Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Today I was at the huge SIGGRAPH international annual convention on Computer Graphics and Interactive Technologies, wandering around as an uncommitted flaneur beholding digital wonders. Unfortunately, due to fatigue after a long drive to Dartmouth to see the very interesting work being done at the Virtual Terrorism Response Academy yesterday, I missed the SIGGRAPH Fashion Show. There's a lot to take in and many ways that a cultural critic could analyze it; both Erkki Huhtamo and Lev Manovich have commented on SIGGRAPH's spectacles in the past.

I picked up and held the creepy little_one, fished for virtual fish with a fishing pole that tugged with their activity, played hopscotch across glowing squares in the MOVE project at UCLA, shouted at the eerily responsive oily magnetic sculpture by Sachiko Kodama, loitered about with the vest-wearing unspoken_boston_siggraph people with glowing LED messages like "This is Crap" and "I Want to Fart," and waved my red/green paddle in the huge Electronic Theater to manipulate the massively multiplayer Etch-a-Sketch.

I'm always interested in the difference between when technology prevents representation and when ideology prevents it. Now that human social, rhetorical, and political interactions are being modeled in virtual space, it is interesting to observe the constraints on what can be depicted caused by the limitations of the available algorithms.

I also stopped by the Open Source Pavilion at SIGGRAPH, which claimed a substantial chunk of exhibit real estate on the convention center floor despite the looming presence of corporate giants in the neighborhood.

SIGGRAPH is a remarkable organization, which continues to manage to negotiate the tension between the open exchange of information about digital technology represented by the organization’s sponsorship of courses, academic papers, training opportunities, and poster sessions and the understandable stinginess about proprietary knowledge associated with the corporate partners on whom SIGGRAPH depends for large-scale support.

There were a number of interesting panels today. Apparently at the “So You Want to Create Content: Licenses, Copyrights, and Other Things to Think About” the big idea was trademark, which certainly put a chill down my free culture spine. I attended the “Ethics in Image Manipulation” panel, which raised important questions about the moral responsibility of artists who alter images used in photojournalism and video news. I spoke to several people who worked on erasing the other civil rights activists from near the podium of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” for an Alcatel commercial, who said that there were passionate discussions at Industrial Light and Magic over right and wrong while it was being done.

Now that E3 will cease to be in its present form, it will be interesting to see if SIGGRAPH becomes a venue for more promotion of splashy digital entertainment or if it takes the death of E3 to be a bellwether for an overextended big-budget business model.

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