One of Savannah’s favorite yearly cultural events is returning to Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center from January 27 through the 31: The PULSE Art + Technology Festival.
This year, the event coincides with one of their popular Free Family Weekends, ensuring that both locals and visitors alike will all be able to enjoy the full slate of programming. “Although the exhibitions will be up for a good while, we are offering three days of free admission to the Jepson Center for anyone from Friday to Sunday, from 10am-5pm,” said Telfair’s senior curator of education Harry DeLorme.
The goal, DeLorme explained, is “to provide access to the museum without financial barriers,” while also expanding the well-liked initiative’s hours, allowing museum-goers to spread out visitations and safely view the artwork.
This year’s festival is headlined by Caribbean-born multi-disciplinary artist David Gumbs in his first solo show at a U.S. museum.
“The exhibition title ‘From Dust to Gold’ speaks about our islands cultural heritage,” said Gumbs, who is originally from St. Martin. “It’s an echo to our resilient families having to build back from devastating Cat 5 hurricanes, it’s an act of resistance towards the sargassum and the Sahara dust invasion.”
Amongst the numerous pieces that the internationally recognized artist will be featuring at the Jepson Center is “Blossoms,” which Gumbs describes as “an immersive interactive video installation that reacts to the sounds the visitors make.” Additionally, visitors can expect to see a collection of what he terms “random drawings,” none of which have yet been seen on American soil.
“Although random and abstract, their organic composition sometimes look like animals, trees, wind and living creatures,” Gumbs explained. “Their rhizomic connecting lines can be compared to random computer generated patterns.”
Beyond bringing in international talent, this year’s showcase will continue Telfair Museums’ tradition of highlighting the work of local artists as well, with Guanzhi Kou’s interactive “Marionette,” and Greg Finger’s “Remains to be Seen.”
In the case of the latter, Finger has created a giant projection-mapped eyeball called “Tian Yan.” The movement-tracking orb hovers behind a “Black Box” situated on a pedestal.
“When a person activates the box, which they do by hovering their hand above it, they initiate the sequence in which Tian Yan focuses on and scans their face,” Finger related. “It then employs an algorithm to try to solve what the masked lower half of their face looks like, superimposes it atop an image of their face and stores it on a mask hung on the wall.”
With “Marionette,” which allows museum-goers to manipulate puppets through a hands-free virtual interface, current SCAD student Kou is hoping to inspire a sense of wonder and exploration in her viewers.
“I want to engage my audience by provoking their curiosity and interest when they see my piece and encourage them to interact with it,” she said. “They will be greeted with surprises by the feedback that they triggered.”
Kou also noted that her project further gives visitors the opportunity to “experience how gesture recognition technology works, and how it differs from traditional computer interactive experience.”
Beyond the in-person activities that the festival will be presenting, this year’s schedule of events includes a number of virtual opportunities. Alongside several artist talks, a curator’s tour, and even an ice cream making workshop hosted by the Society of Women Engineers, is a live parent-oriented presentation by nationally known designers Diana Eng and Natalie Zee Drieu, founders of STEM Chat.
“For our presentation, we will talk about learning physics in a pit of balloons, math while playing with blocks, and developing toddler sensory skills in the kitchen,” they detailed in an e-mail correspondence. “We will look at paper geometry in origami for babies, toddlers, kids, teenagers, and drafting paper prisms to create animals. We will also show STEM related products, books and kits that we think are top notch.”
The pair each have children themselves, ranging in ages from pre-school to middle school, giving them plenty of experience in coming up with creative ways to educate and engage little ones.
“Diana and I have been sharing STEM ideas with each other for years to use with our kids, as good products and ideas are really hard to find online,” said Drieu. “We came up with the idea for STEM Chat back in December 2019, a few months before the pandemic really hit globally. Once it did hit and schools started to shut down and move to remote learning, we knew that now was the time to get STEM Chat going to help other parents.”
Whether in-person or virtually, the 2021 PULSE Festival is committed to not only offering a wide range of engaging programming, but to ensure that it’s done so in a safe and secure manner. In addition to requiring that all visitors to the Jepson Center wear a mask, the number of people admitted in an individual gallery will be monitored to ensure social distancing.
And the museum is taking extra steps this year to limit direct contact while still providing a little something special for their youngest visitors.
“In lieu of hands on activities f
or families in the museum we will be producing hundreds of take home activity kits related to PULSE that families may pick up at the museum and enjoy at home,” noted DeLorme.
“I’m excited that we can actually offer PULSE this year given the state of the world and the public health crisis,” he added. “I really think that art and museums can be a restorative and relatively safe activity during these times.”
For the entire schedule of events for the 2021 PULSE Art + Technology Festival please visit https://www.telfair.org/event/pulse2021/.