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A.I., virtual reality on stage at Currents’ opening weekend

SANTA FE, N.M. — Digital artist Marpi created an outline for the various creatures that swim around on screen in his latest installation, “Aquarium.”

But no one, not even Marpi, can predict what form they will take or how they will react to stimuli.

Operated by machine learning technology, a form of artificial intelligence, Marpi’s motion- and sound-sensitive simulations react differently each time a viewer waves their arms or moves in front of the screen.

And during the opening weekend of Santa Fe’s annual Currents New Media Festival, Taos-based DJs Kanizzle and Dubvirus will play music next to the installation to make Marpi’s creations “dance” from 6 p.m.-midnight tonight and Saturday outside El Museon Cultural near the railroad tracks.

The Polish artist, now based in San Francisco, said he loves to create things that surprise him, something made more possible with A.I.

“If you fully control it, then it’s really boring,” he said. “… If it’s free enough to do its own thing, it takes a life of its own.”

Artistic advancements in fields like A.I. and virtual reality will be at the forefront of 2018’s Currents New Media Festival’s opening weekend performances. The festival opens tonight and continues until June 24.

Opening night regularly attracts about 2,500 visitors, said Currents co-executive artistic director Frank Ragano, who started the show in 2010 with Mariannah Amster.

Opening weekend’s other featured pieces are “Movements,” a virtual reality experience created by New York-based composer Elliot Cole, Pixar animator Michael Catalano and V.R. producer Natalie Sun, presented at 7 p.m. tonight at El Museo Cultural; and “Displaced Horizons,” a live music and video installation created by artists and environmental advocates Chris Jonas, Dylan McLaughlin and Robert Lundberg at Site Santa Fe at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

And under the Farmers’ Market shade structure throughout the weekend will be Axle Contemporary’s “Iris” by local artist Stephen Auger.

Auger told the Journal that his interactive piece, which also will be showing at Burning Man later this year, is a simulation of how human bodies react when subjected to light, sound and vibration. That includes the different colors and patterns people see when their eyes are closed with various stimuli around.

“Iris” is his idea of hallucinations humans would have if they lived in space, Auger said, but it’s also a metaphor for the “inner cosmos of the sensory body” and how similar it is to the interstellar cosmos.

Those who experience “Movements” will enter a world in which music “follows you, rather you following the music” in El Museo. Cole created 10-12 different compositions, within which a person’s movements can dictate elements like chord changes or how high or low the notes go.

And as the music changes, so do the visuals inside the headset, he said. “Everything you hear becomes visualized in this kind of forest around you,” he said. “The more notes you play, the thicker the terrain gets. You feel like you’re in this psychedelic forest looking at all these shapes that glow and light up when triggered by the music.”

Cole will be demonstrating “Movements,” then allowing visitors to test it out via a headset.

Across the street at SITE Santa Fe, “Displaced Horizons” will tackle humans’ complex relationships with water systems like dams, acequias and rivers. Over the course of two hours, musicians will be around the room playing a multi-genred score that correlates with film shot at water systems around the Santa Fe and EspaƱola areas, including pumping stations and sediment filtration sites, according to McLaughlin, the project’s videographer.

“I’m interested in trying to use this space to witness, to experience these systems that are so fundamental, but are often overlooked or not considered as deeply as they should be for how important they are for how we live in the world,” said Wisconsin-based musician Lundberg, who co-composed the score.

He said he wants people to reflect on what the “moral character” of their relationships with these water systems might be.

A full list of opening weekend events, including musical performances in the Railyard, as well as artist talks and workshops at SITE, East of West Gallery and Canyon Road Creatives, are available at

Admission is free, with a $5 suggested donation for visitors ages 18 and older.