Zeroing in on the Tower

Zero One Digital Festival shows public that technology and art aren’t mutually exclusive

MORDECHAI BRAUNSTEIN’S audiovisual show ‘Water Knives.’ (photo credit: CHEN WAGSHALL)
MORDECHAI BRAUNSTEIN’S audiovisual show ‘Water Knives.’
(photo credit: CHEN WAGSHALL)
The Tower of David, next to the Old City of Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate, has seen thing or two in its couple of millennia timeline to date.
The location enjoyed a respite from acts of violence, and a cultural renaissance, during the British Mandate, with concerts and exhibitions held there for around 30 years, although, following the War of Independence, it reverted to its previous military role, affording the Jordanian Arab Legion an excellent observation point that overlooked the armistice line into Jewish Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem Citadel, as the spot is otherwise known, resumed its role as a venue for displays of artistic endeavor following the Six Day War. The Tower of David Museum opened with the support of the Jerusalem Foundation in 1989, and music shows across a range of disciplines are now held there around the calendar,
The event on November 27-28 promises to be one of the most adventurous ever held there. The Zero One Digital Festival seems a strange choice for a place so steeped in history, with its state-of-the-art technology, and audiovisual works that are quite simply as far out, and advanced, as you can get.
For those – myself included – who tend to think of hi-tech as a cold, clinical avenue of exploration, Zero One may help to tweak that view. The festival blurb talks about examining “burning issues in digital culture and its manifestations in Jerusalem”, but also goes on to break down the component parts and sentiments, as “memory and forgetfulness, religion and technology, and the ability to comprehend and accept an infinitely documented world while forgiving its injustices.” There’s more: “The festival offers an in-depth look at the human experience in the digital age, by looking at the hidden forces that wield it, at the very spot where zero and one meet.”
OK, so there’s all that titular binary stuff on the basis of which all computers, across their seemingly infinite global reach, operate. But, then, what’s all this business about “memory,” “religion,” injustices?” That doesn’t sound too scientific.
Yair Moss gets that, but also sees the citadel as an appropriate facility for envelope-pushing pursuits. “For us, the tower is an idyllic place for presenting this festival.” Moss, who shares the artistic director’s position with Danielle Zini, says the festival is the culmination of a lengthy process of personal and creative evolution. “I studied audiovisual arts in the Netherlands a decade ago, and I am very much exposed to the work being undertaken in this field around the world.”
Moss has been keeping tabs on developments. “There is a very active scene, around the world, which engages in digital art, audiovisual performances, video installations, interactive installations and everything connected to digital culture.”
Some of the leading exponents of the aforesaid fields will be present and/or exhibiting their work at the Tower of David during the two-day program. The artist roster includes the likes of 37-year-old UK-based Italian artist Davide Quagliola, better known as Quayola, who considers interfaces between definitively incongruous areas. Sounds eminently suitable for a futuristic festival held at such an ancient site.
Quayola scrutinizes the clash and tension, as well as the common ground, between the true and the artificial, the real and the abstract, the old and the new, and the dialogue that takes place between them. He explores these topics through photography, geometric shapes, time-lapse digital sculpture and immersive audiovisual displays and performances.
Los Angeles resident and Turkish media artist Refik Anadol will contribute his high-resolution work Melting Memories to the festival proceedings. This addresses the memory element of the program, and allows members of the public an opportunity to experience the visual, material translation of the process of human memory, and offers a glimpse of the cognitive processes in the human brain.
Anadol worked with the Neuroscape Laboratory of the University of California, amassing data from cognitive processes of the experience of remembering from hundreds of subjects. That formed the basis for generating learning algorithms that created a picture of the mesmerizing wanderings in the human brain from memory to memory.
The festival agenda also features a bunch of live audiovisual performances, including one by Berlin-based Japanese artist Ryoichi Kurokawa. Kurokawa has exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Tate Modern Museum and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. His work flits between the senses, and examines the modus vivendi that exists between the artificial and the natural worlds. His performance combines works – based on 3D information and photographs – of human architectures, antiquities and nature, and looks at the way the viewer breaks entities down and reconstructs them.
New York resident French digital artist Freeka Tet also looks at the relationship that exists between advanced technological devices and human artistic expression. His Internet Scrapped audiovisual performance utilizes a unique language that incorporates sensors, algorithms, mechanical animation, face-recognition technology, prosthetics, hacking, written code and performance that cross the demarcation line between technical and human-sourced execution.
There will be some homegrown talent on display too, as now Belgian-based Israeli audiovisual artist Ofer Smilansky presents his striking Beastly Tears production. The work is patently designed to heighten the viewer’s senses, and combines spotlights, LEDs and fog machines to create a powerful, emotional experience.
Mordechai Braunstein’s intriguing live audiovisual show, Water Knives, is possibly tailored made for us technophobes. It is based on the scientific field of cymatics, the study of how frequencies and sounds affect matter. Braunstein developed CyMagic, an interactive installation that uses technology to actually show what sounds look like in a physical form. Besides making the ephemeral more tangible, the technology can also benefit hearing impaired people, who will be able to appreciate sound in colors, shapes and rhythms.
The festival agenda also has some panel discussions and lectures, in Hebrew. The Wednesday slot, “The Right to be Remembered, the Right to be Forgotten,” considers how we may be losing the ability to forget and forgive in an age where almost everything is preserved on the Internet. “The Sublime Digital – Art. Religion, Technology” on the morrow, looks at the seemingly incompatible areas of religion, mythology and magic within an advanced technological context.
All of which, as far as Moss is concerned, is really just a matter of going with the local flow. “Specifically in Jerusalem, one of the most religious cities in the world, for us there is a correlation between religion and technology. Both areas have the ability to create some sort of consensus. With religion there is something that takes you to a reality which is sort of nonphysical, with its own mythology. Technology also has that aspect, of transcendence.”
Moss is particularly enamored with works, such as Kurokawa’s, that he feels draw the viewer into inner machinations of the technology. “He opens and stretches domains and, in effect, takes you into man-made spaces and natural spaces.” Having a sense being involved does not, however, give you some insider information about how the whole thing works. “I don’t understand it all, and I’m not really interested in how things work,” Moss notes. It is, he says, about the human experience. “My inner world is fired by what he does.”
That, he posits, is an integral part of the creative process. “Digital artists invest a lot of thought in the viewer. The artists, today, think about how their viewers will experience what they are putting together.” That suggests a user-friendly quality to the works.
Moss is looking forward to more where the inaugural event is coming from, and hopes the festival encourages beneficial practice in the field. “I would definitely like there to be events like this. I would like to advance a healthy technological scene. The whole thing of green thinking in a technological context, especially in Israel where technology is such a substantial resource.”
That, he feels, can be boosted by showing the public that technology and art are not mutually exclusive. “We have to bridge the gap. We need to make sure that artists have the means and tools, and the desire, to engage in these areas. We also need to examine the moral aspects of technological use in Israel. These are questions which I think are hardly raised, but they are crucial.”
One wonders what Herod, the Crusaders and the early Ottomans would have made of all of that.
For tickets and more information about the Zero One Digital Festival: *2884 and