The Digital Fringe: Breaking boundaries between creators and their audience

Digital Fringe participant Anna Kroll. Photo by Joseph Hu.

The annual Fringe Festival has offered performances in every corner of Philadelphia, from private homes to skate parks. This year, it also invites audiences to view websites and participate in technology-driven pieces with the new Digital Fringe.

“We’re excited to present this work because FringeArts is committed to breaking down the barriers between artist and audience, which digital media does so deftly,” said Festival coordinator Jarrod Markman.

A “digital neighborhood”

Past Festivals included mostly aural digital works. This is the first year for a “digital neighborhood” of a variety of works. Digital Fringe pieces take on classic fairytales, explore poems through video vignettes, use QR codes to activate cell phone animations, and transform junk into “a menagerie for your online viewing pleasure.” Others provide animated video, stop-motion animation, digital painting, and paintings that morph into animation. One shows performance art; one’s a comedy web series. There’s a website offering #PrettyGirlTips, #daddyissues, #tequila, and more, and one that’s an online archive of body transformation from male to androgynous. There’s a play that takes place entirely on Instagram, and a site providing “an alternative 404 experience for the web.”

Without you, it doesn’t exist

Michael Kiley, of South Philly, created two apps — “Animina” and “Empty Air” — that create changes in sound using GPS tracking technology as people move. People download the app, open it in a specific area while wearing headphones, pocket their devices, and walk around.

“Animina” works along Race Street and the Race Street Pier. “Empty Air” is for Rittenhouse Square: “As I was recording it, I noticed people in close proximity to each other, ignoring each other,” Kiley said. “The piece became about filling the empty air with yourself, you making the piece happen by being there. Without your device and body working as a conduit, the piece doesn’t exist.”

He recorded sounds in the park — birds chirping, leaves rustling, children laughing — and manipulated samples, adding original music to create a composition. He worked with Punk Avenue to create the apps’ code.

He’s happy to be part of Digital Fringe’s innovation.

“It’s not the immediate feedback of lights coming up and people applauding, but I’m excited that this kind of work exists,” he said. “Experiencing art that is interactive in the real world, and not at a set curtain time, bridges us to a place where art would intersect with life on an everyday basis.”

Finding herself on the water

Anna Kroll, an artist from South Philly, gets that. During lunch breaks from working as FringeArts’ marketing coordinator, she sits at the Race Street Pier and takes photos with her iPhone. She noticed how the photos changed day to day, with the wind and waves and the sun reflecting differently. Her Instagram photos were like calm moments in the “frenzied feed of pictures of cats and other crazy things,” she said. 

She used her photos to create “aqueousness,” short video water observations. Kroll grew up in Florida and visited a waterfall almost every day she was at Vermont’s Bennington College, she said. After settling in Philadelphia, “I was constantly visiting the river and starting to realize how I use water to locate and feel connected to my surroundings.”

She thinks of her Digital Fringe pieces as short contemplations. “It’s this 15-second simple-yet-complex video of water in a way that you might not see it,” she said. “It’s caused me to notice details that I wouldn’t have before.”

Like in-person performances, digital art still offers unique viewing experiences, but can be more intimate, Markman said. “You can view the work over and over, like someone might revisit a painting,” he said. A work can offer multiple endings and provide personalized experiences, too.

The 16 Digital Fringe pieces break boundaries and take risks — hallmarks of the Fringe Festival. “Whether you’re an established company trying out new material or an artist producing for the first time, most people are taking an emotional, artistic, financial, or personal risk,” Markman said. “This act of bravery creates a sense of community that doesn’t translate year-round. All our artists are diligently working for weeks or months to get ready for this three-week explosion of art. This artistic pulse is palpable.” And now it’s digital, too.

For the full Digital Fringe lineup, head to the Festival website and click Digital Fringe under “Festival Options” to learn more about each project.

At right: An image that helped inspire "aqueousness." Photo by Anna Kroll.

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