Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Take a break with some visual art during SXSW's roar

Michael Barnes

How does an often static and sedate form like visual art compete with the roar that is South by Southwest? Perhaps by way of contrast. In the deafening crush of parties, concerts, premieres, speeches, demos and promos, a little art can be a refuge of quiet reflection.

For the third time, the South by Southwest Conference and Festivals is offering a modest but alluring "Art Program" — sometimes baffling as described by curators in advance — at various locations during much of its run, March 8-16. Additionally, SXSW offers panel sessions and films about art, as well as access to sanctioned attractions staged by existing Austin art outlets, such as the Contemporary Austin.

At the heart of the "Art Program" are seven works.

“These stellar installations are physical representations of many of the topics that are being discussed at the SXSW Conference,” says Hugh Forrest, SXSW's chief programming officer, “such as the impact of technology on the human spirit, cultural tradition and the environment.”

“Apparatum” by PanGenerator (Krzysztof Cybulski, Krzysztof Goliński and Jakub Koźniewski). “Inspired by the heritage of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio,” reads the official SXSW description, “one of the first studios in the world producing electroacoustic music, this installation uses analog sound generators, based on magnetic tape and optical components controlled via a graphic score composed with digital interface.” (9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 8-16, Austin Convention Center, Room 10C)

“Arctic Passage” by Louie Palu. The artist will install “a series of large format photographs frozen in large ice blocks on the plaza of the Ransom Center. … The photographs were created in the Arctic over the course of three years while Palu was on assignment for National Geographic.” (10 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 12, Harry Ransom Center)

“Belongings” by John-Paul Marin, Matt Smith, Patrick Abboud, Tea Uglow and Kirstin Sillitoe. This installation “shares stories and experiences of people who left their homeland and almost everything they own, in search of a new life in Australia.” (9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 8-13, JW Marriott, Room 403)

“Blooming” by Lisa Park. The Korean-American artist “uses biometric sensors, such as heart rate and brainwave sensors, to create intimate environments that excavate hidden emotional states such as vulnerability, intimacy and confrontation. 'Blooming' highlights the importance of presence and physical connection in our lives.” (March 9-12, Hilton Austin Downtown, Room 410)

“Every Thing Every Time” by Naho Matsuda. This work “transforms urban data into poetry presented on a mesmerizing, large-scale mechanical screen. (It) will draw on data streams generated by the many events that happen each day in Austin. Passers-by can watch as poetry is written in real time and revealed on a split-flap display.” (March 8-14, Brush Square Park)

“Hash2ash” by PanGenerator. "The installation touches on the themes of selfie culture, and the fear of permanently losing the digital records of our lives due to technical failures, impermanence of data storage, or simply because of the obsolescence of the old digital file formats.” (March 8-16, Austin Convention Center, Room 10C)

“Semeion” by Circuit Circus. This is “an ever-evolving light and sound installation exploring artificial intelligence from an aesthetic and humanistic point of view. While AI is already an integrated part of our lives, it often exists as intangible systems working behind screens.” (March 8-13, JW Marriott, Room 404)

Art Series of Sessions

New for 2019: March 11-12, SXSW will also host an "Art Series of Sessions." These linked discussions will take an in-depth look at the impact of technology on contemporary art and the creative community through conversations and panels. The panel titles include: “Humanizing Innovation Through Artist Residencies,” “400 Years of Inequality,” “The Changing Role of Women in the Arts” and “Acts of Sharing: How Art Fosters Empathy.” (Schedule at

Other art-related sessions

Besides the "Art Series," some other sessions deal with related topics. They include: "Creating Contemporary Art in Virtual Reality," "The Art Of Failure: Driving Creative Innovation," "Art Museum as Spaces of Digital Play," "Hope and Healing through Arts Education," "Mummies to Manet: Immersive Experiments in Museums," "Nonprofit Arts Administrators and Artists Meet Up," "Asian American Artists and Entrepreneurs Meet Up," "AI and the Future of Storytelling," "Do it in a Dome! The Planetarium as an Arts Medium," "PopUps: Designing for Emotional Experiences," "Being The Change Through Art Meet Up," "The Civics of Art and Music" and The Future of Gender Identities in Art and Media." (Schedule at

Special events

“Designing for the Five Senses" with Bruce Mau. The AI expert presents “a challenge for us all to use design to iterate and improve the world. In this groundbreaking monologue — part performance art, part manifesto, part storytelling and 100 percent multi-sensory immersion — you will reconnect with heart, mind, and memory through an orchestrated tour of all your senses that will transport you back to a time when you were discovering the world."

Facebook Art Research Lab. March 9-11, the Facebook Art Department "will present a diverse range of cultural events that explore the ways in which artistic practice fosters empathy, drives social awareness, and ultimately brings people closer together. Planned activations include: an exhibition of prints by Facebook-commissioned artists and designers from around the world, participatory maker workshops, film screenings, a community dinner, a live concert a panel discussion on art as a radical act of sharing and more." (The Native, 807 E. Fourth St.)

Some Other Art Highlights in Austin

UNESCO New Media Arts Exhibition. March 8-17 at the Austin Central Public Library, 710 W. Cesar Chavez. It "features media art installations by artists from Austin and other UNESCO Creative Cities including Linz, Austria; Guadalajara, Mexico; and Lyon, France. ... (It) highlights the multidisciplinary innovation of media artists from around the globe and showcases how new technologies are ever-increasingly used by artists as a means of expression and communication."

"Janine Antoni and Anna Halprin: Paper Dance." On view through March 17 at the Contemporary Austin-Jones Center, 700 Congress Ave. It is "a dynamic retrospective spanning 30 years of photographs and sculptures by Janine Antoni, accompanied by a series of solo dance performances by Antoni developed with dancer and choreographer Anna Halprin."

"Ai Weiwei: Forever Bicycles." On view through June 2019, in collaboration with Waller Creek Conservancy at the Waller Delta, adjacent to the Waller Creek Boathouse at 74 Trinity St. "The dizzying sculpture is infused with both universal meaning and specific cultural significance for the Chinese-born artist."

"Data Tells A Story" by Laurie Frick. On view through June 2019 at South Lamar bridge underpass. A dandy addition to the city's public art transforms an older work of art, "two 500-foot walls that span a busy railroad underpass with 16 reflective signs that were one of Austin’s most talked about public art installations. Frick opted to tell a story about Austin and bring to life a heavily traveled spot that had grown dingy and a little depressing."

House of L, an experimental art company led by curators Lana Carlson and Leslie Gosset, presents "activations" and an exhibit including work by artists such as Andy Warhol, Jean Michel Basquiat and Charles Umlauf. (March 8-10 at Pershing, 2415 E. Fifth St.)