Art and Tech Collide in Interactive Media Installations Presented by JD Beltran + Scott Minneman

 Evolution II, multimedia video, interactive, 2018. Courtesy Beltran +Minneman.

Evolution II, multimedia video, interactive, 2018. Courtesy Beltran +Minneman.

In 2007, JD Beltran and Scott Minneman had recently begun dating when Beltran ran into a major snag with a project that she was installing at Ingenuity Fest in Cleveland. The project, a sound and video self-portrait project called Telephone Story, had been installed at MIT in 2001, but the company who currently held the technology for the project flaked out at the last minute.  At a loss as for what to do with so little time left until the opening, Beltran asked Minneman, who had recently co-founded a design company called Onomy Labs, if he could help her. Minneman, who held a PhD in Engineering from Stanford and had worked at Xerox PARC in Palo Alto, was not only able to help her, but was able to reconfigure it to use a more advanced system as well.

From there, their collaboration blossomed, and the two have been working together ever since. Beltran had gotten her MFA in Painting and New Genre from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1998, while Minneman had, prior to getting his PhD in Mechanical Engineering, gotten other degrees in architecture and engineering from MIT.  While his professional career had followed a more technical path, he had remained interested in design. At Xerox Parc he helped launch an artist-in-residence program called PAIR that paired artists and researchers to help advance both of their projects simultaneously.  As a participant (working with Jon Winet, Margaret Crane, and Dale MacDonald) as well as an organizer member of PAIR, he appreciated it for maintaining both his technical and creative sides. Beltran and Minneman found that working together was a natural fit, with Beltran’s natural aesthetic and Minneman’s interest in finding creative technical solutions to artistic projects. “JD’s degree is in painting and she understands representation as well as different media types,” said Minneman. “I create new media genres and the two of us pour content and interactivity into those platforms.”

In 2008, Beltran received a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, and saw another opportunity for collaboration.  Minneman had recently co-developed an interactive museum exhibit called the Tilty Table, which had become popular in children’s museums. In partnership with 826 Valencia and John O’Connell high school, Beltran and Minneman created the Magic Story Table, mapping the stories that the high school students described as the most significant moments in their lives – using both geo-locating and storytelling. The Magic Story Tables took off and the two ended up traveling to places as far as Russia and Kyrgyzstan, mapping people’s stories to create interactive video projects that offered a portal into the life of the city.

“For me, technology is an important medium for our current day in age, and understanding how technology and content on screens can be used for artistic purposes is really important,” said Minneman.

For If So, What? Beltran and Minneman are exhibiting a series of works, including a large-scale work called Evolution II, a real time pointillist interpretation of an underlying video work. The video work is a compilation of single vanishing points, from roadways to rollercoasters. The imagery was initially created for the first edition of Pacific Standard Time LA in 2012, which paid homage to the visual music movement in LA. The work is interactive, detecting human viewers nearby and changing the dot size of the pointillist representation based on their proximity.

Also on view at If So, What? is a series of video works that involve moving media, viewed through spherical lenses. Included in the series is a crystal ball with a video display at the bottom. Riffing on the notion of a crystal ball as a fortune-telling tool, the work shows canonical visions of the future, from bustling metropolises to highways crowded with cars. Together, the works show the artistic duo’s ongoing interest in using technology to push the boundaries of their medium, resulting in pioneering works that allow for the public to interact with them in surprising and exciting new ways.