January 20, 2007 10:47 AM PST

At Sundance, even artwork needs a power cord

PARK CITY, Utah--Some venues at the Sundance Film Festival are all about the illumination of big-screen independent movies, and some are showcases for creative filmmaking technologies. Only one Sundance spot, however, highlighted the best of both.

Film's art and tech realms converged Friday afternoon at the 10-day Sundance festival's panel discussion on the intersection of fine art and emerging media technologies, a genre featured as part of New Frontier, the festival's media center.

"New media is the most contemporary art," said panelist Steve Sacks, director of New York's Bitforms Gallery, which represents artists who use technology tools.

One shining example of such art is a 75-minute Luke DuBois' video montage, Academy, that uses algorithmic technology to compress each Oscar-winning best picture over the past 75 years into a single minute. A longtime chamber-music composer with a "short attention span," DuBois explained to the panel audience how he also used technology to create a montage of No. 1 songs from recent decades, each song shrunk to one second. He did another montage--on display at the festival along with Academy--of every Playboy magazine centerfold since 1953, a piece that he referenced as "a history of airbrushing."

Another example of the emerging genre is Ricardo Rivera's method of mapping video onto everyday items. A self-described disgruntled filmmaker and "site-specific video-installation artist," he used his technique to light up the surface of the festival's circular coffee tables with changing footage of everything from a swimming fish to a plate of bacon and eggs.

Panelist Lincoln Schatz, who designs his own custom software for his art, is displaying a video installation in New Frontier that records, reflects and remixes random moments onto a collage.

And Lynn Hershman Leeson, who is screening her feature-length film Monday in the Second Life virtual world, has long been focusing her artwork on the "counterfeit representation of life," through the use of robots, artificial intelligence agents and the like.

While galleries, hotels, Web communities and other public venues are increasingly interested in such unconventional works, the artists said they face challenges getting the world of fine art to embrace, or even understand their projects. Part of that, they said, is because it's so hard to find the words to explain what are often cutting-edge, unnamed methodologies.

Another challenge that high-tech artists face is getting the market up to speed about addressing the maintenance and longevity of technology-based installations, they said. Leeson emphasized that because technology changes so quickly, she has relied heavily on programmers to make sure her artwork can be remigrated to different platforms and will never become obsolete.

While recognizing fears about the uncertainties of technology, DuBois argued that modern artists have always worked "with the highest level of technology available to their culture."

"They shouldn't be afraid of it. It's perfectly natural," he said.

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