An Ode to the SAT: Recap of SAT Fest 2024

I had the opportunity to attend SAT Fest this year, held at the Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT) in Montreal from March 21st to 25th. I am used to attending conferences here during the summer months when you can sit outside on the patio and have beers and talk with old and new friends late into the night about domes, sound, art, and life. This year I got to experience a bit of the March climate. Winter was not quite over and while it was cold and snowy outside the warmth of both the space and the people inside was unmistakable.

I initially became aware of the SAT back in 2013 when I attended my first IMERSA conference. The SAT team had shipped out a server they plugged into the Gates planetarium proclaiming they were “hijacking” the dome. Dom St-Amant donned a full-body suit, navigating virtual worlds in real-time within the dome, while Olivier delivered an industrial electronic DJ set accompanied by a live VJ dome performance. Amidst a gathering of seasoned planetarium professionals, there was a small community of younger artists and technologists at the conference who were there to push boundaries of what was possible and to think beyond the frame of the planetarium towards artistic creation and experimentation. I recall the SAT team’s remark, "Your domes close at 5:00(PM); ours opens at 5:00(PM)". The SAT was like mecca for those interested in creating dome art, the only space at the time that offered artists residencies to experiment and create content with a focus on the artistic exploration of fulldome production.

My initial visit to the SAT was for their iX Symposium, which left a lasting impression on me. These conferences were beyond inspiring. Bringing together software pioneers like Miller Puckett of Max MSP and Greg Hermanovic of Touch Designer with artists utilizing their software to facilitate conversations and to explore how to push these technologies that much further. The events showcased groundbreaking artwork and live performances, fostering intimate workshops and discussions with a diverse array of talented individuals. The SAT created an intimate environment that allowed for deep and meaningful conversations with all the inspiring and amazing people the space attracted. It's been exciting to witness the growth and success of many individuals I first encountered at the SAT, including Joanie Lemercier, Eric Raynaud (Fraction), Felix and Paul, Allison Moore, 4Pi Productions, Ooouch Studios, and so many more. I don’t think I will ever forget David McConville’s talk Valorizing the Sphere or getting the chance to hear Allegra Fuller Snyder (Buckminster Fuller’s daughter) speak in the Biosphere before her death. That moment is most certainly a highlight of my life.

While the pandemic affected us all, causing things to slow, to morph, to transform, the SAT remains steadfast in its pursuit of cutting-edge research at the intersection of art and science. Revisiting the SAT felt like coming home in a way. There were so many familiar faces and a warm and vibrant energy filled the space. There was also an influx of new faces and fresh enthusiasm. Recent shifts in leadership signal potential new directions and perspectives for the SAT's future endeavors. Upgrades to the system, including new projectors for sharper and higher resolution imagery and a 93.3 individually addressable audio system are creating a more seamless experience.

One of the exciting things to see was the emergence of new festivals, spaces, and initiatives dedicated to producing and showcasing fulldome art. Particularly noteworthy was the Future Vision Lab at C-Lab in Taipei, where they presented a creatively designed mobile dome architecture. Additionally, Chromosphere, a touring fulldome exhibit in Europe, stood out for its commitment to hosting diverse artists and showcasing their work.

While all shows were impressive in their right, I will mention a few that stood out. Dancing with Dead Animals by Marteen Isaak de Heer was particularly amusing. The artist had collected a series of photogrammetry representations of dead animals which he then animated and placed inside a strange and mesmerizing landscape of more dead animals. The piece won two of the final awards. I also enjoyed the sounds and imagery of the piece Limbotopia by Wen-E HSIEH. The artist created a stunning black and white world the audience was absorbed in. Feed by IMUU was a favorite of mine as it personified a computer mouse as it wandered, seemingly stressed, around a virtual world full of emoji’s and poop finger phones. Protist Rhapsody by Uncharted Limbo Collective visualized and sonified a biological algroithm as it multiplied and moved expanded across the screen. I always have a soft spot for data visualization and sonification. Local Dystopias in the Global Utopia by Sergey Prokofyev was the final piece I saw and created a spectacular world of domes within domes within domes.

This year, I'm gearing up for a Dome Tour and I am excited to document and share the experiences along the way. Despite the uncertainties in the world, it's crucial to seize moments that highlight inspiring endeavors and beauty. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve come to recognize the significance of building community through events and gatherings. The connections formed and the sense of community fostered in these spaces are invaluable to me. Nowhere else have I encountered such a welcoming community of artists, technologists, researchers, and explorers united in their pursuit of pushing technological and artistic boundaries. Each moment spent in these spaces reminds me to embrace love, passion, and life.