Focus on: EMPAC

You need to go up to Troy, in the North of the State of New York, to discover EMPAC, a centre for the arts dedicated to new media and live performances that opened at the end of 2008. At first glance, the design of its architecture reflects its vocation: the combination of art and science. To know more about this unique place, we interviewed Kathleen Forde, Time-Based Arts Curator.

Could you tell us when EMPAC was founded and why?
The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) opened its doors in October 2008. It was founded by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a research and engineering university, as a space for the production and presentation of adventurous new work spanning, performance, time-based visual and sound art, technology and research.
EMPAC’s 220,000 square-foot center is a signature work of architecture that brings together four main venues (a concert hall, theater, and two large, flexible black box spaces) as well as smaller studios and lab spaces. All are used as production space for commissions, research and residencies as well as for an ongoing series of events that includes exhibitions performances, lectures, films and a biennial festival.

Who is the team in charge?
We have a staff of about 35. The curatorial team consists of EMPAC’s Director, Johannes Goebel, Helene Lesterlin, curator for dance/theater, Emily Zimmerman assistant curator and myself, curator for time-based visual art. We are currently conducting a search for a music curator. Micah Silver, the previous music curator continues to work with us on a freelance basis for the duration of the search. The rest of team includes engineers in video, audio, theatre and research as well as a number of techs, and positions in web, graphic design, design, pr, project management, development and administrative. Full staff list and bios can be found here:

What is, for you, making EMPAC specific and unique?
The ability we have via our mission and spaces to do so many different kinds of things under one roof. It is something we talk about often as a positive for our audience and visiting artists but it truly is a rewarding experience as a curator too. In any given month I am working across performance, exhibition, lectures, film and festivals as well as with artists in residence and production work for new commissions.

You are Curator for Time-Based Arts, how do you select the artists and artworks?

I do a lot of looking, talking and travelling – I am usually in NYC a few days a week to see work and visit with artists and colleagues who are coming through town from across the US and abroad. When possible I like to meet with artists who I am interested in working with in person to really get to know their work and process in a direct way. I also tend to try to make sure I am looking at a broad range of work not only from well-known artists but those newer to the field – so I have a number of younger and/or more emerging artists and curators who I consistently check in with to find out who they are finding the most interesting at the moment.
Although I work mostly with media based practice, I am careful not to be techno-fetishistic in my choices.
I think that we’re trying to present to our audiences a program of work that is adventurous and experimental but also meaningful, that is really important -- work that incorporates technology, but where your experience as an audience member and the content of the work is what you remember when you walk away… more than how it was made. Ultimately curating is truly rooted in personal opinion and passions, so for final selections, I simply follow my instincts.

Could you also tell us more about the residences and research programs?
The residency structure works in two ways; EMPAC curators reach out to specific artists to invite them for a residency or residents are selected from an open call program. For the latter, the curators get together every two to three months to view these applications as a group. The residencies vary in duration and scope: artists at EMPAC are free to focus on specific technical challenges, to fine tune or to experiment and wholly re-imagine their work or begin an new one. In addition to a general call we also have focused residencies for audio production / post-production, creative research, dance / theater and video production / post-production. Each of these residencies has a specific set of guidelines and support
which can be found on our website.

I am an artist and want to apply, what would you suggest me to do?

Follow the instructions on our website for residencies:

What are your links with other art centers and/or festivals, in the States and abroad?

As we have only been open for about two years now this is an area that seems to be just now picking up speed. We have collaborated with a handful of other institutions to co-produce commissions and also to present or tour commissions we have produced. Some of those institutions include ZKM in Germany, the Time-Based Arts Festival in Portland, Marian Spore in NYC, the onedotzero festival, London, The University of New South Wales and Zero One San Jose. We hope to continue to increase the level of co-productions with other institutions.

What are the events scheduled for beginning of next year?
It’s hard to pick just a few so I suggest that your readers take a look at the full list on our home page but a sampling includes a live real time video with disklavier and pianist Jaroslaw Kapuschinski; MindBox, an installation comprised of a modified slot machine, where the viewer plays a dance video sculpture like an instrument; An exhibition by New York-based artist Graham Parker, which features film and audio work, alongside a series of alterations to the building’s environment that range from the theatrical to the virtually invisible; and performances by the ever-incredible sound artist and composer Francisco Lopez.

What are the EMPAC’s main projects in the near future?
In addition to the events listed above, we are also starting to gear up for the second Filament Festival Biennial in 2012. The Dance Movies commission call is currently being revamped for the next year. Our residency program is going strong for the Spring with everyone from Laurie Anderson in residence working on her upcoming exhibition in to the Brent Green working out ways to turn his 2D animation work into holographic like 3D sculpture. We are looking forward to expanding our series of summer workshops for artists and professionals in the field of performance and time-based art and looking forward to filling a few major open positions on our team including technical director, director for research, music curator and creative campus curator that will surely have a profound impact on what we do.

Anne-Cécile Worms

Published in the Digitalarti Mag #5.

Digitalarti Mag, the international digital art and innovation magazine.

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