November 2007, e-art: New Technologies and Contemporary Art, Ten years of accomplishments by the Daniel Langlois Foundation @ The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, through 9 December 2007

November 2007,  e-art: New Technologies and Contemporary Art, Ten years of accomplishments by the Daniel Langlois Foundation @ The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, through 9 December 2007
Philip Beesley, Born in Westcliff-on-Sea (U-K) in 1956. Lives and works in Toronto (Ontario). Hylozoic Soil (2007) Modular components. Laser-cut polycarbonate and acrylic, milled aluminum plate with carbon-fibre tube attachments. Laser-cut polycarbonate and Mylar sheet with nickel-titanium shape-memory alloy actuators. Arduino microcontrollers, infrared proximity sensors. Collection of the artist

Digital Dreamtime

by Robert Kilborn

“Aboriginals believe in two forms of time. Two parallel streams of activity. One is the daily objective activity ... The other is an infinite spiritual cycle called the "dreamtime," more real than reality itself. Whatever happens in the dreamtime establishes the values, symbols, and laws of Aboriginal society. Some people of unusual spiritual powers have contact with the dreamtime.”

— From The Last Wave, a film by Peter Weir

IN AUSTRALIAN Aboriginal culture, “Dreamtime” is the time of origins, a sacred “once upon a time” in which ancestral Totemic Spirit Beings formed The Creation. Perhaps some historian in the future will speak of the late 20th and early 21st centuries as a sort of “Digital Dreamtime,” in which artists and scientists first began in earnest to create and represent our post-human future.

Now showing at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, “e-art: New Technologies and Contemporary Art” begins in a room inhabited by Hylozoic Soil (2007) by UK-born Toronto architect Philip Beesley. An all-white, vaguely threatening yet strangely pure hanging network of reticulated “clouds” and seeming life-forms—Alien directed by Yoko Ono with help from Henri Rousseau—colonizes the room. The clouds tremble as reflexive and responsive membranes acknowledge our presence. Sensors and proximity detectors pick up our movements, quasi-plant fronds flip their hairy hands up towards us, retracting, contracting, slackening and opening as we pass. We look closer, and discover muscle wires, actuators, and distributed networks of microprocessors hidden within the synthetic, symbiotic mesh of alien life-forms.

In another room, Montreal choreographer Marie Chouinard has conceived a virtual and interactive dance machine, Cantique 3 (2004). We control this machine using two touch-screen keyboards. Male and female profiles confront each other on a screen, grimacing at each other, tongues thrusting in and out, threatening or succouring each other, to a soundtrack of techno beats, gasps, shouts and squeals. Here is our essential animality and aggression, bound to art and sophisticated technology, in the new/old dance of life and death.

In a third room, the elegant light boxes, liquid crystal displays and custom electronics of San Francisco artist Jim Campbell explore memory and perception. Particularly poignant are his Library (2004), with its shadows strolling past the stairs of an imposing classical façade; and his Photo of My Mother (1996), in which the artist’s smiling mother relaxes in a sharply-focused black-and-white snapshot. Next to this display hangs Portrait of My Father (1994-95), in which a blurry head shot of the artist’s father contrasts with his mother’s image of easy charm and accessibility.

Seven other rooms feature seven other artists from Canada, the United States, Mexico and Brazil. Their works—enigmatic, comical, psychologically troubling, philosophically ambivalent, playful—explore such themes as artificial intelligence, biotechnology and genetic manipulation, real and virtual worlds, and surveillance and profiling.

This exhibition marks the tenth anniversary of the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology. During the past 10 years, the DLF has supported 165 artist and organizational projects throughout the world.
whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.

Robert Kilborn

Robert Kilborn is a Montreal writer.

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