It’s cool to hack

March 27th, 2015 Features, The West Australian

The Perth International Arts Festival continues its quest to find out just what art means with signature creative vigour in 2015 with Hack The Festival.

The event is part of a continued exploration of notions like technology in art, the crowd-sourcing of creativity and making the audience not just part of the conversation but the process of finding out exactly what art is.

Described by PIAF as Australia’s first ‘art hack’, participating entrants have 24 hours to create a digitally interactive artwork. Whether an app, website, robotics or a projected presentation, if it’s interactive and it’s art, it will find a place in Hack The Festival.

Art, technology and business mentors support artists and teams who enter, and entrants get one week to refine and present their idea to the panel. The winner will win $5,000 to make their idea real.

So why now, why technology, and why invite everyone? As PIAF digital producer Liz Sideris says, it’s merely the crossroads where art meets.

“We’re in a really exciting period of technological advancement and the opportunity it offers to artists to create something completely new and untested is really inspiring and challenging,” she says. “Hack the Festival is an event to spark new creative collaborations, kick start local artistic projects and showcase the creative talent we have across the art and technology communities in Perth.”

It’s also a way of keeping Western Australian art involved, Sideris says. PIAF is renowned for bringing some of the best international performances to WA, but she’s quick to add that there’s plenty of talent right here on our shores. Hack The Fesitval is a way for local artists to showcase that work, this time in the digital realm.

“We’re throwing the doors open to the questions ‘what is art?’ and ‘who is an artist?’ by creating a space to let people experiment in form and function,” she says. “By encouraging people who don’t usually identify as artists or by starting collaborations between people who don’t usually collaborate, we can find entirely new genres of art.”

Hack The Festival also adds a new wrinkle to the act of artistic creation. Traditionally anything from performance to sculpture is a process of forming the idea, honing it, practising it, assembling the elements and perfecting it before there’s any audience – the piece is more or less finished when it’s ready to present.

Sideris wants to overturn that tradition with Hack The Festival by celebrating what she calls the process of discovery right along with the finished product.

“It’s about discovery not just in the creative sense but the practical workflow,” she says. “Some artists and developers may never have worked together before. The hack day involves developing a process, a way of communicating and creating a shared language that results in artistic outcomes. I’m hoping to see some really innovative work, but also that spark that happens when people who are great at what they do come together with equally great people from another industry.”

Of course, there’s a reason we’re not all making films, writing books or painting like the masters – we’re not all artists. When you invite everyone to participate, doesn’t that just make the curator’s job harder, giving them more rubbish to sift through?

Sideris points to the thoroughly modern phenomenon where anyone can pick up a phone or sit at a computer and create art. Though she’s quick to agree not everyone has the ability to create a masterpiece, you can take submissions from anywhere and still fulfill a singular creative vision.

A good example was the PIAF 2014 event A Symphony For Perth. People from everywhere submitted recordings or stories of the sounds our city is comprised of, but the end product was still composer Tod Machover’s creative vision that weaved the submissions together into the symphony.

Still, it must be making the job of maintaining that creative vision harder. When people show up with websites, apps or electronics, isn’t it blurring the division between what is and isn’t art?

“I don’t think the line of what is and isn’t art has changed,” Sideris says. “We just have new tools to create, view and share it. Art’s a way to share stories and experiences of life – that doesn’t change whether it’s a painting or a video game.”

As such, she says the judging panel will be looking not only for innovative uses of technology but the audience experience it creates. “It’s easy to be blinded by the platform but at its core the audience’s emotional reaction to a piece of work will define whether or not it’s art.”

Hack the Festival runs throughout PIAF


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