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Once again, CMU's Watson Festival full of variety

Monday, September 17, 2001

By Mary Thomas, Post-Gazette Art Critic

The 6th annual Jill Watson Festival Across the Arts, Wednesday through Friday at Carnegie Mellon University, will feature a stimulating lineup of performers and artists that is free and open to the public.

It also will have tragic resonance with the events that horrified the civilized world last week. The festival was begun in 1997 to honor the memory of alumna Jill Watson, who died in the 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800 in the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff from New York City.

One of the scheduled speakers, environmental architect Gernot Minke, has been requested by the German government not to fly out because of the global crisis.

Watson received her bachelor of architecture degree from CMU in 1987 and became a partner in the Pittsburgh architecture firm Arthur Lubetz Associates. In 1990, she was named one of the American Institute of Architects' four outstanding Western Pennsylvania female architects.

Choices of participants for the "transdisciplinary celebration" are inspired by Watson's boundary-crossing artistic vision, as is the recipient of the annual Wats:on? Award.

This year's award will be presented Thursday to Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist, composer, visual artist and author who coined the term "virtual reality." Other highlights will be slide and video enhanced presentations by seminal performance artists Hans Haacke -- the Robert Lepper Distinguished Lecturer -- and Vito Acconci, and by Hollywood production designer Neil Spisak. There also will be performances by Noh poet and performance artist Brenda Wong Aoki and of the Haiku-form opera "Heliopause."

Events take place in the Philip Chosky Theater of the Purnell Center for the Arts unless otherwise indicated:

Wednesday

4:30 to 6:30 p.m. -- Watson festivities begin with an open house at the Regina Miller Gouger Gallery (in Purnell) with three exhibitions and a performance by the techno-rave band Electronic Music Organization on the third floor. This collective of CMU students use their computers to make music that consists of "radioactive beats with a half-life of 80 days ... of no commercial importance."

6 p.m. -- Vito Acconci, pioneer of a conceptually based performance art that developed out of his interests in language and poetry. His films, which position the viewer as voyeur, are psychological and confrontational.

7 p.m. -- Neil Spisak, CMU School of Drama alumnus, has been a production designer for more than 10 feature films including the upcoming Columbia Pictures' "Spiderman." He was the designer of the headquarters of the fictional company DigiCom in the 1994 film "Disclosure."

Thursday

4:30 p.m. -- Jaron Lanier, who co-developed the first glove device for virtual world interaction, is also a participant in the "new classical music" world as a pianist and specialist in unusual instruments, especially the wind and string instruments of Asia. He's performed with artists ranging from Philip Glass to Stanley Jordan and has recorded duets with flautist Robert Dick and "acoustic techno" music with Sean Lennon. With his band, Chromatophoria, he's pioneered the use of virtual reality on stage in venues such as the Montreux Jazz Festival. He's also a visual artist, author and lecturer.

5:45 p.m. -- Talk and brief performance, "Mermaid Meat," by Brenda Wong Aoki, whose work is "a synthesis of Japanese Noh and Kyogen theater, Commedia Dell'Arte, modern dance and everyday life experiences." Her performances are dedicated to telling the stories of unsung heroes in the hopes that they will be incorporated into a new American mythology. Aoki has been a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, the recipient of four Dramalogue Awards for original work, a Critic's Circle Award and an ASCAP award for innovative libretto. She's performed at venues like the Kennedy Center, New York's Apollo Theatre and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

7 p.m. -- Hans Haacke, the enfant terrible of installation art, has sparked controversy with his political critiques that has led to "canceled exhibitions, fired curators and jack-hammered floors." His attention has spanned complex structures, ecological and cultural.

8 p.m. -- Performance by the Cuarteto Latinamericano, a quartet-in-residence at CMU that was formed in 1981 in Mexico City. Internationally recognized as classical musicians, they expose the world to works by Latin American composers. (In Kresge Theater, College of Fine Arts.)

9 p.m. -- Pittsburgh Bull Seal! Collective do their inimitable thing in Chosky and outside.

Friday

5:45 p.m. -- Michael Pestel and Taketeru Kudo present "Stray Birds I & II," a two-part movement, sound and video performance derived from a collection of poems by Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, combined with acoustic and electronic sounds. Pestel, sound artist and chair of the Chatham College Art Department, performs globally. Kudo, formerly with the famed Butoh dance troupe Sankai Juku, has performed with Pestel in London, Paris and Tokyo. (The performance will also be given at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Mattress Factory; 412-231-3169.)

8 p.m. -- "Heliopause," an original operatic production that deconstructs the traditional format of opera by using poetic format and thematic material that addresses abstract religious beliefs of heaven and the afterlife.

10 p.m. -- Electronic Music Organization performance and festival closing reception at the College of Fine Arts.

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