City College instructor’s $2.99 art installation breaks new ground for de Young App

By Catherine Lee
The Guardsman

City College Cinema Professor Lise Swenson is the artist behind the first de Young Museum iphone/ipad app that will enrich real-time visits and allow users to take a virtual journey with the artists into spaces of the iconoclastic museum.

Swenson, the de Young’s resident filmmaker, repurposed five years worth of archived footage of ephemeral installations, interviews and commissioned original work to create the app called dYinterpretations,” a pocket size art installation itself.

“The whole point of the app is how different artists interpret and explore the space,” said Swenson.

In an effort to reinterpret what the museum is, challenging the traditional museum experience, she invited artists to visit the de Young and respond to the different areas in the museum while she filmed them.

Some of the footage originated from the museum’s programs, like the “Cultural Encounters” programs the de Young hosts on Friday nights.

Footage of eight jazz ensembles performing original compositions in response to paintings and sculptures in the de Young collection  presents musical history made in the Wilsey Court. It captures artists like the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra playing a song called the “The Peaceable Kingdom” while the app’s video shows details of  Hicks painting.

The app’s technology partner is Kiyo Kubo, CEO of Spotlight Mobile. His company has built over 40 museum tours for mobile devices over the years. The de Young app is unique because it’s not a curatorial tool or tour of the collection or building, Kubo said.

“This is a work of art itself,” he said. “It livens the space so when you watch the short film pieces of Lise’s, you see the past and it becomes the present.”

For example, in 2005 Swenson filmed Butoh performer Shinichi Iova–Koga’s responses to the de Young courtyard where there are very large stone fragments which are part of the Andy Goldsworthy piece “Drawn Stone.”

Butoh performance is a Japanese-originated art form of physical dramatization and dancers often look unusual in white body makeup and extreme hair styles. The app’s footage of the butoh performance on the stones is intimate, and users tend to hold the iPhone close to their face so the user experience is intense.

“I wasn’t here to witness Shinichi dancing in the courtyard, but when I watch this on my phone, I can stand in the same space and it becomes my new, present experience,” Kubo said.

Swenson is an interdisciplinary artist whose tools range from traditional to cutting edge. The iphone app is her first foray into the smart phone digital gallery.

Her professional life is triple-faceted. She is an independent filmmaker who has screened at Sundance, an installation artist, creating a 30-monitor piece in a de Young gallery, and also a teacher at City College.

Adept at her craft and well connected in the film, art and digital worlds, Swenson is a the kind of teacher that gives City College boasting rights. Her students feel like they gain a world of experience, said Frank Gati, who is taking the Film Exhibition class this spring.

With the class emphasis on working collectively and good leadership to put on the City College Short Film Festival May 19, Gati feels like he’s getting special insight about how filmmakers can get work done, screened and promoted.

Swenson’s interest in film festivals to marketing using mobile technology as a filmmaker means that students have a grasp on the traditional distribution options in addition to the newest technology outlets.

Because of her cross-platform work, Swenson has been invited to teach a class at City College on social documentary and new media, she said.

The “dYinterpretations” app is availble for iphones and ipads at the itunes store for $2.99.


The Guardsman