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Interactive art makes waves on Macdonald Ave.

on October 2, 2012

An outdoor art exhibit of work by acclaimed new media artist Scott Snibbe made its debut at the Richmond Arts in Motion festival this Saturday. The display consists of four screens that hang in the front window of the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts on the corner of 11th St. and Macdonald Ave.

Three panels feature pre-recorded videos of the EBCPA’s students and resident artists dancing and acting in silhouette. The fourth panel pulls pedestrians on Macdonald Ave. into the action; a video sensor captures movement from in front of the panel, and the remaining three panels react to each of the corresponding movements with colored ribbons that dance and flow on screen. All four screens work together to tell a story about the discovery of play, said Jordan Simmons, artistic director of the EBCPA.

“Every type of art is some kind of interaction,” Scott Snibbe said. “But interactive art actually requires you to move, breathe, speak or interact with other people in order for it to really come alive,” he said.

The idea for the display began when city manager Bill Lindsay approached the EBCPA and asked Simmons to come up with an idea for a piece of art that would be visible from the street and would animate downtown Richmond.

Around that time, Simmons was introduced to Scott Snibbe and thought the artist’s work might be just what Lindsay meant.

Simmons’ initial idea was for the exhibit to feature local kids at play with soccer balls and skateboards, but meetings with community members and EBCPA students changed his approach.

“They said they wanted to see the art that goes on inside the building, outside the building,” he said.

In the end the idea for the interactive display led to a $150,000 grant awarded to the city through the National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” competition.

Snibbe’s interactive artwork has been featured around the nation, including a popular exhibit at LAX airport and the first-ever app album, Biophilia, by international recording artist Bjork. His rise to new media artistry started in his childhood when he first saw a computer at age ten.

For his piece in Richmond, Snibbe’s aim was to use the interactivity of his art as a window—in this sense literally and figuratively—into which the community could see the creativity happening within the EBCPA’s building.

The aim was to “suggest what was happening inside not just with a picture or a video, but with something that would actually respond to people’s movements and invite them inside to do some of the same stuff,” he said.

The story of the videos begins with a central character, a young boy with a turn-of-the-century hoop, played by 15-year-old dancer Noah Simpson. The boy appears throughout the many vignettes of the story and serves as its common thread, a representation of the ideas of discovery, being playful, learning from adults and imagination, Simmons said.

For Simpson the exhibit not only welcomes newcomers to the EBCPA, but the discovery of play that his character represents in the video translates to the self-discovery that he has found through his involvement with the center.

“[Dance] has given me friends, confidence, and talents I’ve never explored before,” he said. “It brings a lot of different social qualities to your life.”

EBCPA artistic director Jordan Simmons said the video project has something important to say to the city.

“The street doesn’t have to be a mean, cruel or unsafe place,” he said. “When [the community] knows the things that happen in the building are safe and playful, they take that spirit out into the street and the street becomes a different space.”

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