.One Wonder

Artists near and far turned San Jose into a world tech-art city for 01SJ

CREATURE OF THE NIGHT: Chico MacMurtrie’s ‘Inflatable Architectural Growth’ featured inflatable insectoid arms for Friday’s AbsoluteZERO festival.

LAST WEEK, the third 01SJ Biennial erupted throughout downtown San Jose and a few other locales, providing a multifaceted gander into how contemporary artists use various technologies in their work.

As an observer/participant, the anti-man-about-town straddled a few trajectories and took in what he could, given the plentiful amount of goings-on. Confused folks were invited to use the new Biennial iPhone application or the Social Media Builders, a group of “Art Ambassadors” who regularly updated statuses on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The 80,000-square-foot South Hall facility (the blue and white bunker behind the convention center) functioned as the epicenter of the Biennial, an open-air artist’s garage of sorts. A few dozen artists spent the previous 10 days working on their projects as the public strolled through the area, creating an interactive, conversational experience. In some cases, visitors were allowed to help out with the creative process or take part in the research a particular project entailed.

A rectangular tech area sat in the middle of the hall. Enveloped in open steel scaffolding that visually matched the inside frame of the building, the area included a machine shop for any of the artists to use. The entire open-air, process-oriented, garagelike atmosphere constituted a deliberate attack on the suburban art and wine festival concept—where each artist sits enclosed in his own little tent, selling wares he’s already made.

Speaking of participation, the U.K-.based collective Blast Theory orchestrated a cell-phone role-playing game all over downtown. Participants agreed to call a number at a given time and then subsequently receive a series of calls walking them through a narrative adventure. When this author played a test run of the game, he was given a series of instructions to meet a partner in the parking garage below the Convention Center and then proceed to rob the Bank of America building across from Plaza de Cesar Chavez.

Even better, the game concluded at the Caravan, downtown’s most beautifully seedy dive bar. Which is ironic, because last year the San Jose Redevelopment Agency wanted to spend mucho dinero on buying and demolishing the Caravan. And now a world-renowned artist collective comes to San Jose and uses the bar in its project. The Caravan has put San Jose on the international map once again.

So many activities transpired that it was hard to catch everything one wanted. For the opening ceremonies, the Audio Ballerinas attached sensors, microphones and electronics to their tutus in order to create an audioscape as they moved through the City Hall plaza. They also scraped amplified wire rakes across the cement, creating some wonderfully grating industrial noise that was nowhere near loud enough. The Rockwell Group then illuminated the City Hall elevator shaft with an interactive, human-trigged, constantly changing visual display that simply rocked the audience. People of all ages snapped photographs left and right.

Friday night, the AbsoluteZERO Street Festival exploded on South First Street from Original Joe’s on down to Reed. It was nowhere near as huge as the organizers promised, but the urban bohemian cyberdelic throwdown contained more than enough components to make the evening worthwhile.

Chico MacMurtrie’s inflatable spider-armed sculpture became a conversation piece for anyone who stopped by. Bands jammed on two stages. Bizarre participatory projects and mobile performances occupied parts of the street. Galleries remained open and populated until late. Even better, a successful urban “underground market” of delicious homemade food products filled the parking lot at First and San Salvador—the best use of that parcel since the 401 Club burned down 20 years ago. Independent vendors hawked everything from homemade chai to jerk chicken.

The next day, the Green Prix took over the same street, featuring a parade of art vehicles in eco-motion. Homemade sustainable rides took to the street and parked themselves for all to see. In the end, 01SJ provided a process for a variety of artists to engage the public in any way they could, making San Jose a much better place as a result. There is now a there there. Or a here here, however one wants to look at it.

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