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NEWSLETTER: Vol. 5, No. 3, December 15, 1999

Fusing the Arts with New Technologies: UW-Madison's Interarts and Technology Program
By Jennifer Smith

On the UW-Madison campus in the late 1980s, a number of faculty members from different departments were brought together by their shared interest in various art forms and computer technology. Professors Mary Brennan, Joseph Koykkar, Claudia Melrose, and Tibor Zana -- all from Dance -- and Edward Pope from Art were all experienced in using computer technologies to produce and enhance their own work. Through the shared efforts of this faculty core, a new option within the dance program was born in 1990, Interarts and Technology (IATECH). The goal of IATECH is to combine computer technologies with movement, sound, and the visual arts. Rather than specializing narrowly in one medium, IATECH students experiment in a number of areas, from the visual arts to dance, music, theater and drama, all in addition to a set curriculum of IATECH core courses. The core curriculum trains students in video and sound design, movement analysis and composition, computer-mediated art, and other areas. What all these experiences share is the creation of artistic work that manipulates temporal, spatial, and movement elements. Many of the artistic works created by students are collaborative in nature.

While it may seem that such a program would naturally be housed in an art department rather than dance, it is the emphasis on movement and space in IATECH that makes it at home in the dance department. At UW-Madison, Dance is housed in the School of Education, which Program Coordinator Joseph Koykkar credits with providing generous support to IATECH. Through the School of Education's funding, the program has set up two high-tech labs, one for digital video work and the other for sound/music work. There is also a third space where students can work with video, music, and lighting.

Madison's Interarts and Technology program is one of a handful of similar endeavors throughout the country. While interest in the electronic arts has grown rapidly in the last twenty years or so, there are still not many programs like Madison's, which train students broadly in many media and provide them with a grounding in aesthetics and theory. Other programs include those at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Rensselaer Polytechnic in Troy, NY (which offers an MFA in Electronic Arts), and Cal Arts. While many people may feel themselves unfamiliar with electronic or computer-based arts, one might think of Laurie Anderson's performance pieces or Philip Glass' minimalist music as examples of this type of work.

The IATECH program plays a broader role than just exposing its own students to the most recent developments in new artistic media. Through visiting-artist engagements and student exhibitions, the Madison community has an opportunity to see what contemporary artists are doing. In September, IATECH brought well-known multimedia performance artist Ron Pellegrino to town for a week-long residency that included a performance in which the public could participate.

Over time, the Interarts program will incorporate new technologies as they are developed. However, the approach is not to experiment with new software in a willy-nilly fashion, but to seek those technologies that truly show artistic potential. Creative expression is the goal, and technology a means to that end. A long-range aim is to create a master's degree program to accompany the current offering, a B.S. in Dance with an Interarts and Technology Option. Currently, about 25 students a year choose Dance/IATECH as their major, and about 25 alumni/a have been graduated. (To read one alum's account of his IATECH education, see the related article in this issue of TTT.) Since the 1994-95 academic year, students have presented their work at an end-of-the-year event, the Festival of Interarts and Technology. The next "FIAT," as it is dubbed, is slated for May 5, 2000.

As technology becomes more prevalent in everyday life, altering the way people communicate, work, and spend their leisure time, it comes as no surprise that technology is also influencing the way people express themselves artistically. In the Interarts and Technology program, technology is both a tool for expression and, at times, the subject itself. Through IATECH's decade-long venture, UW-Madison remains at the forefront of artistic education, allowing students to combine elements from a variety of media to create new forms.

For more information about the Interarts and Technology program, see its home page or contact the program coordinator, Professor Joseph Koykkar.


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