ICAM 2016: ‘Mad’ student artists conjure the future


The Interdisciplinary Computing in the Arts (ICAM) major at UCSD, has students with one foot in the Visual Arts and the other in Music, and is rooted in computation and new technology. Recently, the department held its year-end “Best of ICAM Show,” an eye-opening, jaw-dropping event that featured gallery projects, installations, music and performance pieces by 29 graduating seniors, all of whom impressed me.

Here’s a review:

Chloe Lopez will be doing web development for Achieve Internet in San Diego after graduation. She said her long-term goal is to make website use easier for online viewers.

Her ICAM project involved the combination of crocheting with computing. She crocheted four enchanting dresses in black and white yarn on her own body, while a video camera recorded her work. Each dress had a surface name like “Do Not Touch,” but an underlying message written in binary black/white yarn code, like “Hold Me.”

Chloe’s inspiration for the project was the Jacguard Loom of the late 1800s that predated computers by using punch cards to create garments!

Aleesha Anderson, who will be off to work at a summer camp in the Redwoods after graduation, is interested in the idea of play for all ages. She built a sustainable swing. As you swing back and forth, the swing turns a bicycle wheel dynamo, which generates electrical current to power colored lights hung on a canopy above. To complete her project, Aleesha had to learn about carpentry, circuit boards, lighting and electronics.

Xi Wang developed a computer program that helps the user become more aware of the encroachment of ongoing global deforestation. As you look at her computer screen, a camera records your face and head, and then starts to grow a tree out of the top of your head. As you emit emotional facial expression, like smiles or frowns, the tree grows and sprouts leaves and flowers!

Kathy Huynh completed her fashion design project with help from Coco, her pet turtle. As Coco swam up against her aquarium glass, her paw scratches were turned into colorful art by a sensor that fed data to a computer. The turtle art was then used to make patterns for clothing — like a turtle shell jacket!

Safia Ibrahim scanned real people with an Xbox Kinect sensor to create life-sized 3D Marvel comic-like sculptures in the form of your personal animal deity.

Lauren Sharo created a robotic moving installation piece of an alien being; a cross between a plant, like from the sci-fi movie “Day of the Triffids,” and an octopus. It’s made from silicon and moves by way of air pumps and pulleys. The air pumps generate an eerie space age soundscape to accompany the being’s movements.

Melissa Chu created an educational video “Candy Craze” parents will want to buy their kids who eat too much sweet stuff. As the gamer captures more candy to eat, he starts to get health problems, like cavities, obesity and diabetes. It’s a game with a lesson!

Jeff Lau developed a cellphone application for parents who want to know what their kids are up to (note to FBI and CIA). The application snoops into all the features of a user’s phone and predicts what the user will likely be doing next.

Daryl Auclair designed “Emodo Bro,” a self-learning artificial intelligence program where you interact with an imaginary brother or “brobot,” just like you might interact with iPhone’s SIRI.

He used three years of Facebook Chat with his little brother as the basis to build the artificial intelligence, which learns from its interactions. Imagine that in the future we will be able to buy programs for virtual interaction with children, siblings, grandparents or significant others!

Rebecca Fisher built a dog collar all pet owners will want. It’s a small white box with buttons in the shape of a paw that hangs from a dog’s neck. You press a button and the dog will talk to you — saying things like “Pet me” or “Can I have a doggie chew?” It’s programmable, so you can have the device say whatever you want.

The ICAM visual arts projects presentations, which took place in the Adam Kamil Gallery at Mandeville Center on campus, were followed by presentations by ICAM music students in the Experimental Theater of the Conrad Prebys Music Center. There were two that stood out.

The first was by Ulysses Nieto, who first gave a short lecture on female computer voice simulations in the “Post Humanist” era. The “Post Humanist” era, according to Ulysses, has come about because we all now realize that man is not the pinnacle of the pyramid of life, but just one member of the circular ecosystem of all living things. “Post Humanism” is also characterized by a growing equalitarian interface of computer and human intelligence.

Ulysses took a program of a female computerized singing voice and enhanced it. He then wrote a song for it to sing, which was so lovely and romantic it made you cry. You just fell in love with the computer!

No doubt that in the future there will be singing computer stars instead of Madonnas and Lady Gagas. Perhaps we will also have bands composed of computer musicians? But they will still need a human road manager to set them up for concerts and collect their fees, which will be used to buy spare parts.

The final event of the night — two songs straight out of the future — were sung by Nicolette Valicenti. Her melodic crooning was accompanied by odd sounds that made you think you were attending a concert 100 years in the future!

Summing up the ICAM projects, Visual Arts Professor Sheldon Brown remarked that the students were “inventing the future of art and culture.” Amy Alexander, also an instructor, added that “the future has always been invented by mad artists.”

“There are no more men going to the moon,” said Amy. “No more Concorde flights. Steve Jobs of Apple, the last great maverick inventor, has died ... but we still have these ICAM students who represent the resurgence of the creative spirit that characterized the great mad pioneers and inventors of the past, like the Wright Brothers. The ICAM students will create the things that the big corporations and the think tanks can no longer provide.”