ArtsTech arrived in the Bay Area, more specifically at The Hub in Berkeley last Tuesday, September 17, 2013. The New York-based meetup group explores how artists are using emerging technologies and how today's ubiquitous connectivity can be leveraged to bring decentralized and democratized art and culture into people's everyday lives. The group, captained by Jaki Levy, hosts lectures, discussions, hackathons, and social events open to anyone interested in getting their art and technology on.
ArtHack, the group's inaugural event in the area, was a panel discussion themed around anonymity. The panelists Kat Parkin, an arts event organizer, An Xiao Mina, an artist and technologist interested in memes as the Internet's street art, and Danielle Siembieda, a social practice artist working at the intersection of environmentalism and technology, were joined by moderator Ben Valentine, a local critic and curator who recently co-organized the world's first Tumblr Art Symposium.
The panel was attended by a small group and, as with any discussion open to the public, the evening was sprinkled with a bit of everything: great ideas popped up over that ever-present trap of talking in circles, while compromise and broad, culturally inclusive thinking sat next to unsettlingly extreme leftist remarks. Sparked by a mention of James Bridle's recent piece outlining the shadow of a drone on the sidewalk outside Washington DC's Corcoran Gallery of Art, we talked about the manifold uses of drones, an anonymous, heard-but-not-seen technology, America's response to the Snowden leaks about NSA spying, and the Chinese people's systematic approach to navigating their government's invasive Internet censorship.
Many in attendance were more afraid of a future full of surveillance, spying and drones than I had expected from a crowd of techie art lovers. It was great to be faced with a mindset so unlike my own, the internal contradictions and struggles of people who both loved technology's potential and feared how it could be used against them. These were not wild-eyed Luddites trying to stop the inevitable rise of computers, but people interested in art and artist actions in response to a climate of threatened privacy.
And this was one of the most interesting questions brought up during the evening: Do artists have a responsibility to address the gap between our technological present and the public's understanding and experience of those technologies? Can art help us face our fears about the technologies currently being used to secretly watch us? Or should we try to divorce the equipment itself, the outline of a particular drone, from the human-controlled actions it takes?
So if you are interested in the discussion and itching to get a bit more techie art into your life, #ArtsTech is a great place to start.