The evolution of Telfair's PULSE Art+Technology Festival, now in its 12th year, has progressed in parallel with the role of the Jepson Center over the course of their coeval life spans.
Conceived by Telfair's senior curator of education, Harry DeLorme, roughly concurrent with the opening of the Jepson Center, PULSE remains one of the few museum-sponsored festivals of its kind in the country.
"One of the reasons I do this and keep trying to put it out there is that I want to excite kids about creativity, creative thinking and potentially getting involved in future STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] careers," explains DeLorme. "And I've seen things happen since we've been doing this that I've been really excited about."
DeLorme cites the increased interest in making Savannah a technology hub and the growth of STEM programming in local schools as evidence that some of the ideas he's been championing are taking hold. Like other years, the year will include various technology-based workshops and outreach projects that involve STEM-related activities.
"It's nice to see these things happening here in Savannah," says DeLorme. "I'm hoping that if we can keep this going long enough, we'll see a larger effort to promote Savannah as a place where creative tech happens â€¦ We've got these great resources here. We have this really great creative sector, both the artists and really exciting things happening with 'new frontier' kind of stuff, so why don't we really push that and encourage that?"
One of the most invigorating offerings this year that touches on education is a free screening at 6 p.m. Jan. 18 of the IMAX-shot documentary narrated by Jeff Bridges, "Dream Big: Engineering Our World," which highlights the role of female engineers in inspirational projects around the world. The screening will include a panel discussion afterward with one of the engineers from the film. (Look for an article Jan. 14 in the Arts & Culture section of the Savannah Morning News and SavannahNow.com for a more in-depth discussion of this event.)
Education is only one element of the PULSE festival, however. There's plenty more to technologically tweak your senses and simply ooh and ahh at, like the featured virtual reality exhibition "Radiance" by award-winning artists Max Almy and Teri Yarbrow, with Josephine Leong. "Radiance" is an immersive installation that includes mixed-media and video projections that will engulf the viewer in "elaborate multilayered patterns, geometric designs and ancient iconography" to explore how the power of ancient symbols and contemporary theories in physics are interrelated. This is the first year that one of the featured exhibitions is from local artists, as both Almy and Yarbrow teach at SCAD.
The other main featured exhibit is from Danish artist Jakob Kudsk Steensen, who specializes in interactive media installations. Steensen's "AQUAPHOBIA" is a VR experience that probes the fear of water as a way of examining "perceptions of our relationship to future water levels and climates." It's comprised of a full-scale virtual replica of a park in Redhook, Brooklyn, that's been inundated by rising ocean levels. As the artist explains, technology provides a unique way of viewing important issues like climate change.
"I think we are at a 'boarder' point in time, where we need to dramatically alter how we think about ecology," explains Steensen. "Digital media allows for new ways of sensing environments around us because of how they connect globally and allow for more fluid ways of sensing, where bodies, ears and eyes can perceive things we otherwise cannot sense without the use of technology. So in a sense, I believe VR is a tool that can make us perceive our relationship to the environment in new ways."
Steensen also points out that PULSE provides an important platform for artists like himself to exhibit their work outside the conventional "art world" centers like New York City, where he currently lives.
Other aspects of this year's PULSE include a "Choose Your Reality" exhibition that will include a VR installation where viewers fly over a landscape by flapping their arms like wings, and a comic strip come to life by means of augmented reality. The opening night programming at 6 p.m. Jan. 17 will include a lecture by Almy, Yarbrow and Leong, followed by a performance by Savannah-based PULSE favorites the Medeology Collective, which will incorporate a media sculpture installation in the Jepson atrium. The opening event, free to museum members and $8 for nonmembers, is the only ticketed PULSE event this year.
At 2 p.m. Jan. 21, Alessandro Imperato from the Medeology Collective will present a re-interpretation and remix of sorts of the 1927 Fritz Lang classic "Metropolis" with a live electronic score by David Spencer. Imperato has been a mainstay of PULSE and sees the festival as an indispensable part of Savannah's cultural ecosystem.
"PULSE as an event is a very important venue in the Southeast for new and emerging media art," explains Imperato. "It is open to experimental, challenging and sometimes off-beat projects. It is a platform for cutting-edge new art and brings kudos to Savannah in terms of cultural capital.
"Long may PULSE continue," says Imperato. "The need for venues that support artists and media art has increased in such utilitarian driven times, where culture is seen as a luxury or an obscure and exotic distraction, when it is crucial to the state of a healthy society."
IF YOU GO
What: PULSE Art+Technology Festival 2018
When: Jan. 17-21
Where: Jepson Center, 207 W. York St.
Cost: Free; opening night is $8 for nonmembers
6 p.m. Jan. 17: Opening lecture by Max Almy, Teri Yarbrow and Josephine Leong and performance by the Medeology Collective; $8 for nonmembers
11 a.m. Jan. 18: Student panel and Q&A with PULSE artists (grades 4-12 and college students)
2 p.m. Jan. 18: VR/AR artist panel with Jakob Kudst Steensen and Wangshu Sun
6 p.m. Jan. 18: Screening of "Dream Big: Engineering Our World" and lecture/panel discussion with engineer Avery Bang
11 a.m. Jan. 19: Lightning Tech Talks for Students (grades 4-12)
2 p.m. Jan. 19: PULSE Curators' Tour
1-4 p.m. Jan. 20: STEAM Expo and Free Family Day activities
3 p.m. Jan. 20: VR musical performance by The Glad Scientist (aka Daniel Sabio)
2 p.m. Jan. 21: "Metropolis-Synthesis" screening with live electronic score by Alexandro Imperato and David Spencer