by Kuniko Vroman

Walking down the hallway of San José State University’s  art building can feel like taking a stroll back in time. The décor and architecture resound of the 50s, with floors covered with bland linoleum squares and doors with thick-wired glass windows obscuring the interiors of classrooms and offices. It’s only the groups of students chatting, eating, and studying in front of classrooms that snap time back to the here and now.

The atmosphere of the art building reflects an important time for San Jose, when a critical shift in the city’s focus occurred. San José was the first civil settlement in Upper California under Spanish rule, a pioneer town, whose focus was agriculture. Agriculture continued to be the city’s economic main stay until, like so many other American cities, San José experienced a post-war urban boom. San José re-focused itself and went from an economy based on food production to one of industry. This new industry was centered on defense contracts and the research and development of new technologies. In the early 50s IBM opened its research and development facilities in downtown San José and heralded the future Silicon Valley.

It is appropriate then, that located in an office on the second floor of a building that is still dated by architecture to San José’s industrial shift, an initiative is being shaped that will combine the pioneering spirit of San José with that of its current industry-based focus. This initiative brings a new set of pioneers that will collaborate in the same spirit of exploration and innovation in the areas of research and development, new technology and art.  

A partnership between The CADRE laboratory for New Media at San José State University (CADRE), The Montalvo Arts Center, ZERO1 and the City of San José’s Public Art Program has been formalized under the name FUSE: _  CADRE/ Montalvo Artist Research Residency Initiative (FUSE.)  From its humble home in SJSU’s Art building FUSE is positioning itself  to investigate what collaboration between the arts, industry and academia can produce.

FUSE invited eight artists/ artists groups to present proposals for a six-month residency called FUSE: collaboration. Their proposals were presented as a public lecture series titled FUSE: conversation. The lectures took place during the months of September and October of 2007. Proposals ranged from a mapping of Silicon Valley info-space, a sensory deprivation video game, and a memorial to victims of the on-going war in the Congo to an environmental health clinic. To date, FUSE has initiated two residencies, both with artist collectives working in the social realm.

These artist groups will develop and produce their projects in residency, collaborating with the students at SJSU’s Art and Design program, CADRE.  Known historically as one of the most open departments in SJSU’s Art Department, CADRE encourages its students to take classes in other disciplines and blur the boundaries of what new media art can be. With a multi-disciplinary approach to their artistic practice, the students lend a particularly attuned capacity to the collaboration with the FUSE residents. The residents will be housed at The Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, and have access to a vast network of artists, curators and other cultural producers. Where appropriate, partners from Silicon Valley industry will be introduced and invited to work with the residents and students. The completed projects will be exhibited at the 2nd Biennial 01SJ Global Festival of Art on the Edge, a festival of media art with a growing international audience and ground-breaking artwork from around the world.

FUSE has also begun discussions that will lead to the commission of a landmark public artwork for San José that engages the problem of global warming. The project aims to allow San José’s residents to track their carbon-emissions data in real time.  This initial iteration is meant to be a model that can be adapted for use in cities globally. The project will also have educational components with the     intention of reaching out to the next generation of thought leaders and innovators and inspiring new thinking around climate change and the role of the arts in problem solving.

In an unusual move The City of San José houses its Offices of Cultural Affairs and Economic Development together forcing a link between the two departments that acknowledges that the arts and the health of a city’s economy are entwined. San José, which has developed into a reckoning force in the tech industry—the capital of Silicon Valley—is still shaping what its identity will be in terms of the arts. In a sense, San José is a blank canvas. FUSE is located in a moment when San Jose doesn’t quite have a handle on where it wants to go with the arts, but has a firm idea that it would indeed like to go somewhere, a moment of abundant potential.

ZERO1’s Biennial 01SJ Global Festival of Art on the Edge plays on the natural conceptual link between the Silicon Valley’s tech industry and new media artistic practice. FUSE aspires to solidify this link through collaborative praxis.  As the notion of what the media arts encompass broadens, the platform of a media arts biennial in the context of San Jose becomes incredibly rich. It allows for an open framework that matches San José’s willingness to explore what the arts can be defined as and what an arts’ identity could mean for the city.

San Jose is back in the early days of the laboratory. And, while industry is well established here, the spirit of innovation is as strong as ever. The ability, resource and skills: the agency of the Silicon Valley, partnered with academic aim and artistic expression can be re-purposed to create artworks that accomplish more than the creation of thought-provoking objects and installations. The relationships between artists, technicians and students that FUSE endeavors to nurture represent an interesting opportunity for San Jose to host not only an exciting collaborative model, but to shift the notion of what traditional artworks or art experiences are.

Kuniko Vroman is the coordinator for FUSE: _ CADRE/Montalvo Artist Research Residency Initiative. She holds a BA in Art History from San José State University and an MA in Curatorial Practice from The California College of the Arts. Currently she is curating an exhibition to coincide with ZERO1's 2nd Biennial 01SJ Global Festival of Art on the Edge in 2008. She was the Coordinator for the ISEA2006 Symposium that was held in conjunction with the ZERO1 festival in 2006.  In 2004, she curated a statewide survey of recent MFAs called New California Masters at WORKS/San José.

contact the SWITCH Team: switch@cadre.sjsu.edu


SWITCH is produced by the CADRE Laboratory for New Media