Modernity runs through every corridor of the EV building. Even when the main hall is full of students, there is an overarching sense of indifference – even hostility – to living things.
In 2007, architectural project manager Alain Champagne said, “The only way you’ll be able to grow anything green in this building is to put it in a terrarium.”
That is precisely what Professor Sha Xin Wei and his team plan to do. Born as a playful response to Champagne’s challenge, “Remedios’ Terrarium” is an experiment in transformative space. The final product will consist of several installations assembled into a wide-ranging, but coherent whole.
“Remedios’ Terrarium” is a collaborative effort between graduates and undergraduates from programs like electroacoustics, architecture, and fibre arts, artists, and researchers from the Topological Media Lab (TML).
The TML is best described as an atelier-laboratory that studies subjective experience in responsive environments.
“For the last seven years, the TML has explored the question, ‘How do you make an event that is compelling?'” said Sha, who holds the Canada Research Chair in New Media Arts. “Our goal is not to create artifacts, but to encourage a dialogue.”
In “Remedios’ Terrarium,” visitors will encounter both the technological and the organic: fiber, water, suspended plastic cells, plants, moving light, responsive video, and sound.
Interactivity and variability are crucial to the work. The audience ceases to become an audience by being able to touch, influence and see itself in the installations, thus breaking down the traditional barriers associated with art museums. In other words, people complete the terrarium by becoming part of it.
The title “Remedios’ Terrarium” is in reference to Remedios Varo (1908-1963), a Spanish-Mexican surrealist painter who borrowed heavily from philosophy. Among other things, she was fascinated by alchemy as a metaphor for self-knowledge.
“Alchemy is about the transformation of dead matter,” said Sha. “Dead matter can refer to the EV building, the exhibition space, or computer media itself.”
Thus, “Remedios’ Terrarium” is “a way to do philosophy in a tangible way.”
Even the process of collaboration between TML members can be viewed as an extension of the “dialogue” mentioned by Sha.
“We’re not a company putting together art packages,” said coordinator Josée-Anne Drolet. “The TML is more like a creative practice; there’s a real energy shared by the group.”
In traditional work models, there tends to be a hierarchy: tasks are delegated from up top and handed down through the lower levels.
“Remedios’ Terrarium” on the other hand offered its creators a more “organic” way to work.
According to Sha, the project evolved into “a nice form of
“Poets all use the same lexicon, but are able to say something fresh,” he said. “We are trying to do the same thing.”
As an investigation of transformation, the creative process, and our relationship with technology, “Remedios’ Terrarium” promises to be a vivid experience that invites viewers to step outside the daily grind.
Remedios’ Terrarium runs March 17 – April 4 at the Faculty of Fine Arts Gallery, EV Building, 1515 Sainte-Catherine W.