Illustration by Celia Fong
Illustration by Celia Fong

This year, graduating UC Santa Cruz Digital Arts and New Media Exhibition (DANM) MFA students will continue the tradition of putting experimental twist on conventional art forms, lifting the veil on what tends to go unnoticed. Last year, “New Alchemy” was DANM’s theme and drew about 600 attendees.

From April 28 to May 1 the exhibit “Blind Spot” displays what visually goes unnoticed and alludes to the unknown spaces and mediums artists have explored in creating their works.

Thirteen student-artists chose the theme, guided by this year’s curator Dorothy Santos. Felicia Rice, program manager and creator of the DANM, said Santos will bring “fresh energy and new ideas.”

The artists explored new mediums, including performative technologies, which integrates theater arts performances with digital media. The exhibit is geared toward amplifying auditory and visual experience with playable media, electronics and mechatronics –– mechanical electronics that includes robotics.

The exhibition will be held throughout the Digital Arts Resource Center, including the Dark Lab, a performance space equipped with lights, projectors and surround sound designed especially for events like this one.

“It’s like a black hole in the Dark Lab. Nobody knows it’s really here,” said artist and MFA student Sean Pace. “I wonder how many other blind spots there are in the proximity of everybody’s life here.”

DANM is an interdisciplinary study between the arts and engineering departments at UCSC and ranges in focuses from the humanities and social sciences to computer science and engineering. Although the program has graduated over 100 students, it’s never had its own faculty and is now hiring a director for the next decade this coming fall.

The program seeks to create work that explores social issues through unconventional forms of art. Because the technology is constantly developing and transforming, so is the art.

“Art is so wildly varied now,” Felicia Rice said. “Even in our period, more traditional forms are being challenged with new definitions and new ways of approaching the medium technically as well as content wise.”

Steven Trimmer will exhibit his sound installation piece “Vocal Landscaping” to “create a community tapestry of voices.” In the piece, viewers will use their voices to unlock seven shapes. These shapes, each representing a node, begin as cubes and transition into other types of polyhedrons with the next phase of nodes as the voice fills them.

The characteristics of each shape and voice are aligned with the classical elements of the platonic solids: earth, air, fire and water. For example, one may use a certain tone of voice to feel calm, which may fall into the water element and an energetic tone may inhabit characteristics of fire.

The exercise seeks to reclaim the importance of the voice as an experience that is often overlooked. Trimmer hopes people will gain a newfound appreciation for their voice.

“There [are] a lot of ways you can become alienated from your own voice, through the legal loophole of manipulation in that world,” Trimmer said, referring to powers in the music industry that once lead him to losing rights to his own work as a singer.

Hope Hutman explores the same loss of control in her interactive performance piece, suggesting that agency can be limited in gaming.

“The system is designed in a certain way for you to have a certain experience and you only have so many choices in that system,” Hutman said. “I want the audience to have control in knowing what the system can do.”

Hutman uses the idea of Twitch, an app where users are on the server watching and playing video games, to give the viewer freedom in telling a story –– in this case “The Odyssey.”

Two monitors will be back to back, with a different audience on each side. On one side, a group will be led through basic theater exercises to create content for the story and chat with Homer via their phones, who will be on stage in front of a green screen reacting accordingly. On the other side, a group of people will merely watch the performance.

Sean Pace’s piece, “Crawler,” is a military truck repurposed as a three-dimensional printing lab. The installation explores 3D printing as a tool to bring drawings to life, using digital media as a cost and time efficient resource. Pace hopes to bring “Crawler” into low-income communities and provide opportunity for kids to exercise potential talents.

The models can be printed in various materials like polylactic acid, a biodegradable plastic made from corn starch. The mold can be used to create prints with other materials like aluminum, cast iron or bronze.

“Say you had parts that broke on something — instead of throwing that whole thing away, you could print new parts for it,” Pace said.

Pace described the “beautiful irony” of his piece, as a critique of the government’s areas of funding for the arts, mentioning his military truck’s $287,000 worth in 1987. Pace reiterated the value in giving found objects new purposes. These messages are socially justified and draw in viewers to comment.

“Grabbing people’s imaginations is a lot like fishing,” Pace said. “You use something they’re used to, to get them a little closer … then they’re hooked and you reel them in. The next thing you know, they’re on the pier with you, and they’re fishing too.”