30 years ago, no one would have thought to combine the words digital, media and arts in a single description. Now, the combination of these seemingly disparate terms defines an entire curriculum dealing with computer-aided design and storytelling. At the inauguration Wifebit event, some of the most influential pioneers in the field of digital media arts gathered at Human ressources inside a former kung fu theater in LA’s Chinatown to discuss the history and future of the discipline still in formation, see new digital shorts and learn about virtual reality projects revolutionaries.
Given the title of the event, it’s no surprise that nearly all of Femmebit’s panelists, organizers, and more than 40 featured artists are women. A live-streamed VR demo of Casey Kauffmann’s rugged yet user-friendly iPhone-based photo editing app launched the immersive three-day event. The initial experience was a reminder that live-streamed virtual reality is currently reminiscent of online video content from 20 years ago: glitchy, clunky, and at the mercy of internet connection speeds.
Besides the movies, Femmebit’s piece de resistance was an academic panel on digital media arts, moderated by the artist and founder of Telefantasy Studios JJ Stratford and featuring Rebecca Allenfounding chair of UCLA’s Department of Design Media Arts and founding director of the Nokia Research Lab, as well as Candace Reckinger, Professor of Cinematic Arts Practice and Director of the Jaunt Cinematic VR Lab at USC. The pioneers of digital media arts were joined by Holly Willispresident of the Media Arts + Practice division at USC, and Shelley Holcomb of Curate.LA. They discussed early experiments creating digital art in labs and the struggle to reconcile the field’s burgeoning potential as an art form and a business tool. They speculated on the prospects of a paradigm shift in the field of digital media arts with the development of virtual reality before the screening of another collection of short films titled “Heterotopias”.
Femmebit concluded with a mimosa brunch and a panel of artists as brand strategists with Samantha Culp from Powers of Palomaand Jenna Isken and Alison Greenberg of Siegel + Wind. The discussion was followed by a screening Artists as cooperatives.
Femmebit is the result of Kate Parson, an associate professor at the School of the Arts at Irvine Valley College and a VR content creator herself. After moving to Los Angeles for graduate school three years ago, Parsons says she noticed the field of digital media arts was dominated by women. Thus, she joins forces with Sharsten Plenge of We Open Art Houses (WOW), and writer and founder of Gil’s Shrine, Janna Avner, to direct Femmebit. Together, the women aimed to create a forum for women to exchange experiences and share ideas about where the field of digital media arts is headed.
A provocative theme on which Parsons hoped to spark conversations is the relationship between art and commerce. “So many of the artists we featured have connections to businesses in a way that enriches their practice,” she points out. Parsons also notes the technology’s transformative effects on the VR experience. She says, “The three pieces we showed in our VR installation were originally created to be viewed on a screen. Each respective job has adapted to virtual reality in a very unusual way.
Adding to his colleague’s ideas, Plenge says, “Femmebit aimed to be a festive connection point. We did not foresee the political climate as it is today after the elections. With that, I have to say that it seemed so important reason to unite and showcase female artists: I truly believe that the future is female, in art, in politics, and in and outside of any marketplace. that it’s time we all looked around with wide eyes, asked questions, and created platforms that are actively doing something to support inclusion without framing exclusive conversations.”