Episode 06: On computer graphics and interactive techniques

By Erica Hruby

All Episodes


In this special bonus episode looking forward to the 2021 SIGGRAPH conference, we speak with Andrés Burbano, the 2021 Retrospective Program Chair, and discuss the history of computer graphics and creative techniques; Artificial Intelligence, art and social justice; and advice for practitioners wanting to submit their work to the SIGGRAPH art program.

All 12 back issues of the Leonardo-SIGGRAPH collaborative publication are available at 50% discount through 1 September 2021. Browse the contents of these issues and find the discount code at www.leonardo.info/siggraph.

Watch: "AI, Art and Social Justice" panel presented at SIGGRAPH 2020, a program of the Leonardo Education and Art Forum hosted by Andrés Burbano and Ruth West.

Related podcast: SIGGRAPH Spotlight Episode 44, SIGGRAPH 2021 Retrospective Chair Andrés Burbano sits down with industry icon Alvy Ray Smith. Alvy discusses his rich history with computer graphics and takes a deep dive into the three parts of his upcoming book, A Biography of the Pixelhttps://blog.siggraph.org/2021/06/siggraph-spotlight-episode-44-a-conversation-with-alvy-ray-smith.html

A Biography of the Pixel by Alvy Ray Smith is a title in the Leonardo Book Series published by MIT Press and comes out in August 2021. Find out more and preorder at https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/biography-pixel.

Learn more about the SIGGRAPH 2021 conference in August and register to attend at https://s2021.siggraph.org.

Find all episodes of Between Art and Science at www.leonardo.info/podcast.

Theme music: Wyatt Keusch is a musician living in British Columbia, Canada. His work can be explored in detail at jazz.fish.


Andrés Burbano is a media artist and scholar who is associate professor in the Department of Design at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and is also visiting professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam, Germany, Austria. Burbano holds a PhD in media arts and technology from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). He was SIGGRAPH 2018 Art Gallery Chair, SIGGRAPH 2020 Art Papers Chair, and SIGGRAPH 2021 Retrospective Program Chair.



TRANSCRIPT by Otter.ai

Erica Hruby  00:15

You have found the space between art and science. I'm your host Erica Hruby. Today I have the pleasure of bringing you a special bonus episode looking forward to the SIGGRAPH 2021 event which takes place virtually from August 9 to 13th. I will be speaking with Andres Burbano, the 2021 retrospective program chair. SIGGRAPH is the world's largest conference on computer graphics and it's held by ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery. Andres Burbano is a media artist working in fields such as information visualization and a scholar interested in the history of media technologies. He is Associate Professor in the design department of Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia, and this year he will be visiting professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam, Germany. Andres is the international representative for the Leonardo education and art forum and has in past years chaired both the SIGGRAPH art papers and art gallery programs that have been published with Leonardo.

Erica Hruby  01:11

In this episode, we discuss the history of computer graphics and creative techniques, artificial intelligence, art and social justice, and advice for practitioners wanting to submit their work to the SIGGRAPH art program. All right, well, thank you. I'd like to thank Andres Burbano for joining me today on our episode of between art and science at Leonardo. Andres is this year, the retrospective chair for the SIGGRAPH conference. I'd like to thank you for chatting with me today. I'm pleased to learn of your chair for SIGGRAPH. and wondering if you would tell me a little bit about the focus of of that program this year.

Andrés Burbano  01:47

Okay, thanks for the with the invitation. It's really great talking with you, Erica, it's been a long time, you know, collaborating, and it's always cool to keep in communication. So the retrospective program, it's a program devoted to the history of computer graphics and interactive techniques. Inside SIGGRAPH, SIGGRAPH 2021 is the first time that such program is rated for a conference like this. So it's very experimental. The idea is that the history of computing has been driven by the desire to produce images sound on facilitating directions. Even though this approach was not evident. In the first attempts to write the history of computing research exposes the trajectories of the computational image and interactive methods as a fundamental component of Computer History. a selection of five panels and one feature session constitute their retrospective program. researchers, practitioners, critical thinkers, historians, inventors, engineer artists and curators from over 10 countries contribute to the first SIGGRAPH program devoted to the history of computer graphics, and interactive techniques. The content addresses various themes from techno cultural diversity, women in technology, museums and collections. We are going to launch recent publications, also exploring the industry legacy, revealing multiple perspectives to explore the yesterday of the digital media technologies. The retrospective program offers the opportunity to find the richness and complexity of history where we usually find the technological future. So we will have five panels, one feature session one some of my favorite events are, let's say one panel dedicated to diversity, you know that that's a very important part of my my work is dedicated to Brazil entirely. And we have several talks about the history of computer graphics in Brazil, how indigenous communities used today digital media to preserve the traditions. And also we will have a fantastic talk by the developers of one programming language computer programming language, developed in Brazil, which is Lua, Lua means moon in Portuguese, we also have a sisters of code, for instance panel that is dedicated exclusively to the contributions of women to the computer graphics, interactive techniques, especially in this case, exploring things like pioneers, such as Vera Molnar, who's a French pioneer, she's still alive. I think she's 93. Now she's still active. And Francesca Franco has been following her career Early career. So Francesca Franco is a historian and she's putting together a exhibition of the early work of Vera Molnar and we will have her sharing with with us the experience of designing this exhibition also we will have Women in Data visualization, you know, contributions historically from the 1900s to the 21st century of women, you know, contributing to this field that should be recognized. And also there is this fantastic project run by Bonnie Mitchell and Jan Searleman on the archive of SIGGRAPH and they will explore this. They

Andrés Burbano  04:59

archive presenting the contributions of women to specifically the SIGGRAPH conference. So that's what I can say now for the respective programs.

