Photos: At Sundance, where art, science, and film collide

The film festival's New Frontier on Main venue features media installations from artists innovating with technology to tell cinematic stories in all new ways.

Michelle Meyers
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We Feel Fine

The screening rooms at the Sundance Film Festival--kicking off in Park City, Utah, this week--aren't the only places showcasing film innovation. In fact, a totally different type of venue--New Frontier on Main--is charged with pushing cinematic conventions to new limits and its 15 installations this year appear to do just that.

What was once merely the film festival's media center, for the past three years (including 2009) has been transformed into a social space in which visitors interact with the works of people innovating at the crossroads of the art, technology, and film worlds, said curator Shari Frilot.

"We put artists, filmmakers, and media scientists in one room and sort of see what happens with imagination and exposure to each other's ideas and each other's work," she said.

One feature of this year's New Frontier on Main collection, Frilot said, is the presence of scientists on the roster for the first time. One is actually a pair of programmers, Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar, whose works We Feel Fine (shown here) and Universe "use computational mathematics to tell stories by manipulating really big databases," Frilot added.

Every few minutes in We Feel Fine, the installation takes sentences from recently published blogs from around the world that include the words "I feel" or "I am feeling" and visualizes them in six different movements. It's meant to explore "human emotion on a global scale" to create "an ever-changing and expanding work of art that is authored by everyone," according to Sundance materials.

Frilot is also a senior programmer for Sundance's New Frontier feature film category, which is completely separate from the New Frontier on Main art venue, although there's much thematic overlap.

Click here for more stories from Sundance.

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Another scientist showcasing work at New Frontier on Main is John Underkoffler, who helped out on the film Minority Report and invented that trick in which Tom Cruise wears gloves that could grab and move computer images in space. Underkoffler developed that idea into a new system for editing film that's the focus of his installation, Tamper.

Tamper is essentially the demonstration of the gestural-driven operating system he created--G speak--which allows filmmakers to edit film in a whole new way, using cutting-edge interface technology. Festivalgoers will become cinema collage artists, using their hands directly to grab and recompose film elements let loose from movies.

Frilot said she had long followed Underkoffler's work and has invited him to participate in New Frontier twice before. This year, he's ready to unveil the technology to the world, she said, and chose the Sundance venue in which to do it.

"It's really a kind of an example of how technology approximates art," she said. "The otherworldliness and resonance of it and the interface...make it the perfect piece to really articulate the crossroads of media technology, film, and art."

Frilot said she was intent on bringing more technical media artists to the roster, "but it's a boon to have someone who's developed something that is just so revolutionary that it can double as an art installation. It's the times."

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Nasty Nets

Art and technology also come together through the Nasty Nets, an international ensemble representing 25 of the Web's most active artists. Their work "both celebrates and critiques the Internet by employing original and appropriated imagery, audio, animated gifs, YouTube hacks, html cheat codes, and other found or edited material--all of which offer a humorous and poignant take on contemporary digital visual culture," according to Sundance materials.

We're especially intrigued by a Nasty Nets event Friday at Sundance called Night of a Thousand Megabytes, described as "a late-night digital art-making jam." Pizza in a can is reportedly on the menu.

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Moon Theater

This year, several of the New Frontier installations will be presented outside the actual venue at the bottom of Park City's downtown Main Street near the Music Cafe. One of those is Moon Theater, an interactive work by Nova Jiang and Michael Kontopoulos that lets festivalgoers get their hands on the moon after dusk.

Moon Theater "uses interactive shadow play and high-tech magic to transform your hand's shadows into puppets that are then projected onto a large floating moon," according to Sundance materials.

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Twilight Avenger

Three works with "strong ambient presence," according to Frilot, are Kelly Richardson's Exiles of the Shattered Star, Wagons Roll, and Twilight Avenger, all of which provide the forest-like soundtrack for the whole New Frontier show and are meant to be experienced over time.

Richardson "uses cinematic language to create part-real, part-imagined landscapes that provoke audiences to participate in storytelling while offering visual metaphors for our modern reality--a wavering hybrid of fact and fiction," according to Sundance materials. Her work will also be shown on an outdoor screen down on Main Street.

Shown here, Twilight Avenger "presents a dreamy, dark, enigmatic forest, occupied by a radioactive deer."

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Agency of Time, Part 1B

Another work meant to be experienced over time is Leighton Pierce's Agency of Time, Part 1B, a multi-channel installation that "creates painterly animations from long-exposure photography," according to Sundance materials. The animations are then projected onto various specially-made surfaces--including a column--that "engage with the architecture of the place," Frilot said.
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Mother + Father

Candice Breitz's Mother + Father is an installation that takes place in two rooms containing six plasma screens. She uses a cast of iconic American film actors to look at the relationship between "popular notions of parenthood and the narratives created by Hollywood blockbusters," according to Sundance materials.

Click here (PDF) for information about the other New Frontier on Main artists featured at this year's Sundance Film Festival, or here for a gallery on last year's collection.

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