Tower of David Museum to hold four-day digital art festival

Hands up, anyone who knows what NFT stands for. How about DAO? Or what is a metaverse? How about blockchain?

 DIGITAL SHAMANISM by Amit Zoran (photo credit: AMIT ZORAN)
(photo credit: AMIT ZORAN)

Hands up, anyone who knows what NFT stands for. How about DAO? Or what is a metaverse? How about blockchain?

If your response to any of the aforementioned acronyms or technical terms is a quick shake of the head or a blank look, you might want to hook up with the ZERO1NE event, which is due to take place under the aegis of the Tower of David Museum, in Jerusalem, December 27-30.

The four-dayer has been called “the country’s premier digital art festival” and takes in 30 works of art, six original site-specific pieces, nine lectures, 10 live performances, 12 international artists and 28 Israeli artists.

In addition to the Tower of David Museum, patrons will be able to catch some state-of-the-art endeavor over at Hansen House, with a Zoom performance on offer from the Mazkeka music venue in downtown Jerusalem.

 ZERO1NE JOINT artistic directors Yair Moss and Danielle Zini. (credit: YAIR MOSS AND DANIELLE ZINI) ZERO1NE JOINT artistic directors Yair Moss and Danielle Zini. (credit: YAIR MOSS AND DANIELLE ZINI)

ZERO1NE BEGAN life in 2019 under the learned guiding hands of joint artistic directors Yair Moss and Danielle Zini, with the pandemic logistics stymieing the exercise last year.

Now it’s back and looking to keep tabs on the exponentially expanding world of artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual domains, and how creative pursuits use the advances in these fields – to paraphrase the intro to the 1960s Star Trek sci-fi TV series – to go where no artist has gone before.

Over the five days Moss and Zini hope to enlighten us about just how far the digital art world has shifted, particularly in the wake of the enormous strides taken in virtual communications in a post-pandemic reality.

The festival feeds off some of the rudiments that lie at the very core of art. Whence does art issue? Where does the process of creation, of conveying something in visual and/or aural and/or corporeal form, come from? Is it simply a matter of an angel, muse or some other unearthly being winging its way down, alighting on the artist’s shoulder and infusing their consciousness with an idea for an artistic venture, whereupon the mortal creature ingenuously gets on with it? Or is there some sort of wellspring which one needs to identify, draw upon and go with the flow?

If Paul Cézanne and Marc Chagall are to be believed, it is about far more than – once duly inspired – just putting in the requisite elbow grease, although that is an undeniable element along the road to creative fruition. “A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art,” the former is said to observe, whereas his Jewish Russian-French counterpart stated: “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.”

Assuming the above honorable members of the artist pantheon were expressing their personal learned truth honestly, what does that say about the output of modern-day creators who employ more cerebral and technologically advanced means as their principal tools of trade? What role does basic IQ play in the artistic gestation continuum, and is it kosher to utilize measures that may owe as much to the more rarified spheres of computer sciences as to pure artistry?

At the end of the day, much of this dialectic centers on the nature of the medium. But who is to judge whether a work of art produced by someone wielding a paint brush and palette has more intrinsic artistic value than, say, a video clip created with cutting-edge algorithms and software?

TAMAR BERLINER, the museum’s deputy director, feels the institution has taken the lead in disseminating the word of the latest innovations in the field, and how these are being harnessed to push the frontiers of artistic expression. She also points out that, surprisingly, it is a site steeped in millennia of history that is shining a light on pioneering efforts in the field.

“The Tower of David presents layer upon layer of Jerusalem’s rich and colorful history,” she notes. “Over the past decade, the museum has opened its doors, allowing the site to showcase new and interesting interpretations of Jerusalem and innovative technologies that allow the visitor to meet Jerusalem in many different ways.”

The institution also got in on the active act itself.

“Six years ago, the Tower of David Museum ventured into the world of AR and VR technologies and opened an innovation lab that would harness this energy and enhance the visitor experience,” Berliner continues. “Today, as our lives are hybrid, touched by technologies that we look to understand better, the Tower of David Museum is proud to once again give a platform to our contemporary cultural world that is being changed and shaped by new technologies and applications – whose complexities only mirror the complexities of the city which the museum explores.”

THIS YEAR, ZERO1NE – the title references the two numerals on which all computerized activity is based – delves directly and indirectly into the enigmatic phenomenon of machine learning and looks at the place of AI in the world of digital art.

If your knowledge of hi-tech realms amounts to knowing how to use a home computer and a smartphone, and you’d like to know more about that and how it informs the art world, the December 27 Hebrew-language online sessions with Moss and Dr. Milly Perry, head of ABC Art Blockchain and Community, and with Berliner and Perry should help.

And, just in case you have a tendency to technophobia, and prefer to leave such virtual intricacies to the experts, it may interest you to learn that NFTs currently represent a boom sector.

NFT stands for non-fungible token, which, in a word, refers to any computerized work of art that is unique. That can relate to, say, an image of Homer Simpson or an animated flying cat with a Pop-Tart body, or even a very short animated video that appears to show Donald Trump prostrate in a public space. Then again, surely, any of the above, by mere virtue of the fact they are out there in the public domain, can be copied and distributed ad infinitum.

Before you turn your highly cultured nose up at that market niche, consider this: an image of Homer Simpson together with a Pepe the Frog Internet meme recently sold for $320,000. Meanwhile, the airborne feline piece went for just under $600,000, while somebody was moved to shell out a cool $6 million for the Trump clip. Evidently, NFTs are catching on and, if only in terms of cold financial facts on the ground, deserve some attention. The same could be said for blockchain technology, which, for example, can help to facilitate the transfer of the aforementioned sizable payments.

“Over the past two years there has been a major shift in our world, in the pandemic, when people were pushed much more into the digital world,” Moss explains. “The notion of where we spend our time, and where we perform our actions, has been completely transformed.”

That, he says, has impacted heavily on the cultural domain. “Digital art, and NFT, has really clicked into that space. In a way they operate in different tracks, but there is a kind of cosmic connection that brought the two together.”

That is palpably exemplified by the way museums had to hurriedly shuffle their presentational packs and offer culture consumers online access, by ever more ingenious ways, to the artworks physically housed in their display spaces. That necessarily influences the way the public experiences art, but Moss believes that game-changing development has also left its imprint on the way the artists go about their own business.

Paradoxically, it is precisely because of the click-of-a-button ease with which we can copy digitally made and proffered artworks that the source gains in value. “What, basically, gives art its value is that there is an original. So [with digital work] there is not necessarily a one-off but the fact that you can say this guy has the original copy, that makes it valuable.”

That, says Moss, gives value to things that are not tangible. “That has a huge impact on how we think about things, especially in art, when there is no physicality, like with music or sound.”

The theory behind that will be displayed, in visual and audible form, with a bunch of works by the likes of Italian artist Franz Rosati, whose audiovisual creation, Latentscape, will be shown at Hansen House, the soundtrack to which is based on music generated through machine learning. And there is the arresting four-screen video installation If AI were Cephalopod by the South Africa-American collective Orphan Drift, due to be shown at the same venerated Jerusalem facility, as well as online.

Where is all this leading? Are we fast approaching a watershed juncture when the fruits of our feverish scientific minds overtake the non-digitized output of human beings? Is there a limitless brave new world of artistic endeavor out there just waiting to be harvested? To found out, tune into ZERO1NE.

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