The ICE-man cometh

February 6, 2007
Franklin College of Arts and Sciences
link to original article 

The ICE-man cometh: Franklin’s David Zucker Saltz takes over as director of cutting-edge art consortium at UGA

By Philip Lee Williams

Athens, Ga. – What is art? You have thirty seconds to define it. Ready? Go.

Don’t feel bad if you are spluttering and backpedaling. After all, it takes The American Heritage Dictionary nearly 160 words to do it, and its editors must have been thinking about it for years. (To be fair, it takes that book’s editors almost 50 words to define polytetrafluoroethylene, which, in its short version, is “A waxy, opaque-white thermoplastic resin.”)

None of this makes David Zucker Saltz’s job as new head of UGA’s Ideas for Creative Exploration (ICE) effort any less fun or, in truth, easier. Saltz (at right), also head of the department of theatre and film studies in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, has been happily in charge of ICE since fall semester began in 2006. Add to that his teaching duties and his recent appointment as coeditor of the prestigious Theatre Journal, and it’s a wonder the man has time to sit down with a journalist and chat.

But he takes the time, and on this pleasant January morning, Saltz sits in his large, crammed-to-the-gunwales office in the Fine Arts Building. The room could be a theatre set, bursting with a Saltz’s life work as a director, teacher, writer and editor. He fits the space nicely, though, a thin, bespectacled, curly-haired man who looks much younger than his age.

His schedule is, in a word, berserk. Even though he devotes his whole attention to a visitor, you can almost see him working five moves ahead, like a master chess player. That’s why it might be surprising that he added, with obvious eagerness, the directorship of ICE to his plate.

“ICE isn’t exactly a program,” he says, sitting on the edge of his chair as an actor might. “It’s more of a special-interest, group-project facility.” He smiles. That’s not exactly right, and he knows it, but in truth, ICE is the gleam on the cutting edge of UGA interdisciplinary art projects. Since its founding in 1999, it has supported art projects that don’t fit easily in any department or single artistic discipline.

The ICE web site is more concise than The American Heritage Dictionary might be in describing the project: “Ideas for Creative Exploration promotes innovative, interdisciplinary creative projects and advanced research in the arts. ICE is a catalyst for collaborative studio work and critical discourse that brings together artists, scholars and students in the arts and other disciplines across campus. The ICE structure supports the creative use of technology from both a practical and theoretical perspective and moves the results of those explorations into the world in the form of publications, performances and exhibitions.”

And yet, that doesn’t quite catch the quirky, refreshing and often provocative nature of what comes out of ICE. In one recent project, put together through ICE, UGA math professor Jason Cantarella and his brother, artist and scenic designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella, created a mathematical sculpture called The Flocktree, which was mounted in the courtyard of a building in Athens. The piece depicts a flock of birds hanging in the air with a nesting collection of boxes that form a mathematical structure called an octree. (And don’t bother looking it up in TAMHD—it’s not even there.)

“We were also involved with AUX, a limited-edition CD of music from Athens,” says Saltz. This work has 18 audio tracks by artists from the Athens music scene. The hand-printed and assembled packing for each CD was done by graduate students in UGA’s Lamar Dodd School of Art.

ICE also sponsored the creation—birth, almost—of a poetry-spouting computer called Eli, which is—well, quoting from Eli’s own website makes more sense at this point: “E.L.I. [right] or the Electro-Linguistic Imaginator, is the first roaming poet of the Byte Generation. E.L.I. traverses human space recording diverse human experiences to translate into his chosen medium: randomly generated poetry. E.L.I.’s expanded understanding and expressive capability is dependent upon words and phrases that people introduce into his database. He travels about with the help of three human (they say) artists, Christian Crost, Ben Coolik and Todd Shalom, who share his vision and are eager to help him reach his creative goals. Please take some time to investigate E.L.I.’s adventures and generate some random poems from the vocabulary he has accumulated so far.”

So far, Eli has made it to New York City, Washington, D.C. and Miami, Fla. It even went on a road trip out West in 2003. Its web site is still active (, and Eli will write you a poem if you ask nicely. Here’s what Eli wrote expressly for this article:

The non-violence points on heinous fonts
junking generous
the bar is open
matter of factly switching delish

Saltz’s eyes light up when he speaks of projects like Eli and The Flocktree. After all, this is the man who helped create Virtual Vaudeville, an eye-popping computer recreation of a typical 19th century vaudeville show. A group of experts from UGA and across the country designed and constructed Virtual Vaudeville using a $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The VV is an interactive web site that shows a complete vaudeville act from multiple perspectives, as well as audience reactions and the delightful theatre space itself. (Check it out at

One reason Saltz has been able to add the directorship of ICE to his plate is that it now has a salaried assistant director—Mark Callahan, an instructor in the Digital Media area of the Lamar Dodd School of Art. Callahan’s own work has evolved from a traditional printmaking background to experimental multimedia projects. He created a site-specific work for Video Culture: Three Decades of Video Art, a collaboration that joined the forces of 11 institutions in the metro Detroit area to examine video art and its impact on contemporary culture. His work has also been used in concert by R.E.M. in a large-scale video projection.

The first director of ICE was Carmon Colangelo, former head of the Lamar Dodd School of Art, who left for another university in 2006. Others besides Saltz and Callahan who have been deeply involved with ICE are Leonard Ball, an associate professor of music and director of the Roger and Phyllis Dancz Center for New Music in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music at UGA; Hugh Ruppersburg, professor of English and senior associate dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences; Bala Sarasvati, associate professor of dance and former head of that department; Laleh Mehran, assistant professor of art; Jed Rasula, Helen S. Lanier Distinguished Professor of English and an adjunct professor of creative writing; George Contini, assistant professor of theatre and film studies; and JoE Silva, an Athens writer, musician and producer.

ICE has been supported by the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. It has also received in-kind support from the New Media Institute at UGA, the Honors Program, the departments of dance, theatre and film studies and English, as well as from the Lamar Dodd School of Art and the Hugh Hodgson School of Music.

Saltz himself is a specialist in modern drama, performance theory, the philosophy of art and directing. (He has directed plays all over the country, including winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Anna in the Tropics, by Cuban-American author Nilo Cruz, at UGA in 2005.)

Saltz received his bachelor’s degree in theater studies and psychology from Yale University and his Ph.D. in drama from Stanford. He was on the faculty of William and Mary and the State University of New York at Stony Brook before coming to UGA as an assistant professor in 1997.

Defining the future for ICE may be about as hard as defining the word art, but Saltz is eager to try.

“I’m really committed to ICE because it’s the one place for the arts on campus that is truly interdisciplinary,” says Saltz. As with all such projects, an eternal search for funding sources continues, but the future looks bright. “The creation of an academic professional position for Mark Callahan as assistant director was a huge step for us.”

The pie-in-the-sky future for ICE, said Saltz, is that it might evolve into a certificate program at UGA.

So can anyone define UGA’s ICE easily? Maybe not, but it has already established itself as one of the most eagerly “out-there,” cutting edge locations for interdisciplinary art in the South.

That’s 16 words. But for David Saltz, it’s only a start.