JEN ZEN (a.k.a. Jennifer Grey)

Describe your field. Why are you interested in Computer Art/ Computer Graphics and what (event, need, idea, hope, obstacle) caused your involvement? Summarize your line of development (the essence of your input to the field) in relation to concurrent technology.

I am a Drawing and Painting Professor at California State University Long Beach. In 1999, I printed a large format fire painting at SIGGRAPH Art Studio. The computer generated image caught the attention of Steven Schkolne. “That’s hot,” he said. “Thank you,” I said, “What do you do?” He showed me his proprietary Surface Drawing system. I said, “That’s cool.” This lead to experiments in spontaneous freehand drawing, using his software linked to the “semi-immersive” environment of the Caltech Workbench. I made a series of unprecedented, life-sized, 3D figures, which I composited with hyper-realistic environments created in other computer programs.

Does the computer allow you to think visually about some topic or process in new ways? How has this influenced your work? Describe your ultimate accomplishment.

The computer is more than a tool, it is a medium. Human-computer interaction softens boundaries between biology and technology, bridging human and artificial intelligence. We know that human existence has been transformed by personal computers, and by the worldwide web. The nature of humanity is challenged. I am part of this change, evolving and reflecting on possibilities. In my current artwork, cyborgs use body shells to survive and transport themselves in vast desert environments, once uninhabitable. In this pioneering world, a young girl can become a centaur, a hybrid female machine that steps from the past into the future, anywhere

Has the field of computer art and graphics progressed in the ways that you expected? What has surprised you? What do you like about its progress and what do you wish had happened differently? What do you think the future holds for visual computing in science/art? Please make some predictions or wish lists for the near- and long-term future.

My first experience with computers was in the late 1960s at G&S Designs, Inc., once the first on-line graphics company in the Midwest. We programmed IBM computers in Fortran and Basic, to set variable type in catalog publications. You could make pictures using “Xs” and “Os”, or by changing the shape of text. That was about it. Later, I worked with John Cage at University of Illinois, Urbana where he pioneered new forms of computer music. Sound and complex geometry could be generated from the same algorithms. In future, computers will be tiny, faster than sound and light.

Describe your dream environment for enhancing your project ideas. What are your preferred tools for creating and how do they work? What tools (hardware/software) you have used initially had the strongest impact on your work?

Imagination is the most powerful tool. In my dreams, I use my index finger to draw titanium steel sculptures that float in midair. I use my hand as a non-destructive penetrating force that passes through any material. I can replicate and shape any material at will, including nerves of steel or sinew. I can transport myself to any corner of the universe by sliding in and out of the first dimension, and I can fly without the use of body armor. So in the real world, I am ready to make art with anyone, using any materials, anytime, any place.

Describe how you think specific advancements in technology, (such as wireframe, hidden line removal, scanner, laser, HTML, Java applets, or any other advancement), determined the way the approaches to creating art/graphics evolved?

The big deal is to remember that all forms of computer technology set up an interface, which distances the user from direct experience of nature uninhibited by technology. Ultimately this creates a paradigm of existence based on techno-culture rather than Nature, makes truth in virtual reality more difficult to discern, and propaganda more effective. The nature of the medium insures quick dissemination in an increasingly permeable culture. New forms of art/graphics can be used as playful forms of self-expression by anyone with access to computer stuff…and at the same time, to organize and control public groups…for better and for worse.

How would you characterize the milestones (every ten years) in the development of computer technology? Which ones were most influential in art/graphics?

I don't, because computer technology is extensive, and dates to use of the abacus in 3,000 B.C. I rely on highly evolved aspects of computer technology, like multi-res modeling systems fostered by Peter Schroeder at Caltech, together with affordable software packages Photoshop, Painter and Bryce. Innovations in “immersive” hardware systems by Wolfgang Kreuger inspire me, as do animation programs created by scientists like Jim Blynn. I need Bill Gates commitment to continued research. I need my Helpdesk. Foundation milestones include: trans-Atlantic cables; the world-wide web; super-conductors; integrated circuits; silicone chips; robotics; personal computers; archival printing technology; 2D, 3D, 4D interfaces…

Which persons would you indicate as the pioneers in the particular areas/stages in which decade?

The Computer History Museum summarizes “the largest collection of computer-related artifacts, documents, film and photographs in the world” in a timeline. PBS Online presents a companion web site for Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires. I also suggest reading visionary and historical timelines in The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil. Computer science pioneers depended on popular futurists like Isaac Asimov who proposed the “3 Great Laws of Robotics,” Marshall McLuhan who foresaw the “Global Village” where “the medium is the message,” and President Kennedy who said “Let’s Go to the Moon!”