GarageGeeks, a group of seasoned Israeli tech entrepreneurs, regularly get together at a crumbling building in Holon, south of Tel Aviv, to build things, including a headless robot that can play Guitar Hero.
Rafael Mizrahi, CEO of Feng-GUI, an artificial intelligence service which empowers designers and advertisers to effectively analyze attention and attraction, fits right in. “I like to hack musical instruments, games and gadgets, and reassemble them while adding a new twist or experience factor,” says Mizrahi. “I will take part in creating anything that inspires and elevate people’s mind and spirit. It can be a beautiful visual representation of data, a mash-up of sounds and tribal rhythm or even a funny creation of a machine that does absolutely nothing valuable.”
He and other members of the tech community eagerly look forward to Kinnernet, an annual invitation-only geek fest organized by DLD Tel Aviv co-chair Yossi Vardi, where they can compare cool gadgets and collaborate on building flying machines and all manners of contraptions. Then they go back to their day jobs.
But for some what started out as a hobby has become their life’s passion: now, instead of working full-time in technology jobs, they are using state-of-the-art technology to create art. Members of the maker’s movement will gather at a satellite event organized during the DLD Tel Aviv Festival October 15th to 17th.
The Tel Aviv makers community includes Liat Segal, who left a job at Microsoft Innovation Labs to become a full-time artist. As an undergraduate at Tel Aviv University she studied computational biology and machine learning, mathematics, computer science and biology, as well as economics, psychology, history and the arts. Her graduate research was in the field of bioinformatics and machine learning and included understanding aspects of the mechanism by which gene regulation occurs.
Now she is putting all of that learning into her art. Segal runs Sweet Tech Studio, a Tel Aviv business that focuses on “making interactive projects, hardware, software and mechanics; making connections between low and high tech, physical and virtual media, art and people.” The name of the studio comes from a quote from J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is known as the ‘father of the atomic bomb,’ who once quipped “If you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it.”
For Segal, the breakthrough came when she was asked to teach a class on machine learning at a school of art and design. “I did not know how to speak to artists and designers — they speak a different language than what I was used to but it opened things for me. I like taking something from one discipline and using it in another.”
Projects she has been involved in include designing an interactive bus station for PepsiMax and building a robot that paints on a large canvas in response to human voices and musical instruments that surround it. (See the photos for other examples of art projects she is involved in.)
Eyal Gever, another regular Kinnernet attendee, is a kindred spirit. He too started out in the tech sector. A former paratrooper in the Israeli army, Gever spent two years at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, before becoming a tech entrepreneur in the 1990s. He co-founded a company called Zapa, specializing in the creation of multimedia communications for corporate clients including News Corp, Apple, IBM and Mattel. John Sculley, former chief executive officer of Apple and president of Pepsi, spotted Mr. Gever in Red Herring magazine, invited him to New York and agreed to become the start-up’s chairman. But the company’s early promise fizzled after the dotcom crash and so he turned his attention back to art. Rapid prototyping and 3D printing allow Gever to combine his passions for computer code and art. Now, drawing on ideas from 3D graphics, applied mathematics, computer science, and engineering, he spends his time making 3D simulations, sculptural moments and digital prints.
“Combining applied mathematics, computer science, and engineering, my work captures and freezes catastrophic situations as cathartic experiences,” says Gever. “My ongoing body of works examines the relationship between the simulated events that I create and their physical manifestation. These sublime moments are born out of simulations and translated as art.”
Each simulation that Gever creates is animated and a few frames are fabricated and materialized into physical sculptures, built layer by layer using Objet’s ultra-thin-layer, high-resolution three-dimensional printing systems and polymer jetting technology to print ultra-thin 16-micron layers and achieve extremely accurate, smooth, and highly-detailed 3D sculptures. Physically these works exist in three states. The first is the 3D simulation of the event presented as video. The second is the sculptural pieces of a particular moment Gever chooses during the event, which are later 3D printed by digital fabrication techniques and then painted using traditional automotive methods to achieve a high-gloss industrial finish. The third incarnation of the work is a series of multilayer glass prints made using a glass digital printer system.
For the past seven months Gever has been developing, with a third-party technical group, his own 3D printers to enable him to print very large sculptures in a much more economical way in his studio.
But as with all art, it is not about what underpins it but what inspires it. “I am influenced by the destructive impact within our environment,” he says. “Uncontrollable power, unpredictability and cataclysmic extremes are the sources for my work. They inspire, fascinate and remind me of the constant fragility and beauty of human life. Beauty can come from the strangest of places, in the most horrific events. My art addresses these notions of destruction and beauty, the collisions of opposites, fear and attraction, seduction and betrayal, from the most tender brutalities to the most devastating sensitivities. I oscillate between these opposites.”
Like Segal, for Gever oscillating between the art and tech worlds is natural, because, as he sees it, these two seemingly distinct disciplines are interlinked more than ever, with technology being a fundamental force in the development and evolution of art.