Erica Hruby  05:11

You mentioned that we have had the opportunity to work together, we're getting SIGGRAPH in the past and in your position as the international representative of the Leonardo, education and art forum. So last year, leaf presented a, an event for birds of a feather that the theme was AI, art and social justice. So this event addressed the role of artists, engineers and computer graphics professionals in creating more equitable technologies for society. So I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about how you determine the topic for the session? What is the need to address these sort of questions? And what were some of the themes that came out of the program?

Andrés Burbano  05:48

Okay, yeah, that was one of the most important contributions since I've been involved with within SIGGRAPH. And also in collaborations with, of course, Leonardo, and the digital arts community, my role was more like a facilitator, let's say, when we were putting together the program for SIGGRAPH, 2020, I was very concerned of what was happening in the States, you know, the demonstrations of Black Lives Matter. And now a very critical topic, which is that many of the biases that we still have in culture, in several ways are translated into our technological and computational systems. And that's something that many researchers artists coming from African American communities, black communities, indigenous communities have been addressing strongly. And I thought that it would be ideal to have an event within SIGGRAPH to address these topics, which are so important for the American culture, but also worldwide. So I was in charge of contacting, the people. I mean, originally what I did was to call my friend Valencia James, she's a fantastic dancer, and activist and also digital media artist. And she was very happy to take the opportunity to address these these problems of bias computational systems, how AI is involved in the situation, how can we think about critical AI, and she invited three extremely interesting speakers Vernelle Noel, who is an expert on computational media specially in the design and architectural fields, that Nettrice Gaskins who has a practice on media arts, using AI and Amelia Winger-Bearskin, who has indigenous roots on its fantastic developer working in the Bay Area. And this was truly remarkable unmoving episode for me, because we, for instance, started to the acknowledgments of the lands, of all the people that were connect that today to the transmission that were people from all around the world. And, you know, a I, for instance, recognize the contributions of the muisca people here in the land, I am in Bogota, Colombia, and so many people around the world leader, and then you know, the work by Vernel, Nettrice, and Amelia, really explore these creative and critical perspectives about AI and computational systems in general, in such a profound way that it was, as I said before, one of the most important contributions I've I've been involved with it, you know, today, facing the community, related to media, Arts and Technology, you know, art science worldwide.

Erica Hruby  08:37

So there's a lot to be said. There's a lot to be said about bias, AI and computational systems. And I really appreciate that, that you're bringing these questions to such a large audience, such as SIGGRAPH, who reach, you know, not only art community, technology community, media in general, and has such an enormous platform to raise and discuss questions of equity, and questions of justice within technology. We've also worked together on special Leonardo issues that focus on the SIGGRAPH art tracks. And I recall several years ago that there was a focus on indigenous art for the gallery that was mirrored in part with the art papers as well. You have chaired both the art gallery and the art papers programs in SIGGRAPH in the past and I was wondering if you could give anyone interested some advice if they're interested in submitting their work to the SIGGRAPH art track?

Andrés Burbano  09:32

This is an interesting question. So first, I can start talking about the two times that have been before Chair of SIGGRAPH problems. You know, in 2018, I had the chance to be in charge of the art gallery that was in Vancouver at a time in a fantastic building there. I try to articulate kind of three important tracks that I think are reshaping the field of computational arts, technological art. One is the presence of the transformative presence of indigenous people working with digital media. In this case, we had people like Skawennati who has a mohawk roots, sharing her animations on video games. We also had a video game from Hawaii, and another video game from a Inuit community in Alaska, working together with our team in Seattle, and also a collaboration from our local indigenous artists in British Columbia, and the Microsoft garage lab. And that was one of the tracks of the art gallery, the orders were history where Leonardo play a very important role because we focus on history of you know, computer arts and the computer arts history, the traces are published since the 60s, you know, in the Leonardo journal. So, this was very interesting, because there was, you know, framing the 50th year celebration of the publication, and we could add and celebrate, especially emphasizing content with this approach. Last year in 2020, I was in charge of our papers, we had a focus on how in, you know, new computational tools, AI, that's why this panel that Valencia put together was so important. And it was a you know, very good complement. And what I think is the following if you're interested on submitting your work to SIGGRAPH, remember that SIGGRAPH is an organization that is very attentive to represent the diversity of creators around the planet, right. So we are trying to push that more and more, don't hesitate if you think that your work don't fit, right like for the things that have been done for SIGGRAPH in the past in art papers, or a gallery to submit your work goes who you're trying to expand the scope of the things that we select, right. These year, for instance, I know that Angus Forbes is in charge of art papers. And he's, you know, putting together a lot of energy on inclusion, diversity, and also, of course, excellence in in quality at the artistic and technical levels.

