A sculpture of a pentagram is just a sculpture of a pentagram. But paired with a red light illuminating the structure and horror-like music emanating from the built-in speakers, the piece is transformed into a work of digital art. This piece, entitled Pentaphonic Sound System by Peter Redecopp, along with many others, are being showcased at PARTICLE + WAVE, a recent Calgary festival whose aim is to bring that little known art form to a mainstream audience.
Vicki Chau, programming director for the festival, says digital art is hard to define because “It kind of evolves with whatever technology is coming at the time.”
The third edition of the festival, which ran Feb. 2-4, featured 13 artists whose work ranged from installations and film/video screenings to live performances. This wide variety of styles demonstrates one of the main reasons audiences can have a hard time understanding what constitutes digital art.
Lacking an obvious definition makes digital art confusing for some, but as featured artist Anna Semenoff points out, over-thinking the technological side of the artwork can take away from the art’s content. “It’s more like a method of art-making rather than a category of art.”
Other artists featured at the festival shared Semenoff’s sentiment. Many also pointed out that audiences should approach digital art as a dynamic art form to be experienced, not just looked at.
[Digital art] kind of evolves with whatever technology is coming at the time.” – Vicki Chau
The event, established in 2012, was the first EMMEDIA Gallery and Production Society festival. The artist-run center, which specializes in electronic art, had avoided previously creating a festival because they were busy organizing year-round programming, such as film festivals and installations. But Chau says she and EMMEDIA’s former production director, Kyle Whitehead, had become intrigued by the idea of a festival bringing together people for a “celebration of media arts.”
The hope is, as PARTICLE + WAVE grows, more people will gain an understanding and appreciation for digital art. And with most of this year’s installations still open for public viewing until March 4, audiences haven’t missed their opportunity to appreciate the art for themselves. The following are some of the sights that the Calgary Journal saw at this year’s festival.
The age of man
Upon first glance, the “relics” created by Trevor Van den Eijnden showcased at the festival, appear to be displays of mundane objects. These displays, a part of a larger work entitled The Relics of the Anthropocene Temple, represent all the things that humans will leave behind on Earth — even after they are gone.
Van den Eijnden’s pieces were originally inspired by a US Department of Energy warning monument proposal for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository. The proposed monument on top of the site would alert future generations against settling and digging the area thousands of years in the future.
Considering this proposal, Van den Eijnden began to imagine what the warning monuments would look like. He also considered what other objects would survive a potential human extinction and be left for future species to find.
“Most of my work circles around the concept of the Anthropocene, or the age of man,” says Van den Eijnden. “This idea that we’ve altered the surface of the Earth so much that if all of humanity was just to die, there would be irrevocable proof of our existence for millions of years.”
Though his work deals with the human impact on the world, Van den Eijnden isn’t trying to play the role of activist. “I make these highly aesthetic objects to lure people in to see these things and then hopefully think,” he says. “I think I’m trusting that the action of thinking will lead to some form of action. I don’t think my works are necessarily aggressive activism.”
Paid for in blood
It’s aphoristic to say that war causes more problems than it solves. Yet, worldwide, those conflicts continue. A dynamic that artist Greg Marshall deals with in his work.
Growing up during the Cold War, Marshall lived on a NORAD radar base in Saskatchewan. His early exposure to war left its mark, and Marshall has dealt with the topic in many of his works, including his piece Warware, featured in PARTICLE + WAVE.
“War bothers me,” Marshall says. “It’s always bothered me, so it’s kind of a common thread in my work.”
One of his earliest works was a documentary on the Cold War entitled Tracking Distance. It centered around the idea that war is an unrelenting cycle with dire consequences. “You have the military industrial complex that feeds off warfare and it’s good for business. They make a lot of money selling tanks, selling planes, selling jets, people get rich…but it’s paid for in blood.”
His featured piece, Warware, came about in 2013 when Marshall used Google Alerts to track stories involving US drone attacks. These stories were then coded into a continual video of colourful squares, with some squares appearing to be three-dimensional, almost like a visual bar graph.
Marshall doesn’t think much about the impact his work will have on audiences. “I don’t know how much I’m going to make people aware,” he says. Instead, his reasons for creating his work are more personal, “for me it’s a cathartic process because that piece is more like a war memorial for myself, for people that have died.”
Marshall’s next project is a documentary spanning over 40 minutes on personal stories from World War II veterans and civilians.
Memory of mother
Memory of Mother seems to be a personal work representing Semenoff’s relationship with her mother, but it is actually a piece that revolves around the concept of memory.
A third-year student at ACAD, Semenoff created a visual diagram composed of 45 minutes of video footage of her mother chopped into 320 different video loops. Projected simultaneously, the piece works to mimic the “memories” that compose our thought and understanding of the people around us.
“I chose to explore memory and its function because I believe that it informs the way we perceive and analyze information,” Semenoff explains. “I am attempting to create an environment that allows one… to become aware of the way they think.”
Choosing her mother as the subject of her work was a multi-faceted decision. Semenoff chose her mother “knowing that most people who encounter the work will not have any prior information, judgements, or biases towards the content.” She also hopes “the specificity of the subject will also offer a…realness to the piece.”
Art is often considered a medium that involves “perfect” elements working together to create unity, but Tasman Richardson is currently exploring the use of imperfections to create a new kind of unity.
Richardson’s PARTICLE + WAVE installation, Janus, was born out of his interest “in the idea of failure being converted into … pseudo-victory, where you could impose order on it.”
Using an Atari 2600 game console, Richardson collected glitches from the machine, consisting of audio and visuals. “I was able to separate them into two heaps,”he says “One which was colourful and melodic and one which was textured and rhythmic, black and white.”
“By the time I was done, I had no idea what the final composition would be, except that in the moment I liked it,” – Tasman Richardson
Richardson then constructed intersecting screens on which to project the visual glitches.
The most interesting part of creating the project happened when Richardson was composing the audio portion of the installation. Piece by piece, using the more melodic sounds he had collected, Richardson would pull out the clips and weave them together without ever playing back the piece.
“By the time I was done, I had no idea what the final composition would be, except that in the moment I liked it,” he says. “So I rewound it, played it back, and it turned out to be quite musical, which surprised me since it was not my conscious mind making the composition.”
Once he had heard the finished product, Richardson took the less melodic clips and filled in the gaps in the original composition, creating a continuous track.
Janus capitalizes on the freedom digital media presents artists. Being able to combine both audio and visuals gives Richardson’s piece the ability to create an experience for its audience, instead of just being something they can look at.
The editor responsible for this article is Hannah Willinger and can be reached at email@example.com