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Creating Incredible Art With Technology

David Giardinelli grew up in a family of artists. His parents, both professional musicians, dabbled in other mediums as well—from illustration to film. So when he, as a child, began to express interest in making cartoons it was only natural that his parents would gift him a computer modeling software.

But Mr. Giardinelli had discovered a new love at age 13—computer programming—that enabled him to hack his computer games to beef up his characters’ stats. His fascination with computers grew as he taught himself about hardware and circuit board assembly. 

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Entirely self-taught, Mr. Giardinelli went on to found his own technology startup, growing up to become an independent artist who deals in the medium of technology, building interactive art installations that use sound and motion sensors, computer programing, and mixed-media sculpture to create “an immersive, multi-sensory experience.” 

Mr. Giardinelli is a pioneer in an emerging discipline among artists who view technology not as a separate field of emotionless intellect, but as a new set of tools for creating art beyond the wildest dreams of artists working just a decade ago. But while San Francisco, New York, and other tech hubs have fostered the growth of this new medium, Utah has been slower to embrace emerging artists.

Technology Inspires Art

Derek Dyer, another local artist and the executive director of the Utah Arts Alliance, is determined to change that.

“I think we all want to save the world in our own sort of way,” says Mr. Dryer, “but the arts is one thing that could actually make the world a better place [by allowing] us to communicate beyond just words.”

Learn how technology is influencing the world of art.
Photo Credit: Todd Keith

And these creators say interactive, technology-driven art has communication potential in spades.

Mr. Dyer encountered one of his favorite works at an immersive art gallery in San Diego. This particular piece, he recalls, used virtual reality to transport viewers to a mystical environment with a stream and rocks, and glowing balls with little eyes. Typographic prompts appeared in the headset asking users questions like “Who do you miss?” and “What was your childhood dream?” Participants could record their own response, and view the anonymous responses of others by pointing to one of the floating balls.

But At A Price 

For other artists, technology inspires more experimental, whimsical works of art. Brody “IZM” Froelich, a Salt Lake resident and part-time artist, created one of his most popular pieces on a whim after hearing about a new material developed for use on the International Space Station. The material, Mr. Froelich explains, turns different colors depending on the angle of the light hitting it, “so it’s pretty cool high tech stuff, and it looked amazing.”

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Naturally, he had to build a sculpture out of it. He ended up with a portable installation called the Dichroic Skull, a 6-foot-tall, transparent structure that contains a “brain” of LED lights programmed to form various images—sometimes a flame, sometimes a tree—that react to the sounds around it.

Artwork of this scale is not cheap. Mr. Froelich has successfully crowdfunded as much as $35,000 to cover the cost of materials associated with his artwork, but Mr. Dyer has even grander ambitions—installations worth $100,000 or more.

While Utah has a track record of support for traditional arts such as theater and the opera, fundraising modern art has proven challenging. Mr. Dyer has found support among some of the local tech giants—Adobe, for example, has sponsored programs at the Arts Alliance’s fall festival, Illuminate. But there’s a disconnect, Mr. Dyer says, between Utah’s love of the arts, and its love of tech startups.

“I think we’re supportive of the tech sector because we’re entrepreneurs, we believe in creating businesses here. So we do support the idea of new businesses, but there hasn’t been big support of technology-driven artwork,” he says. “I don’t think they’ve woken up to the potential of what this can offer all of us, from quality of life to economic development.”

Learn how technology is influencing the world of art.
Photo Credit: Todd Keith

But Mr. Froelich is optimistic about the future of technology as an artistic medium in Utah. All new artworks encountered resistance at first.

“It causes people to question what art is, and what qualifies as art,” he says. “That goes back to the artist pooping in a jar and calling it art. Or people looking at Picasso and saying that’s just scribbles.” 

But at its core, he says, art is really just about human expression. “There are a lot of different kinds of mediums, and I think the more mediums we add to what we consider to be art … the better the world we live in.”

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Emma Penrod is a journalist based in rural Utah who covers science, technology, business and environmental health. She writes a weekly water politics newsletter at pactio.us/host/emma-penrod and Tweets about the latest science and industry news @EmaPen. When she's not writing, reading or researching, she's hunting sagebrush-scented air fresheners.