Erica Hruby  12:17

I want to let you and our listeners know that Leonardo had for 12 years partnered with SIGGRAPH to do a special issue of the journal that features the art papers and the art gallery. And those back issues are now available at a 50% discount for the MIT Press. And so I'd like to encourage anyone who has been published or has interest in computer graphics to go check that out. The discount code and all of the contents are available on the Leonardo website at Leonardo dot info slash SIGGRAPH. So please let let your people know that that's available to them through the end of August. And I would like to just close out our brief conversation today to know what are you looking forward to most at SIGGRAPH 2021? What should people put on their their schedules when they're going?

Andrés Burbano  13:08

Last words, I want to say that definitely one of the most interesting experiences working for SIGGRAPH is being it's been part of this articulation with Leonardo, with Leonardo community and the you know, the publication, the special issues, you know, one a year published in collaboration between SIGGRAPH. And Leonardo are really landmarks of the development of the debates and the creative practice. In our field. You know, in the last 12 years, I really treasure this collaboration. And I thought, you know, seldom in life, these kind of combinations of two very interesting organizations are, are possible. So that was really a fantastic time of collaboration. You know, just to conclude, I already presented the content of the

Andrés Burbano  13:58

retrospective format at the beginning, I just want to tell you that today it was released. The keynote speakers of this year that are called this year will feature speakers of future sessions. And as part of the retrospective program, I am in charge of putting together a conversation between Ed Catmull and Pat Hanrahan. Ed Catmull. And Pat Hanrahan are the two recipients of the 2019 ACM Turing Award, you know, it's probably the highest honor in Computer Sciences is being compared to a Nobel prize. Right. And we will have both of them speaking in our fire chart, you know, like a friendly manner. And share you know, they've trajectory, why they are achievements, you know, is the first time that in the history of computation in this award, the award goes to computer graphics, right. And it's very important to understand the directory and also how they see they see the evolution of the field. And additionally, it's been

Andrés Burbano  15:00

One thing that is being confirmed today as well is that we are putting together a panel on the history of Silicon Graphics. And we are running this panel in collaboration with the Computer History Museum there in the Bay Area. And they are being very generous. And they've been helping us to have a fantastic panel about Silicon Graphics history and legacy. It's a very interesting situation because the, you know, the building, or is located a Computer History Museum, where the former Silicon Graphics headquarters, and they were like many other things, so we finally got the confirmation, you don't like that the one of the most important founders of the company, Jim Clark, would be with with us today. And it's another achievement of the program, you know, so we will have really big names sharing with us in our very friendly and open way. Why they think about a trajectory, you know, is not just about you know, people writing about history, which is very important, but also, you know, the practitioners who shaped it, the field. And just to conclude, because you know, you're related to Leonardo, Leonardo is an MIT Press publication, we will have the presentations of two books published by MIT Press. One is the book, a biography of the pixel by Alvy Ray Smith, and the book by Jacob Gaboury, who is a professor at Berkeley, that is called image objects. So we are plenty of content fresh and you know, prepared just for the conference. So I invite all of you to subscribe and attend SIGGRAPH 2021.

Erica Hruby  16:36

Excellent. That's such an exciting program. And I'm sure that our listeners and all of the participants in SIGGRAPH will really find a lot to enjoy and learn from at this year's conference. So thank you so much for joining me today for this special bonus episode of our podcast. And thank you for being such a great collaborator with Leonardo for proceeding me but over the last several years that I've been with the organization, so thank you very much.

Andrés Burbano  17:02

You're welcome, Erica, always a pleasure.

Erica Hruby  17:06

This year, SIGGRAPH will be a virtual conference held from August 9 through 13th. You may be interested to listen to the SIGGRAPH spotlight podcast episode that Andres produced with Alvy Ray Smith, discussing Smith's upcoming book a biography of the pixel, a title from the Leonardo book series coming out this summer from MIT Press. We'll have links in the expanded episode notes to the SIGGRAPH 2021 website, the podcast episode with Alvy Ray Smith, where you can purchase a biography of a pixel and the discount code to purchase back issues of the Leonardo SIGGRAPH special issues. These extended notes as well as contributor bios and episode transcriptions are available at Leonardo dot info slash podcast.

Tinatswe Mhaka  17:48

Between art and science is a production of Leonardo, the International Society for the Arts Sciences and Technology. Our editorial director is Erica Hruby, podcast production by Tinatswe Mhaka. the music was composed by Wyatt quaich. Visit Leonardo dot info slash podcast for extended episode notes with more information about our contributors and lists of available episodes, and links to the streaming services where we can be found. Find out more about Leonardo, our publications and our programs at WWW dot Leonardo dot info