• Review

  • June 16th, 2014 06.16.2014

    Physical/ity: International Digital Arts Biennial 2014


    This spring in Montréal was rich in digital arts events. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC) welcomed the International Digital Arts Biennial (BIAN), while the Elektra and Mutek Festivals merged under the name EM15 for their fifteenth anniversary. Concurrently, the 7th International Digital Arts Market was held at the Phi Centre.

    Sebastien Lacomblez, Landscape, 2014, source Gridspace.

    The second edition of the International Digital Arts Biennial in Montréal was held primarily at the MAC. The generative works of Sebastian Lacomblez were situated in the right in place in this context, since through the use of digital technology, the works point toward the issue of the monochrome in art. Their surfaces made of outrenoir, specific to the French artist Pierre Soulages, and are treated with light. From a distance, the monochromes of the Landscape (2014) series seem to show relief, though when seen up close, they turn out to be as smooth as photographs. The title of this series encourages us to see landscapes, night scenes, without being able to give them any scale whatsoever. Each print is unique, and the reliefs – when framed – are extended, but never repeated. The monochromatic is one of the more radical practices of modern and contemporary art, and its reactivation in the era where images are calculated and where the digital is entering museums, appears self-evident.

    Similarly to the Landscape series is an installation entitled Signal to Noise (2012) by LAb[au] collective. Circular in shape, it consists of a multitude of flip flap displays controlled by the same algorithm. Spectators are invited to enter the installation, which then immerses them in the irregular noise of the characters as they are renewed. It is evocative of an airport, or more precisely a station– the machine can “calculate” all destinations worldwide. But here, words appear randomly in red. The letters that are spelled out make little sense once assembled, like the oracles of the Pythia. What the machine painfully expresses is closer to a form of visual and sound poetry – it is likely that the algorithm is actually slowed by the obsolescence of yesterday’s components, which nevertheless give it a type of sculptural presence.

    Felix Luque Sanchez, Different Ways to Infinity: Clones, 2013, source Gridspace.

    In another room at the MAC are Felix Luque Sanchez‘s installations. Born in Spain, but having lived and worked in Belgium for several years, he also represents the Federation Wallonia-Brussels with a series entitled Different Ways to Infinity. One of the pieces on view, Clones (2013), exemplifies the theme of The New Alliance, which brings together artists from Wallonia-Brussels in Montréal in reference to the essay by Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, written in 1978. This link is due to the fact that it is a question of science in the context of culture and the work is part of a search for balance. The two large pendulums of the installation, driven by motors, begin in the up position – recalling that the transition from non-equilibrium to equilibrium is discussed in Book 2 of The New Alliance, dealing more generally with the interactions between science and culture. We participate in this same research – by machines into uncertain balances – through it has the appearance of a scientific experiment in a museum context. Over time, between non-equilibrium and balance, the piece reaches its most fragile ideal form.

    If there is one work that is particularly suited to the overall theme of Physical/ity developed by the Curator Alain Thibault, it is that of Robyn Moody in a piece entitled Wave Interference (2012). The work consists of a relative physicality to the light emitted by a constantly renewed wave of moving fluorescent. As if it were responding to a ripple without beginning or end while stretching it further, there is the constant stream of sound of an organ that accompanies it. This wave, which defies gravity and seems suspended in space, is in a constant state of transition, perpetuated by the notes of the organ. Extirpated by a mechanism that the artist had specially designed for this purpose, the sounds intermingle with the fluorescent lines to become one with the wave. The flow of notes – stretched in their length – adds to the lines of pure light and forms a whole that literally captivates the spectators. With contemplation outweighing analysis, comments are rare.

    Robyn Moody, Wave Interference, 2012-2013, Source M.N. Hutchinson

    Also on view beyond the MAC is the solo exhibition of Samuel St Aubin at the Marie-Uguay Cultural Centre, entitled De Choses et d’Autres. St Aubin is a member of the artist center Perte de Signal and creates small experiments using devices combining mechanical and electronic components with everyday objects. These devices on view feature rotating white plates, each of which is equipped with a pea. Whenever a pea falls, the artist immediately replaces it – poetry is expressed through the mundane. The insignificance of the experiment is repeated by three machines, which are in all ways identical, and refer back to the calibrations that govern our lives; it reflects a world where everything is supposed to go in boxes, except perhaps, in an art context where it is still possible to lose time in the making as in the observation of utterly useless machines, which is resolutely poetic.

    The BIAN of Montréal emerged from the Elektra Festival, which this year merged with Mutek. The two events, respectively designed by Alain Thibault and Alain Mongeau, are celebrating their 15 years of involvement in the field of digital arts and electronic music. Re-titled EM15, the exhibition featured Herman Kolgen’s audio-visual performance entitled Seismik (2014) on the center of the stage of the Imperial Cinema. Having previously set up a sensor system, Kolgen only partially controlled his performance through an online application that scans the seismic tremors of the earth’s crust – data collected in real-time that controls the positions of the virtual cameras installed in the space. On another evening in the same space, Robert Henke, a German electronic music, composer used three high-power lasers for his performance, Light (2013). The strokes he draws are inseparable from the electronic sounds he generates with the same commands. The radical quality of their forms evokes the beginnings of computer graphics where one thinks, when they become more complex, of artists like Ben Laposky, who made use of oscilloscopes beginning in the fifties. The laser has something mesmerizing about it – in both its power and in its purity – it is not a mistake that these two artists were brought together on the same evening. Well beyond the fusion of two festivals, the current activity in Montréal is symbolically important – it is high time that the digital practices of contemporary art are included in major museums.

    Written by Dominique Moulon for artpress.com and translated by Geoffrey Finch.