Following is a brief conversation with Rebecca Strzelec, SIGGRAPH 2012 Conference Chair from Penn State Altoona, on her inspirations, background, and what to expect at SIGGRAPH this year.
What made you agree to take on the volunteer position of conference chair in 2012?
When I decided to apply for the position of conference chair in 2009, it seemed like a natural progression of my volunteer work for SIGGRAPH. I felt like I had a pretty good sampling of the various roles within the conference from being an attendee, contributor, sub-committee member, and program chair. I could not have been more proud to be selected to serve in this role. I said “yes” for many reasons, but the most important was because I thought it would be both challenging and fun to be a part of the conference planning at this level.
Given your art background, how will art play a role this year that is different from previous years?
SIGGRAPH has made more concerted efforts to support the art areas of the conference over the last five or so years. Art has always been one of our core areas, but we’ve launched some new projects, including our collaboration with MIT’s Leonardo, the Journal of the International Society of the Arts, Sciences and Technology that will continue to grow stronger and more significant with each year. So that changes the landscape a bit. Our Art Gallery and Art Papers areas continue to have high submission rates and extremely rigorous selection thresholds allowing for the very best art and research to be brought to the conference.
The look and feel of the overall conference does a great job of defining and highlighting a large percentage of our attendees who consider themselves to be linked to, or practicing art. A difficult choice for most of our constituency (including myself) is that they don’t categorize themselves into just one thing. For instance, I take turns alternating between my “I AM ART” and “I AM SCIENCE” t-shirts.
In general, what should attendees expect this year in LA?
Attendees should expect excellence. From day one, I asked our planning committee to find and choose the very best content. At SIGGRAPH, content always takes precedent and this year will be no different and will go a long way to setting the bar for Anaheim in 2013. Also, attendees who haven’t been to LA in a few years need to be aware that the convention center area has blossomed into quite the place to be. “LA Live” has really allowed SIGGRAPH to carry its happenings into the nearby restaurants and places that are wonderful for networking and making new contacts.
Is it too late for someone to submit content?
Not at all. The Late-Breaking submission deadline is May 1 and Talks and Posters can still be submitted there. For folks who missed the submission deadlines in other areas, my suggestion would be to attend the conference and check out the submissions that were accepted. It is a great way to get a lay of the land to see how best to prepare for 2013.
How has the conference managed to stay relevant given the overall trend of smaller and more targeted shows?
Believe it or not, SIGGRAPH has become more targeted as well. From the conference schedule you’d never think it…but for the last few years SIGGRAPH has worked incredibly hard to make sure that we are focusing on our key areas of content. We have found that we can add a couple of new things each year, but for the most part we focus on what we are really good at and make sure the conference is filled with excellent content. In 2012, we are expanding to include the venue SIGGRAPH Mobile and also bringing back the extremely successful SIGGRAPH Business Symposium.
Editor's note: the SIGGRAPH Business Symposium was new in 2011 and sold out. For more details on it this year, check the SIGGRAPH 2012 web site.
How are Exhibition numbers looking?
By the nature of our community’s density around LA, we typically have strong years there from both an attendee and an exhibitor perspective as well. This year is no different. We are already out-pacing last year’s numbers and once again we will have a very strong international presence on the floor.
What specifically are you looking forward to at the 2012 conference?
I can’t wait to see it all come together in person. When you work on something for so long—especially when it remains abstract or described in images or emails, it is amazing to actually see it installed, presented, and celebrated. I suppose that is what I most looking forward to: celebrating the SIGGRAPH 2012 Committee for all of their achievements. They are an outstanding group of people that made my job really fun and rewarding.
Any advice for someone new to the group?
Other than introduce yourself to someone not-so-new to the group? In all seriousness though, my first SIGGRAPH was in 2003 and I was at the conference because I had a piece in the Art Gallery. I had no idea what to expect and was instantaneously overwhelmed by the pace and scope of the conference. I wandered into the Studio that year and made some friends, and they helped me to take full advantage of all that the conference has to offer. By the second day, I was hooked and felt very much in the know. There truly is no other experience that comes close to SIGGRAPH in depth and quality.
On a personal level, what inspires you as an artist at SIGGRAPH?
Having attended other art-based conferences, the thing that inspires me most about SIGGRAPH is that not all of the attendees are making art. It is quite wonderful to strike up a conversation with a non-artist at the conference. I often find I come to SIGGRAPH with a dozen or so loose ideas for new work and through interaction with the content and people at SIGGRAPH, I turn to processes and solutions that I otherwise would never have considered, or didn’t know existed. I always come home with such rich and lasting material. That kind of energy exists at other conferences, but the form it takes at SIGGRAPH is unique and something I cherish.
Why is SIGGRAPH relevant in the art world?
SIGGRAPH exhibits and publishes some of the most exciting and groundbreaking art and art papers in the world in the context of computer graphics and interactive techniques. The international juries that select this work are major contributors to their fields—going to great lengths to choose work that adds to the dialogue of art and art research. And while the work seen in the Art Gallery and presented as part of Art Papers are proudly included in the annual special issue of MIT’s Leonardo the Journal of the International Society of the Arts, Sciences, their presence at the actual conference allows for a special kind of synergy.
In addition, SIGGRAPH continues to establish the Studio venue each year. This creative space is designed to allow attendees to learn new about new tools, processes, and materials as well as actually spend time making art of all kinds. This creative experimentation space is an unusual addition to most conferences, especially when you consider that there aren’t additional fees to use the space other than conference registration. It is these three key areas as well as the other amazing content that makes for a relevant, educational, and enriching art experience at SIGGRAPH.
How did this year's theme evolve and how would you explain it in your own words?
The theme of this year’s SIGGRAPH is a mirror reflecting back on the people that make SIGGRAPH the vibrant thriving community that it is. The theme is actually a multi-year endeavor. Starting with 2012’s “I AM ART” and “I AM SCIENCE” the conference is highlighting two of our major groups of people at the conference. The theme evolved from conversations with the committee and our design team. I really wanted to have art as part of the theme somehow, but SIGGRAPH is so many things it really isn’t right to choose one. It quickly became clear that it would take many conferences to describe and capture all that SIGGRAPH’s attendees do and create.