera,” which will be performed in the Digital Arts Media Center on Friday at 8 p.m. UCSC alumnus Jacob Cribbs wrote the libretto for the piece.
“I avoid spectacle. I avoid the dramatic. But my opera involves a wide variety of things,” Pascoe said. “Instrumentalists and singers will be reading the opera. I have a soprano, alto, baritone and bass all performing. I also have an oboe, string quartet and a piano playing. Then I employ computer electronics along with those.”
Exploring the relationship between art and technology can create varying theories, as the DANM participants illustrate through their unique works. Pascoe’s research has led him to a conclusion that might be inflammatory to some involved in the musical world.
“Music has no meaning,” he said. “My opera is based on the Book of Job. The piece parallels Job’s search for meaning in suffering by examining the search for meaning in music. Job doesn’t find any answers, and there are no answers in music.”
Pascoe said this doesn’t undermine the value of music.
“Music is still a worthwhile pursuit,” he said. “Stripping it of its meaning does not strip it of its beauty.”
Other DANM students chose to express their research through similarly unconventional means. Phoenix Toews wrote a programming language entitled “Palimpsest,” which he has used to create an augmented reality presentation for both iPhones and iPads.
“The type of program I’ve created places virtual objects at real GPS locations,” Toews said. “We’ll be loaning out iPads, and when you look at the screen you’ll see the camera’s view of the real world. But when you approach my virtual objects, they’ll appear as if they’re actually there.”
Toews’ augmented reality scavenger hunt may seem like a video game fanatic’s dream come true, but there are other elements as well.
“With this particular piece I’m talking about memory and place,” Toews said. “I’m collapsing space into the moment, taking a single space and making it a multiplicity. This is a way to tell many stories about a single location.”
Levi Goldman, another DANM student, created an interactive exhibit entitled “Completion Inc.”
“My piece represents a fictitious corporate entity,” Goldman said. “I have a fantastical collection of human parts, presumably ready for sale.”
Cameras will sense the movement of viewers and a variety of different body parts will move and shift accordingly.
“Subtle movements and heartbeats represent the life within the objects we consume,” Goldman said. “Commodity items try to fit the average body, but when people use those products, their identities meld and become average. It produces homogeneity, or monoculture.”
But monoculture is nowhere to be found in “Permutations.” These ten demonstrations of creativity are made all the more impressive when compared to the unorganized and chaotic corner of the digital arts building in which they were produced.