Electric Fields at various venues | Prototype at Karsh-Masson Gallery | Donna Legault at AxeNeo7 | Chris Lindsay at Gallery 115 | thelivingeffect at the Ottawa Art Gallery | It Is What It Is at the National Gallery
posted by Andrew Wright - November 8th, 2010.
Electric Fields Festival of Electronic Art & Sound was organized and founded two years ago by ArtEngineat a single venue in Ottawa. This year brought together seven lightning-fast exhibitions plus four days of performances, lectures, and other events across multiple venues in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. Its stated aim is "celebrating all the wonder of contemporary electronic art." Unlike many shows of new media, electronic or interactive art where criteria for inclusion seems to be the scavenging of a circuit board from an Atari console and repurposing it to work intermittently, Electric Fields is self-reflective.Artist and ArtEngine Artistic Director Ryan Stec curated an exhibition at Karsh-Masson Gallery titledPrototype and asked artists Nicola Feldman-Kiss, Donna Legault, Gordon Monahan, Andrew O'Malley, and Catherine Richards to offer “whatever they were working on in their studios.” This deliberate strategy freed the works from the pressure to be the ultimate and most refined versions of themselves also emphasized process over outcome, inception over result. Nicola Feldman-Kiss' actual prototyped parts for her ongoing childish objects\ the camera eye project were here presented in a glass case. Although the system's purpose isn't all that clear if we are taking our cues solely from this installation, the replication of seeing, the building of cyborg-like prosthetic eyes are in the ball park. There's a creepy partial eyeball surrounded by injection-molded parts, epoxied bits, and a list of materials that reads like instructions on how to build an iPad. The objects under glass suggest a kind of anticipatory historicizing and in fact look like displays from a museum of optics or anatomy. Felmann-Kiss' work is not interactive in the traditional sense, but, more importantly, it reminds us of the inherent interactivity that is seeing itself.
Donna Legault, Untitled, 2010 (in progress), interactive sound installationDonna Legault's Untitled installation is interactive. Apparently a work-in-progress, it nonetheless functioned perfectly as far as I could tell. Two small bits of graphite-coloured clay (or rock, or dung...) sit on pedestals. When touched a unique rhythmic sound is produced through the conductivity of skin and it is amplified through a series of speakers on the floor. When two people simultaneously touch the conductive lumps (cast from the voids in the artist's clenched fists) a new and unique rhythm appears in the overlap. This momentary communing between strangers or friends is pleasantly surprising.
Donna Legault, Cymatic Imprints, 2010, media installationLegault's installation Cymatic Imprints is also on view at AxeNeo7 in Gatineau. Using a similar strategy to transform one sensory input into another, Legault has peppered the gallery with hanging speakers that respond to sounds created by viewers interacting with the work. Ball chains (the kind that hold your bathtub stopper) dance and jump in front of you with a freneticism that is in direct proportion to the volume of the sounds you create - even your footsteps. On the surface this wouldn't be that impressive except for two things. The first is simple: it works really well. Rare is the occasion when complex interactive work doesn't require a master puppeteer's constant monitoring. The second reason has to do with Legault's inclusion of little piles of salt where the chains meet the floor. They contain the traces of the movement, little tracks of past interactions. But what they also do is challenge you to not interact - an equally valid response and on a certain level another kind on interaction. You will want to tiptoe to avoid detection as much as you'll want to stomp.
Chris Lindsay, Light Breeze, 2010, video projectors, electric fans, electric cabling, etc.Like many of the installations in Electric Fields, you won't get to see Chris Lindsay's Light Breeze anymore as the exhibition at the University of Ottawa's Gallery 115 lasted only days. Lindsay's meditation on the invisible constituent colours of light from video projectors is both inventive and literally refreshing. A static or rudimentary pixilated pattern is projected across oscillating fans. Presumably because of the difference in the fans' frequency and the hertz cycle of the video projectors we witness a prism-like separation of colour. The banal is infused with the beautiful. Lindsay's careful incorporation of the structural underpinnings of projection work turns every element into sculptural fodder and elevates the lowly plinth to architectonic conglomeration. You can also turn the fans on and off and vary their speed to observe the effect.
Marie-Jeanne Musiol, Mirrors of the Cosmos no.2 (Maple), 2006, transparent film, lightbox
One of the exhibitions within the Electric Fields program that will stick around long enough for others to see is thelivingeffect at the Ottawa Art Gallery curated by Caroline Seck Langill. The exhibition includes well-established names in the electronic/robotic art world such as Norman White and Nell Tenhaff (and it takes as its premise White's notion of paying homage to living things by creating “the living effect”). What makes this exhibition particularly thoughtful and elegant is the inclusion of many works of “static” sculpture and things that don't beep or move. Marie-Jeanne Musiol tantalizingly offers but two of her photographs of the electromagnetic fields that exist around plants. They seem to suggest that the edges of things are merely a construct and that we and the flora are part of the same continuum. Or that the invisibility we can witness at the microscopic scale using outmoded technology prefigures what we see from the newest and most sophisticated images of our universe.
Wendy Coburn, Untitled (buck), 2008, bronzeWendy Coburn's Untitled (buck) is both arresting and deceptive. A delicate and life-like bronze deer has innocently turned to notice us. Moving around him we notice dynamite strapped to his haunches, rigged to blow. In a way, we are thankful the thing is bronze: it will never live nor meet its impending demise.
Ron Terada, It Is What It Is, It Was What It Was, 2008, white neon tubingIt Is What It Is at the National Gallery is director Marc Mayer's new Biennial of Canadian Contemporary Art project. If you missed the call for submissions you're not alone. This show is put together exclusively from the National's acquisitions over the last two years. Taking its title from the newly acquired Ron Terada neon work, it's a brilliant defense. (But let's not wade into that murky political territory for the moment; we could play the "who's there/who's not there" game for a long time). The show is outstanding. Many of the usual suspects are there and of the fifty-seven Canadian artists represented many have birth years in the early 1970s. Dare I say it presents a varied and vital national art? It's too bad this isn't one of the “blockbuster” shows with a marketing and promotion budget to match (although when has that happened in recent memory?). These works should become iconic. There will be a full-day symposium on November 19th called Conversations About Canadian Contemporary Art featuring an impressive international roster of panelists such as Josée Drouin-Brisebois (Curator of Contemporary Art at NGC), Adam Budak (Chief Curator, Kunsthaus Graz am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Austria), Denise Markonish (Curator, MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts), along with familiar faces such as Barbara Fischer (Executive Director and Chief Curator, J.M. Barnicke Gallery, Toronto), Ken Lum (artist, Vancouver) and Scott McLeod(Director and Curator, Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, and Editor and Publisher, Prefix Photo magazine, Toronto). Could this signal a kind of coming of age for Canadian contemporary art? Let's hope so.
Andrew Wright is an artist and Assistant Professor of Visual Art at the University of Ottawa. He is the founding Artistic Director for CAFKA (Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener & Area) and currently serves on the advisory committee of the Canadian Forces Artist Program. His works have appeared in exhibitions across the country and abroad.
See website for current exhibitions.AxeNéo7: http://www.axeneo7.qc.ca
Donna Legault: Cymatic Imprint continues until December 5.Gallery 115: http://www.visualarts.uottawa.ca/gallery.html
See website for current exhibitions.
Ottawa Art Gallery: http://www.ottawaartgallery.ca/
thelivingeffect/l'effetvital continues until January 30.National Gallery of Canada: http://www.gallery.ca/itis/
It Is What It Is continues until April 24.