High tech interactive exhibit coming to Milwaukee Art Museum

The Milwaukee Art Museum is bridging the gap between art and science with its upcoming “Act/React” exhibit which features interactive user controlled artwork by various artists from across the nation.

Oconomowoc-based Paragon Development Systems is helping to make the exhibit a reality by supplying the technical hardware and additional support for the exhibition. 

“We have a sponsorship agreement with them and part of that sponsorship is to provide them with the hardware for the artwork,” said Garreth Harwood, chief marketing officer at Paragon Development Systems (PDS). PDS will provide all the computers, projectors and monitors used in the installations.

“It is (PDS’) first sponsorship with the Milwaukee Art Museum,” said Rachel Jurek, sponsorship manager at the museum. “We discussed some possibilities and they agreed to support the exhibit with both cash donations as well as supplies.”

 The exhibit, set to open October 4 and run through January 11 will feature six different artists with ten different environmental installations involving light, sound and other interactive media, said Joe Ketner chief curator at the museum.

“It is an installation exhibit, which means each artist has a room for their various environments,” said Ketner. “The pieces are designed in such a way for there to be a direct physical reaction with the art.”

According to Ketner it is designed so the technology is essentially invisible.

“It’s all about the experience,” he said. “Technology has evolved so much so that the artists are able to use new media technology to create a seamless activity with the viewer without using an interface like a mouse or a keyboard.” 

Screens with images that the viewer creates, lights and sound that respond to viewer movement, and devices that respond to touch are all part of the Act/React exhibit that features work from artists Liz Philips, Camille Utterbeck, Brian Knep,  Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Scott Snibbe, and Daniel Rozin.

“This is a really great show in the sense that our work is really similar in the technology we use,” said Utterbeck. “When we show individually it is harder to separate the technology from the artistic vision, but when you have multiple people using the same technology for different purposes and showing in the same place it’s a really great opportunity. That is something that is really great for people who are interested in both technology and art.” 

Utterbeck’s installation consists of three interactive video installations that use a video camera as an input device. She writes the software that analyzes the image and outputs designs based on where people are moving in the space. Essentially the viewer’s movements create the image on the screen.

A similar installation by Philips involves the use of ultrasonic sensors to detect where people are in the space. The software she writes then emits sounds and triggers neon lights in response to viewer movement and actions.

The exhibit also features art work by Brian Knep, an academy award-winning computer graphics software developer for Stevan Spielberg’s Jurrassic Park, and Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller who are well known for their audio-driven walks through museums and cities.

Act/React is guest curated by George Fifield, the founding director of Boston Cyberarts, Inc., a non-profit arts organization that puts on the Boston cyber arts festival. Fifield, a Milwaukee native, is highly involved in the new media technology art world, Ketner said.

“I’ve known George a very long time and my relationship with him and background with technology helped make this exhibit in Milwaukee possible,” he said.

The museum, according to Ketner, has a long standing history of dealing with kinetic art.  This exhibit is an extension of the existing sensory overload and optical art exhibit that Ketner previously produced, he said. The museum also hosted the first Light Motion Sound exhibit in America in 1968.

The museum will host a panel discussion on Friday, Oct. 3 with the artists the night before the exhibit opens. The panel will be open to the public.

“We are hoping it will be an exhilarating sensory experience,” said Ketner. “I don’t think there is a soul out there in our audience who has ever had the floors and walls in a museum respond to their movement and their touch it should be a unique and memorable visual experience.”

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