iX Symposium: Société des Arts Technologiques - RECAP

In early June, Montreal welcomed local and international immersive arts professionals for the fifth annual iX Symposium, an initiative of the Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT). This year's theme, The Conquest of Reality, brought together a community of artists and technologists to discuss the philosophies behind the roles we take in defining the future of VR/MR/XR (virtual-reality/mixed-reality/extended-reality) and other immersive formats. The symposium hosted an impressive list of keynote speakers that included Nora Bateson (award winning filmmaker and founder of the International Bateson Institute), Tamiko Thiel (internationally acclaimed artist and pioneer in three-dimensional interactive vector graphics), Kent Bye (host of Voices of VR), and Zach Lieberman (artist and developer of openFrameworks).

Besides the inspiring keynotes iX also hosted a series of workshops, VR demos, fulldome performances, and panels. The highlights included:

Xangle, a multi-camera system developed by Eric Pare and his team to do realtime light painting, a long exposure photographic technique. His team most recently developed a 360-degree camera array to create 3D models of people using photogrammetry*. I had an opportunity to visit his studio where I got to see their camera arrays and do some light painting myself!

Hanging out at Eric Pare's studio in Montreal

Masterpiece VR demoed their new tool for creating 3D models in virtual reality. They showed how quickly and intuitively you can begin to create 3D models for use in animated three-dimensional scenes by utilizing the VR controller as a ‘paint brush’.

Masterpiece VR demo in the Satosphere

Ircam presented their tool Panoramix for spatial audio mixing and post production. The tool is a standalone application that allows users flexibility in their spatialization techniques and can be used for live performances as well as post production.

Panoramix mix environment

Priam Givord presented a beautiful VR piece in which the viewer was able to explore pointillistic city street scenes that were captured through photogrammetry. The magnificence of this piece relied on the viewer’s ability to get close to the different points in the scene and observe the light reflection off of each individual point.

The evenings at iX are spent enjoying a series of unique and creative fulldome performances in SAT’s 18 meter digital projection dome, called the Satosphere. The Friday night performance by Jonny Knox and Darien Brito, Remote Sense, was one of the most awe-inspiring pieces I may have ever seen for fulldome. The visuals were created using laser scanned (Lidar) data. Knox used light to explore the different visual scenes providing a sense of discovery. It was a similar sensation to being in a cave or some dark space and shining a flashlight onto the walls suddenly revealing a magnificent structure that had been hidden in the darkness. The musical accompaniment had granular elements that matched the particle nature of the visuals which was combined with a musicality that only added to the drama of discovery.

The panels this year were hosted in the round with panelists seated at a circular table facing each other in the middle of the Satosphere. Videographers captured video of the speakers and in real-time projected their images onto the dome as the audience sat around the edges of the space. This format highlighted the focus of conversation at the symposium. Led by a moderator, each panel investigated the philosophical underpinnings of VR/MR/XR. With titles like Have We Become Reality Authors? and The Opportunities and Threats of Ambient Intelligence, the panelists fearlessly dove into deep conversations surrounding the roles we play as we work towards creating new realities.

Afternoon panel in the Satosphere

The final panel was led by Rebecca Allen, a world-renowned artist, researcher, and developer. She was one of the first artists to 3D model human motion in her piece The Catherine Wheel. This panel left the lingering question, what is the role of the artist in the tool making process? Should artists be the toolmakers, should they be included in the initial development process of creation, or should the toolmakers only seek the artists input when they are looking to do user testing? As more artists move to creating art within digital spaces, digital technology becomes the artist’s tool. As new tools are being created everyday how does this influence the artist’s ability to create? At what point does the technological development hinder creative process? At what point does it offer a new means for expression?

While iX provided an incredible array of presentations, workshops, panels, and performances the carefully chosen title ‘symposium’ created an underlying thematic current that stimulated conversation and supported the free interchange of ideas. In addition to the panels and sessions that are structured to ask questions and encourage conversation the layout of the SAT, including one of the ‘hottest’ rooftop patios in Montreal, allows space for people to talk, question, and engage with each other. On top of this, SAT’s ability to bring together an international community of artists and technologists fuels this environment and ignites discussion over the points at which art and technology meet and what our responsibilities are as creators of new realities. Once again, SAT has provided an inspiring and thought provoking symposium. I look forward to next year.

photo by Sébastien Roy

*Photogrammetry was mentioned a lot in this piece. For those who have never heard that word before it is a technique used to extract geometric information from two-dimensional images or video. By taking a lot of photos, from many different angles, you can construct a three-dimensional representation of an object, person, or place.