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T Bone Burnett Photo: Associated Press

SXSW: T Bone Burnett Rails Against Tech; Artists Question, Play With It


by Hady Mawajdeh 15 Mar 2019

Art&Seek and KXT are in Austin all week for SXSW. Check out all our coverage.

Music, film and technology. Those topics have drawn more than 100,000 people to Austin for the annual South by Southwest festival and conference. Art&Seek’s Hady Mawajdeh is in attendance. And in State of the Arts, he spoke with me the ways artists are embracing technology – and questioning it. You can click above to listen to our conversation. Or read highlights below.

Just before we connected, you were at T Bone Burnett’s keynote. What did the Fort Worth native have to say at his presentation?

Well, the Grammy and Oscar-winning musician didn’t come to Austin to talk about music. Instead he came to trash the tech industry, Mark Zuckerberg, Google and others he called  surveillance capitalists. He said we need to wake up and realize what these folks are doing with our data. And he urged artists to be leaders.

 “Your information is extremely valuable. To realize that, all you have to do is take a look at the evaluations of the companies that have been confiscating your information and making vast fortunes without compensation to you… the owners of that information. Companies that have instead manipulated you and your friends and family by that information…” – T Bone Burnett

KXT 91.7 will broadcast and livestream from the Public Radio Day Stage at South By Southwest. That’s from 2 to 6 p.m. Friday. Bands include:

  • Broken Social Scene 2 p.m.
  • Naomi Hamilton a.k.a Jealous Of The Birds 3 p.m.
  • Black Pumas 4 p.m.
  • Cautious Clay. 5 p.m.

 Music isn’t the only art at the festival. In fact, there’s a dedicated art program. Tell us about that.

 Sure. This is the third year that South by Southwest has curated and presented several interactive installations made by artist from around the world. And the immersive artworks all use technology to explore heady topics like the human spirit, cultural traditions, and how we interact with our environment. And two of these really stick out.

The first is called ‘Weaving.’ And it’s created by a Mexican art collective called CocoLabs. They’re known for their light art installations. And ‘Weaving’ is a continuation of that practice.

So what’s it look like?

“Weaving” features three structures. Each has four sides and they’re about 15-feet-tall. And each one has thread vertically woven across it. That thread creates a sort of screen across each structure. And bright colorful designs are projected on to it. It’s hard to describe, but it’s hypnotizing.  The installation also features original music. It’s great spot to hangout when you’re exhausted and in need of a moment of relaxation.

And the second installation?

The second installation is called ‘EVERY THING EVERY TIME.’ It’s the creation of a London-based artist named  Naho Matsuda. And it’s very techy. The artist has created an algorithm that lets her capture all of the text shared by a community on social media and via search engines. Then she uses AI to pick out words and phrases that can be used to create poems.

 

Poems?

Yea! Here’s an example. “Someone yawns, someone sends a letter, someone agrees. The arcade is closed and no one is singing.” It’s not the deepest content. But as Matsuda’s producer Andy Stratford told me, it’s not about the poetry. It’s about the data.

“And it’s about looking at data and trying to consider where does data come from? What is it being used for? What is our data being used for? We give out a lot of data in society now. And how do people interpret that data? What do people make of it? And should we be concerned about how that is used? And who is using it? And what it’s being used for? And this is a bit of a meditation on that.” – Andy Stratford

Okay. What about other artists, who aren’t part of these exhibits. Are they coming to the festival? And if so, what about a tech and music festival has drawn them to Austin?

I have connected with several people from the arts world. There are a lot of artists at the festival to learn about Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and new media. In fact, most of the artist I’ve spoken with have a VR project they want to chat about. And there are arts professionals and educators here too. They’ve come to learn.  Lindsey Landfriend is a curator of visual arts at Penn State’s art galleries. And she says she came to South by Southwest to find out about the future of arts environments,

“I think that storytelling and experiences are something that many people have been thinking about for several years, but are a way in which galleries could be changing quite rapidly. And I am specifically interested in how to cross and access different audience groups that may feel excluded or not able to access traditional galleries.” – Lindsey Landriend.

Immersive art experiences are big in N.Tex right now. And they’re drawing big audiences to pop-up events. Was that discussed at any of the panels you’ve attended?

Totally. Everyone is trying to figure out what’s acceptable. What’s art or not art? And when do interactive art experiences take away from the art itself. But I spoke with Sarah Brin – a creative producer specializing in play, new media, and accessibility. She’s part of Meow Wolf, a group of artists in Santa Fe that have had such great success with their immersive project that they’re expanding to other cities. And she says none of this is new. It’s just easier than ever to create and put out work quickly. She says it’s good time to be making art.

 “I’m actually quite excited about a lot of these experiential pop-ups, because they’re a creative thing that regular humans, non-art-experts, can understand and appreciate and enjoy.” – Sarah Brin.

 And Brin says these pop-ups are getting artists paid. She doesn’t see any problems with that either.

 

 

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