Monday, April 7, 2014

6 Questions: CultureHub's Billy Clark

CultureHub is gearing up for the premiere of SEOUL COUNTERPOINT and the interactive installation, HEAVENLY CODE - both happening at The Ellen Steward Theatre, April 11 - 13, 2014. CultureHub's Artistic Director, Billy Clark, took the time to answer 6 Questions about Seoul Counterpoint, CultureHub and technology.

1. What is Culturehub? 

CultureHub is the Art & Technology Center at La MaMa. We were founded in 2009 in partnership between La MaMa and the Seoul Institute of the Arts, who had been collaborating for 30 plus years. The intent was to further collaboration between the two organizations, including through the – then – relatively new internet-based teleconferencing technology. We started by building mirror studios in New York and Seoul with hardware codecs that could communicate with each other. I worked with the staff there who built their studio, which is really big (3,000 square feet) and flexible and has become a great resource for their students. 

Then, with the incredible support of SeoulArts and La MaMa, we used this project as a launching pad to start more work at the intersection of performance and technology, and since 2009 we’ve gone on to present over 300 events with over 100 artists from 25 countries. We’ve had dance, music, performance programs that take place across distance, experimental works in digital art and interactivity, and classes and workshops for students – both at the university level and also for teens with our CoLab program – who want to experiment in these new disciplines. 

A big part of our evolution has been expanding the scale and complexity of the work presented to the public. We held our first annual media arts festival at the Ellen Stewart Theatre in 2012, which let us experience what it was like to show works in that large, flexible space, and we’ve contributed iterations of our “Digital Duets” project (dancers performing in real time across distance – using a 30 foot scrim to enable full body – or larger – scaled appearance) to the La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival, but this is our first time producing a full show in the La MaMa season at the Ellen Stewart. We’re really excited.

2. What is the relationship between Culturehub and LaMaMa? 

We’re family – literally. We come from the same blood – from Ellen Stewart’s vision of a theatre that transcends boundaries and speaks across divisions of culture and language. Honestly, it’s completely thrilling to present this in the theatre that bears her name. 

3. Who has inspired you? 

I’ve had the great fortune of having a lot of mentors in my life – I come from and experimental theatre background and I’m really lucky that I’ve had a lot of teachers who have set me on the course I’m on now. 

I’ve been a part of La MaMa’s resident repertory company since the mid 90’s, and I think my creative view have been most influenced by Ellen Stewart and my time at La MaMa. Ellen was a broad thinker and doer – someone who was very active in bringing disparate cultures and traditions together from around the world. I think the thing that was most powerful about her was her inclusiveness – she was not someone who censored things, or limited things. She was someone who drew pleasure from combining different people, different mediums, and this is something that spoke to my own beliefs and values – I am someone who really enjoys being in a community, a collaborative environment. I think that’s one of the things that drew me to theatre as a young person – that it was about being a community of people committed to realizing a singular vision. 

On a daily basis I’m inspired by all the people I work with at CultureHub and La MaMa – the dedication and the constant striving to take things one step further. For this project we’re running at the edge of our ability and really trying to stretch what’s possible. In particular, our technical director, Jesse Ricke has been developing applications to manipulate and process the real time captures of three dimensional images and data. It’s like I’m working with an inventor in the room – someone who can take a very abstract idea and who can find a way to realize it and bring it to fruition. 

Working on this project, I’ve been inspired by Paul’s [Paul D. Miller a/k/a DJ Spooky] music – and, as Paul was – we’ve been inspired by Nam Jun Paik. He was one of the first media artists. It’s hard not to want to pay homage to his work, to reference his work, especially as it relates to Korea with the incubation and realization of this project. 

4. How did the collaboration with DJ Spooky happen? 

Paul came and saw a version of our dance collaboration, Digital Duets that involved dancers at La MaMa and at the Seoul Institute of the Arts at the Ellen Stewart in our in art & technology festival in 2012. He had heard about it through mutual friends at The Volumetric Society and I believe he came to it out of a connection to Korea. He’s performed there a bunch, and says Seoul and New York are his two favorite cities. 

He liked that performance, came to us to begin a conversation about collaborating. Seoul Counterpoint is what came out of those conversations that started two years ago. The Seoul Institute of the Arts was really enthusiastic about this collaboration, and supported it through a residency for Paul at the school. Supported by KOCCA (The Korean Cultural Content Agency), Paul spent 60 days in Korea, and just last Friday, March 28, had a concert called “Data Temple,” in collaboration with composer Woody Pak, a professor at SeoulArts, at the school’s performance center in downtown Seoul. It’s been great that this project has had live presentations for audiences in both New York and Seoul. 

5. What is your current favorite piece of technology? 
Right now, for us, the Kinect is a darling. In a way it’s a little passe, because it’s been used in the media community for years, but it’s still the best consumer based hardware for this type of 3D visualization work. We see it as the prototype for the cameras of the future that will see the world in high res, but also capture depth as well as color. We are always contemplating what the future holds for the hybridization of media and performing arts as more tools become available. The Kinect is interesting because there is such a vibrant, open source community who surrounded it because it was available, consumer based, reasonably priced, and they developed applications that can be used in tandem with it. 

So much of our work revolves around teleconferencing software and hardware, and the technologies continue to be developed at a rapid pace. We continue to be excited about being able to reach people as costs comes down and availability expands. 

6. What did you learn in the process of creating SEOUL COUNTERPOINT

I don’t even know where to start! It’s been such a huge journey – we really got into actively developing the real time Kinect visualizations and processing for this project. On a technical level I think we grew a lot in that area. But mostly it’s been a continuation of what we’ve been trying to do, which is to link artists from different cultures and disciplines. In many ways, this project has been a realization of what we’ve been working towards in the sense that it was developed across these two cities, these two partners (SeoulArts & La MaMa), who have been collaborating for decades. This is a continuation of Ellen Stewart’s vision, and a continuation of the vision of Yoo Duk Hyung, the president of the Seoul Institute of the Arts – to continue this real world network of artists and communities. I think we’re on a parallel journey along with La MaMa and La MaMa’s artistic director Mia Yoo. Our passion is to strengthen that network in practice. And that the work is having a live presentation in both cities – it’s exactly right. It always feels like the beginning rather than an actual arrival. I think this space is still so new and that the possibilities are infinite.

La MaMa presents
Seoul Counterpoint
By DJ Spooky

created & performed by DJ Spooky 
visuals & installation by Culturehub

April 11 – April 13, 2014
Friday – Sunday: 7:30pm

Tickets: $25 Adults; $20 Students/Seniors; ten tickets prices at $10 are available for each performance, in advance only via phone, web or box office. 10 @ $10 not available day of show.

For Tickets and Info: Click Here

In conjucntion with Seoul Counterpoint, CultureHub is also presenting

Heavenly Code

Heavenly Code is an interactive installation designed by CultureHub that is inspired by the Chun Bu Kyung. The Chun Bu Kyung is an ancient Korean text that dates back nine thousand years and can be interpreted as an exercise in mathematics, philosophy, or energy. The viewer becomes immersed in a pattern of light and darkness generated by their relationship to the 81-character system that seeks to make sense of the cosmos.

Heavenly Code 
Free admission
Saturday: 12-4 pm

Ellen Stewart Theater
66 East 4th Street
(between Bowery and Second Avenue)
New York NY 10003