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Have a drink. The mostly Gen X crowd in boots and jeans is lining up at the bar or schmoozing and snacking at tables while a collage of video imagescluster bombs, skeletal cityscapes, men on cell phonesflashes on screens around the room and a band churns out its mix of synthesized voice, guitar, and keyboard, rising from the mellow to the percussive thunder of armies tramping. It's Digital H@ppy Hour at the Kitchen, and it's sold out.
The year-and-a-half-old series, which breaks out once a month in the multidisciplinary venue's second-floor space, aims to bring together Web artists and the digital cognoscenti for showings of new media art. Though established museums are starting to mount serious exhibitions of tech pieces, the Kitchen's H@ppy Hour is one of the few places where creators can try out their ideas.
Tonight's November offering is the world premiere of "Tomahawk," a meditation on the way technology alters our perceptions of space. A collaboration between visual players panOptic and soundmeisters Azores, the program is moderated by Platform.net's Stephen Greco. He wants the more than 50 folks in the room to mill about for an experience "midway between a club and an art gallery," he explains. "I want them to get into a fresh mode of attention."
The series sprang naturally from the Kitchen's long-standing blending of art and technology. "We wanted to work with this fabulous space," curator Christina Yang says, "and connect audiences for music and dance and new media with each other."
Connections are what the H@ppy Hour is all about. It began as a collaboration between the Kitchen and Rhizome, an online venue for new media artists, curators, and critics. For its first three seasons, the Kitchen gathered Rhizome's retinue, most of whom create Net art, and the public. The convivial, networking atmosphere made the events a success. Now, with Rhizome still a supporter, the range of performances and installations has broadened, and a different guest curator chooses the artists for each monthly "Hour."
Some of the attendees at the 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday-night happenings are regulars, while others are likely to be fans or friends of the artists or curators. But the loose, chummy feel of the proceedings promotes the sharing of ideas and contacts.
The spring season will offer even more varietyfive new "site-specific" surprises. "We ask that the artists be specific to our black-box theater space," says Yang, "where we can meld projection with performing arts and digital art." A prime example is Ben Rubin, scheduled for April. The sound artist, commissioned jointly by the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Lucent Technologies, will create an installation that harnesses the sound from telecommunications wiring systems to create images. "He'll be here to do the demonstration," says Yang, "and we'll project the images generated by the sound."
Spring will also feature an unusual netcast performance with Fakeshop.com, which will produce a Tokyo-to-New York video conference, partly staged, partly casual. "At the Kitchen, we'll see someone in Tokyo on the computer and someone in New York," Yang says, "and we'll project it."
The H@ppy Hours don't aim to showcase finished pieces. "It's an experimental, work-in-progress kind of presentation, which lets artists share ideas," says Debra Singer, an associate curator at the Whitney. "It's informal and playful."
That's it exactly, says Yang. "After all, the Net itself is a metaphor for community and collaboration. To see that replicating itself with real people in real time is exciting."
The next Digital H@ppy Hour takes place Wednesday, December 20, at 6 p.m. Admission is $8. The Kitchen is located at 512 West 19th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues. For a schedule of additional H@ppy Hours, see the Kitchen's Web site, www.thekitchen.org.