ALLEN MIDGETTE WITH AUDREY REGAN
Marketing Stunt Explodes With A Techno Flourish
by Austin Bunn
3:04 p.m. Oct. 16, 1997 PDT
NEW YORK - Tucked into the snaking bowels of an abandoned bank in the financial district, a 12-ring circus is booting up tonight. But you'd never guess from the 6-foot dragon serving wine off a wireless laptop, or the dominatrix whipping a satellite dish that the Art and Technology Circus, run by hybrid art gallery and Internet service company Audart/Audcom, is actually a trade show. With rooms crammed full of tents and technology from DEC, Apple, and Silicon Graphics, the two-month exhibition hopes to push product as well as the artistic envelope. "We're trying to create a land of Oz to have people stay to say, 'Let's have another vodka shot and buy some technology,'" says Audart director Audrey Regan.
Despite the swinging acrobats, dancers, and makeshift freak show (a baby "cyclops" floats in formaldehyde in one exhibit), the technology is truly center stage at the carnival. Audart is mounting 19 surveillance cameras throughout the space, linked through telecom company WinStar's DS3 "wireless fiber" drums. The drums, which hang from the ceiling, will be used to network the entire space visually, with live footage, web pages, and random images piped through the drums at speeds nearly 30 times faster than a T1.
Artist John Toth's installation, "In a Circle," uses that high-speed connection to create a remote dance-duet. Live dancers move inside a web of fabric while live video of another troupe in Buffalo is projected on the scrims surrounding them. Suited WinStar representative John Connolly will be on hand to explain the technology. Asked if he'll feel out of place, Connolly responds, "That's the point. It's about branding and marketing [to the arts community.]"
Indeed, the show makes an unlikely combination of hucksterism and haute couture. Brand labels are featured prominently on all equipment and Regan and her partner are licensed resellers. They're hoping to push the crowds into the control booth area to test drive the machines. "We're not only integrating art and technology," Regan assures, "we're integrating technology and technology - when you ask about DEC, you'll find out about WinStar and Apple."
But because some 90 percent of the art is installation work and not for sale, the focus on technology is pragmatic - it's the only way they'll be able to make money.
Many of the artists are willing promoters. In a fog of Nag Champa incense, Hungarian artist <hicode>'s "Spaceship ISIS" will mix classical dance and illbient music against the backdrop of a new "visual sampling" software, Xpose. The program maps a set of QuickTime images to a keyboard, then the images pulse and skip across the screen as the pianist plays. <hicode> makes an effusive pitch for the software, and plans to demo it for the crowds. "This is the music revolution ... which unites musicians and visuals," <hicode> says. "It's a perfect tool for DJs."
While the rattle and hum of techno art might catch viewers' eyes, the show also features hefty amounts of traditional work, including a puppet show (featuring "Granath" the dragon), a hallway of mandala-like paintings, and a bathroom running a video from the Humane Society on ivory poaching. "It's difficult [to watch]," says Regan. "We're trying to collect 5,000 signatures."
For the sold-out opening night, Audart secured permission from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to shut down the road outside the gallery and spill performers into the street. They plan to parade the painted satellite dish (with public lashing included) as part of the "ballyhoo" outside the main tent. "It's going to be noisy," Regan says.