DAX Digital Arts eXpo will display interdisciplinary creativity

by Daniela Armas | 6/22/18 2:50am


This Friday and Saturday, visitors of the Black Family Visual Arts Center will be greeted by a maze of masking tape and musical equipment as they enter the atrium. What is usually a popular study space among students is undergoing a transformation into an audio-visual gallery in preparation for the DAX+ Digital Arts eXpo, a showcase featuring work by Dartmouth students, faculty and critically-acclaimed guest artists.

This year, the College’s music department worked in partnership with the Hopkins Center for the Arts to facilitate the two-day event. The event kicks off the Hopkins Center’s SHIFT 2018, which is a diverse series of live arts performances that will focus on the influence of the sixties as an artistic moment. SHIFT aims to incorporate questions of identity and exhibit works that share a break with tradition in some way. In conjunction with this goal, DAX+ will showcase creativity from several different fields that lie at the intersection of technology and the arts.

DAX+ was established by computer science professor Lorie Loeb in 2012. When she realized that many students were not presenting their work due to a lack of spaces for hybrid art forms, she created DAX+ as a catch-all exhibition space for interdisciplinary work that may be difficult to categorize, she said.

“It’s supposed to be a home for art that would otherwise have none,” said music department chair Michael Casey, who spearheaded the planning of the event.

Planning the expo is a two-part process, according to Casey. The organization began when the music department approached other academic departments to obtain estimates of when students would be ready to present their work. Then, the music department issued an open call for submissions and project proposals. Last year, DAX+ exhibited over 80 student pieces. This year’s expo will feature over 50 student pieces, as the event is being held during the summer term.

DAX+ begins today at the Loew Auditorium, where celebrated synthesizer pioneer Morton Subotnick will be performing two of his original works to kick off the expo. The first piece, “Silver Apples of the Moon,” originally composed in 1967, was the first piece of electronic music commissioned for a recording.

Subotnick composed the piece with the goal of creating a 20th-century rendition of chamber music. For over a year, he worked to develop a machine that would lend itself to this purpose by offering sonic flexibility. The system he developed utilizes a series of electrical patches that allow the artist to guide the machine’s general sonic output without defining its details. This allowed Subotnick to alternate between scoring sections of the composition traditionally and shaping other sections in a more free-form fashion.

For his DAX+ performance, Subotnick will present the new interpretation of his original work as “Silver Apples of the Moon Revisited,” incorporating the material into a new live performance involving an Ableton-Buchlaelectronic instrument loaded with musical samples. By using this instrument, Subotnick can perform new sonic gestures in the framework of his original piece, allowing him to continue incorporating musical innovation in his work.

The second piece, “Crowds and Power,” is a tone poem for voice that was inspired by Elias Canetti’s 1960 book of the same name. The work is centered on the theme of crowds — how they emerge, the forces that sustain them and who they inevitably victimize. “Crowds and Power” will be performed by soprano vocalist Joan La Barbara and will incorporate visuals by artist Lillevan.

After Subotnick’s performance, student and faculty exhibitions will be opened for public viewing. The works being exhibited were compiled from student responses to open calls for student submissions that were promoted in different arts classes.

Yenny Dieguez ’20 chose to submit her work to DAX+ after entering the world of digital arts for the very first time in the class Studio Art 17.08, “Digital Drawing.”

“I didn’t know how to use Photoshop or Illustrator or any other digital drawing programs, so that’s why I took the class — to explore,” Dieguez said.

Dieguez soon realized that she could marry the technological capabilities of digital drawing programs with her longtime artistic interest in portraits. Dieguez utilized the functions on the drawing programs used in her class to manipulate still portraits, positioning them at different angles to create a short animation.

At her professor’s recommendation, Dieguez will be showcasing an animated self-portrait this weekend. Creating it has not only shifted her notions of what art is, but also has reminded her of the possibilities at her disposal, she said.

“I was very hesitant to approach digital arts, but after taking this class I realized that with digital arts comes a whole new set of tools,” Dieguez said. “You can really do whatever you want — even things you haven’t thought of. I also think there is a lot of potential there for concept-based work, so I think there is a lot to learn.”

Visiting professor of studio art Hannah Nelson will also be taking part in the showcase, exhibiting several works created by her Photography II and III students. Along with several traditional prints, Nelson and her students will be presenting virtual galleries that can be viewed through a 360-degree virtual reality headset.

“I had never used that tool in the classroom before, but it was a chance for everyone to see what it’s like to build an exhibition, and think about scale, and how we view images differently in a digital space,” Nelson said.

While some students chose to design traditional galleries in the virtual space, others chose to incorporate exhibition layouts that would be physically impossible in the real world. The exhibition marks a moment of profound artistic development for the students, many of whom had little to no experience in digital photography and virtual reality prior to taking Nelson’s class.

“I wanted them thinking about the ways that images change depending on the context in which we viewed them, but the actual content and the way that they treated their photos is completely individual,” she said.

DAX+ also includes a viewing of several feature shorts created by animation students. This Saturday’s exhibition will serve as the only screening of their work in a public auditorium for the year, serving as the climax of months of hard work in the animation studio.

The power of DAX+ is rooted in its dedication to and encouragement of student artists. For many students, it will be the culminating experience of their arts education at Dartmouth — and the multitude of events this weekend is sure to help them end on the right note.

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