Joel Slayton, New Executive Director of Zero1
By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

Joel Slayton in his SJSU Office

Zero1, San Jose’s signature biennale, is now entering its second incarnation as 01SJ, blending contemporary art with technology and pop culture. With his recent appointment as Executive Director, Joel Slayton moves from a behind the scenes to a major role in shaping the future of 01SJ. His goal is to make the only arts and technology festival in North America as big and well known in its focus as South by Southwest is for music, as critically acclaimed as Documenta for contemporary art, as intrenched as Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria.

Who is Joel Slayton? His more conservative colleagues at San Jose State University have affectionately called him a revolutionary and subversive. At times, his aesthetic in the context of a School of Art and Design has seemed inscrutable. Nevertheless, in the big picture of things, from Cadre (Computers in Art and Design, Research, and Education at SJSU) through DoWhatDo, to Zero1/Festival of Art on the Edge, Joel Slayton has to be seen as a scholar, a humanist, a visionary and a pioneer in the field of digital media, constantly redefining the advance limits of contemporary art.

Slayton arrived at San Jose State University from Cal State, Chico, where he was a Visiting Professor at the Center for Information and Communications Studies. Slayton also served four years as the Coordinator of the Visible Language Workshop at M.I.T. He earned a Master Degree in Photography and Cinema from Ohio State University.

After twenty years at San Jose State, Slayton has created an enormous legacy in terms of active students/artists in digital media and the forging of a town and gown partnership that capitalizes on the potential of research, scholarship, art, multiculturalism, and futuristic mixing of media.

Sarah Lowe, a graduate student at SJSU, presents Iceage, her inflatable iceberg in 01SJ, 2008

Slayton received an NEA grant for his production of DoWhatDo in San Jose in 1991. Billed as an Urban Techno Drive-In Experience, and sponsored by the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art and the City of San Jose, it was actually a spectacle of multicultural arts and digital sights and sounds sequencing on the roof of a City parking garage. People watched from their cars. The production required collaboration and coordination between 200 interdisciplinary artists, musicians and performers, computer graphics and engineering, interactive systems, video, networking, telecommunications and electro-acoustics as well as a one-year process of planning with cultural arts groups, civic organizations and sponsors. It was fun, conceptually challenging and clearly pushing the limits in 1991. If Slayton’s San Jose audience wondered “what next?” most folks outside of academe had to wait until 2006, for the first Zero1 Festival to find out.

The Avatar navigates in Second Life’s Digital World, as part of 01SJ, 2008. A workshop in Second Life is offered in the San Jose State School of Art and Design.

That is not to say Slayton has not been busy in the international digital media scene. His digital artworks and video installations have appeared in the Durban International Film Festival (South Africa), Tage Fur Nueu Musik (Germany), the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian Institute, Brigham Museum of Art, the Craft Alliance Gallery and Arnolfini Gallery in England, to name only a few. He has written and delivered papers on gaming, social networking and organization, and systems theory at such far flung sites as Ars Electronic, the Singapore Art Museum and Transmediale, Berlin.

When asked about the ways DoWhatDo may have been seminal in the creation of Zero1, Slayton replies, “Definitely, in collaboration models — finding a common thread that diverse groups can use to create something they would not have done alone, something amazing.” He adds, “And so, Zero1 must be nimble, changing, constantly reaching out to the perimeters, taking chances and being willing to fail. We continue to try to build bridges to the community, and place things where the right people will see them.”

Craig Walsh’s projections onto the glass inside the City Hall Rotunda produce strange organic forms in 01SJ, 2008. The Rotunda and Plaza were bathed in an all-encompassing abstract dance of colors in Zero1, 2006.

Slayton is modest about his role in bringing forth Zero1, and credits many individuals and a serendipitous timing for its successes to date. He calls the Zero1 Board of Directors remarkable in its success at partnering good ideas and funding opportunities. He also praises the Executive Committee, comprised of representatives from San Jose’s Office of Economic Opportunity, Cadre/San Jose State University, Montalvo Center for the Arts and the San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau. “If there’s a good idea afloat it is coming from multiple people and places at once. Andy Cunningham was the source of the notion of bringing industry and the arts together. Peter Giles at the Tech Museum brought forth the idea of drawing people together around a festival.”

To the point of “art on the edge”, Slayton feels that bringing in Steve Dietz from the Walker Art Center, where he had been New Media Curator, to be Zero1’s Artistic Director “was brilliant”. Slayton and Dietz work well together. Dietz curates a central core of events and installations around the Museum of Art and nearby downtown sites. Slayton, with SJSU’s Cadre, and partnering with Montalvo, coordinate another series of lectures, residencies, collaborative projects and artist installations as satellite events. Slayton sees himself and Dietz continuing to overlap in some areas of creative development of the festival as well as areas of administration.

Magical creatures, float through space in Superlight, at the San Jose Museum of Art in 01SJ, 2008

What does Joel Slayton see happening as Zero1 grows and evolves? “We must continue to be an inclusive showcase of regional artists and organizations, along with the international art stars. This balance is important to the maturity of San Jose and Silicon Valley.”

Slayton hopes to see San Jose become a “destination”, expanded funding for Zero1, bigger and better partnerships, a greater sustainability through stable revenue sources, and year-round programming that creates a constant presence of “art on the edge”.

Slayton is equally concerned with youth programming and educational outreach. About a recent San Jose Conference on Anime: “That should be the kind of audience we tap.”

The San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation hosts a reception for Global Youth, in 01SJ, 2008

As part of audience cultivation, Slayton hopes “to invlove the huge potential of Silicon Valley in a manner that stimulates critical responsibility. We have to ask, what is Silicon Valley putting out into the world? Can Zero1 become a mechanism for allowing employee involvement to make a difference?”

Slayton says “Zero1 will be success when the public and contributing organizations take ownership, everyone is working on it together, and everyone knows it is part of the fabric of the area and our collective expectations.”

Joel Slayton has not permanently left academia behind. During the next two years he plans to continue his role in CADRE, with a new digital media faculty appointment, Hasan Elahi, taking over day to day activities in the classroom.

Click here for more information about 01SJ.

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