When a faceless woman tap dances on your Palm, is it art?
Yes, according to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Tap, a digital public art piece featuring male and female tap dancers, is part of the 2002 Whitney Biennial, the latest edition of the well-known exhibition that focuses on cutting-edge American art. The exhibit, complete with beaming stations for visitors to receive Tap on their Palms, runs March 7 through May 26.
Developed over nine months and designed especially for Palm devices, Tap is a prominent example of a nascent art movement in which an everyday handheld computing device becomes a vehicle for creative, personal--and in some cases, highly idiosyncratic--expression. Dancers on Display
Tap consists of several separate, free downloadable programs for Palms. One program features an animated female dancer, the other her male counterpart. Rendered as black-and-white line art, the dancers have no facial features but possess human characteristics and a few touches of style (both wear black gloves and matching shoes; the male wears a cap).
It's up to you to put the characters through the included dance steps or create new routines for them. Along the way, your dancer fumbles and improvises; but practice, as in real life, makes perfect. When you're done, you can upload your dancer's new routines to the Web or download routines created by others.
Commissioned by the Dia Center for the Arts in New York, in cooperation with Creative Time, Tap is digital art designed to make us think about the physical.
"We focus a great deal on the transmission of data," says James Buckhouse, who calls himself a digital artist. "I wanted to create something digital that wasn't about instant knowledge. I wanted the dancers to need practice, to need to learn steps and dances."
Through the dancers' efforts, Buckhouse adds, users "think of their bodies and physical presence, and what it's like to exist in the overlap between physical, digital, and personal space." Other PDA Art
Though Tap is Buckhouse's first Palm art project, others have employed the handheld device as a creative outlet before. Last summer, an exhibition called Firefly by Antenna Design, shown at the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage, featured illuminated objects, such as a bed and a sink. For each object, visitors could receive a parallel animation beamed to their Palms, according to Sarah Bacon, director of communications from Creative Time, curator of the exhibition. For instance, a video of dripping water accompanied the illuminated sink, Bacon says. The exhibition "was meant to be very playful, imaginative, and interactive," she explains.
An online exhibition of downloadable PDA art is currently available at Voyd.com, a site devoted to the practice, scholarship, research, and curation of "technological arts." The exhibition includes interactive poetry for Palms, which is perhaps best described as an acquired taste. One such poem, entitled Origaminoia, is described as featuring "diaphanous texts which murmu [sic] by and even allow for the dranning [sic] of passages to allow for reorganization of the poem."
The Voyd.com site also includes a "theater of the hand," with links to conceptual videos that can be downloaded and played on Palms. One such video, called I Love You, is a silent close-up of the artist's mouth murmuring sweet nothings to a plate of ladybugs. The video was the grand-prize winner of the "1st Aggressively Boring Film Festival." Palm Entices Artists
But again, the question arises: Is it art? That depends on your point of view. One thing is certain, however. When it comes to creative expression on personal digital assistants, the Palm clearly has the edge over the Pocket PC. An online search revealed that nearly all PDA-specific poetry, art, and videos now available or discussed on the Web were designed specifically for the Palm. Why the platform preference?
With over 20 million users, the Palm "is more popular," says artist Buckhouse. This translates to a wider potential audience. Plus, the Palm is "more classic looking," he adds. Buckhouse cites the Palm Vx as a prime example. With its sleek curves and brushed titanium case, Buckhouse says, the Palm Vx is itself a work of art.