Where to Find Philly’s Digital Arts Community
Within the last twenty years, technology has changed every facet of our lives, and art has not been immune to the technological revolution. The computer and internet have given rise to an entirely new medium with which artists, whether they self-identify as one or not, can experiment and play.
In Philadelphia, the digital art community may still be a bit “underground”—some people may say non-existent multimedia artist and founder of CRUXspace Andrew Zahn notes, but they would be mistaken. The community of people using technology creatively is growing, and three very different institutions are at the center of that growth: CRUXspace, FringeArts, and Philly Game Mechanics.
Many galleries, like Philly’s Vox Populi, show digital and multimedia art, but few are dedicated solely to the medium. Bitforms in Manhattan comes to mind, but a comparable space does not exist in Philadelphia. Enter Andrew Cameron Zahn. Zahn, who started experimenting with online art and design applications like Photoshop and Quark as a kid, sought to fill that void with his new media art gallery CRUXspace in 2014. Growing out of art exhibitions for “hackers” that he organized as a student at the University of the Arts, CRUXspace found its first home at 7th and Master in Ludlow. Andrew and lead curator Kim Brickley have collaborated with the likes of Mural Arts, University of the Arts and FringeArts and have presented artists such as G. H. Hovagimyan and Molly Soda. Earlier this year CRUXspace moved out of its original location and found a new home at the WeWork in Northern Liberties, but its purpose, to provide a space for creators experimenting with technology in art and design has moved with it. In its new space, CRUXspace will be presenting a new exhibition featuring the digital media artists Swoon, who makes use of stop-motion animation, installation, and video techniques and Eric Westray, who employs cutting-edge 3D modeling techniques to bring to life impossible humans and environments. The Swoon/Westray exhibition opens October 26.
Past CRUXspace collaborator FringeArts seeks to provide digital artists with a platform of their own as well but in a very different way. FringeArts has maintained a mission “to present world-class, contemporary performing arts that challenge convention and inspire new ways of thinking” for decades. In 2015, the organization’s Fringe Festival was already 19 years old, but the team recognized that much of the art that aligned so perfectly with their mission was being created digitally but not presented nor seen. With about 15 digital art pieces, FringeArts launched its first Digital Fringe, a platform that allows audience members to experience the work of digital and multimedia artists for free, as part of the annual festival. Three years later, Digital Fringe has grown to 26 pieces with an additional two digital works, R&J and SPIES!, featured in the traditional Fringe Festival. Digital Fringe artists provide a URL or another method (app, text message, etc.) to access their technologic creation on the FringeArts website and in the Festival Guide. This year, you were able to cook with drag queens, outsmart the undead, and escape-the-room (chatroom that is).
Whereas Fringe and CRUXspace work with people who think of themselves as artists, that is not necessarily the case for FringeArts’ Digital Fringe partner, Philly Game Mechanics. Philly Game Mechanics is a charitable organization focused on supporting game development and indie game enthusiasts in Philadelphia, PA. PGM members take game development classes, create relationships and share their work with other gamers, creators, and makers through different talks and their indie arcade cabinet, the Philly-Tron (currently being housed at the Franklin Institute.) Through partnerships and relationships with other organizations such as The Franklin Institute and Drexel Game Program, Jake O’Brien from PGM points out, members further develop their skills and expand their perspectives. Recognizing the benefits of such partnerships herself, Jenny Kessler, a FringeArts intern brought her supervisor, Jarrod Markman, and PGM together to partner. Jake posed the question “What is digital art?” to the PGM community, and eventually, several Digital Fringe pieces were developed by members. On September 12, many of those pieces were shown at Philly Game Mechanic’s Digital Art Showcase at Harrisburg University’s Philadelphia Campus.
Although we may not be ready to distinguish digital art as its own distinct branch of art yet, CRUXspace, FringeArts and Philly Game Mechanics are filling the void and bringing the digital creative community to the surface. Once other institutions begin bridging the disconnect between themselves and the hackers, gamers, and artists utilizing technology in creative ways, these three groups will likely be cornerstones to the digital art community in Philadelphia. In a lot of ways, they already are.