When the news came out that the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was collaborating with the Daniel Langlois Foundation to put on an electronic arts show, many people were more than surprised at their daring venture after a few years of regular crowd-pleasing shows.
Having just put out a magazine on interactive arts, and in the midsts of organizing a cyberarts fest, I could not resist taking an evening off to check out the masters of e-art at a museum that had not managed to entice me in quite some time. It ended up being one of the most exciting and stimulating shows I’ve seen this year.
The exhibition started off with an intriguing piece by Philip Beesley, a UK artist currently based in Toronto, entitled Hylozoic Soil.
This architectural interactive environment seems almost organic, as if it were composed of living, breathing plant life. The sculptural installation responds to the viewer’s movement as they step through its vestibular space.
Feather-like tentacles open and close depending on the viewer’s proximity. Beezley, also an architect, has researched the newest trends and materials used in construction for this piece, including geotextiles and responsive membranes and coupled them with proximity sensors and muscle wires.
The delicate, sensitive nature of the awe-inspiring piece in turn draws an emotional response from the viewer, effectively stirring an important questioning between humans’ relationship to nature, a much needed process with our present precarious environmental situation.
Leaving the environment and making my way through a dark black hallway, I came upon Lynn Hershman’s work.
Hershman, is a heroine to many women artists working in new media: in a time where the only women in museums were the nudes in the paintings, she invented virtual identities to write critics of her works in important newspapers, thus giving her the ‘fame’ necessary to get a show. In the E-Art show, Hershman’s exhibited pieces included a self-replicating avatar, The Electronic Diary video work and my personal favorite: Room of One’s Own. This particular piece makes the viewer feel uncomfortable as they become both voyeur and victim by looking through the peephole of a miniature bedroom.
In the room, the viewer’s eye is featured on the mini TV set, as a woman urges the viewer to get out of her bedroom. Although very small, this piece effectively manages to immerse viewers, with its use of the “mirror” and panning sounds from ear-level speakers – an interesting concept in the present discussions surrounding “immersion” almost inevitably resulting in grandiose video installations.
The exhibition also included works by Ontario’s David Rokeby, including The Giver of Names and n-cha(n)t. His interactive works are heavily programmed and create the illusion of standing in the presence of artificially intelligent beings.
American artist Jim Campbell, inspired by time and memory and how they affect each other, went back to basics with analog works. The majority of the pieces shown explored pixilation with LED lights, investigating just how much information our eyes need to transmit to our brains in order to allow us the deciphering of an image or concept.
Concordia MFA student Jessica Field was also featured in the show. Her explorations in robotics led her to create Semiotic Investigation into Cybernetic Behavior in 2003 (seen above). The piece involves 3 robots conversing together about their perceptions of the viewers. They share their panic and anxiety about the viewers. Each robot has their own personality and their own separate “senses”.
The exhibition also shows works by artists Eduardo Kac, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Marie Chouinard, Luc Courchesne and Catherine Richards, all recipients of production grants from the Daniel Langlois foundation.
The E-Art conference, also hosted by the Museum of Fine Arts last Friday, had Jean Gagnon, executive director of the foundation, explain a brief history of electronic arts and how it situates itself within a Fine Arts museum, despite the general public’s views about it being more science than art.
Concordia University media art history prof Ernestine Daubner presented a talk on bio art, examining transgenics and tissue engineering in art. Examples used included works by well known artists Eduardo Kac and Adam Zaretsky.

Check out E-Art,
running till December 9th at the Montreal
Museum of Fine Arts.

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