I went to an art party last night. There is no other to describe the event. It was way too cool for the kind of scruffy person that I am. There were lots of people wearing Scandinavian-themed attire, beautiful black drapey things that looked more expensive than the contents of my entire closet. They also looked thoughtful and interested, but not enthusiastic. I tend to stick out at these things, because I can’t contain enthusiasm. There was a lot of challenging work on display, in a good way.
Elektra is a festival that is too cool for me to have heard of. It’s like Mutek’s cool European cousin, a festival dedicated to digital arts and it brings in people from all over the world. Automata, the evening that I attended at Arsenal, was dedicated specifically to robot-generated art. There were very beautiful and very grotesque stuff to see. I seem to get really caught up in the South Korean contingent of work, like the “Machine with Hair Caught in It” from Ujoo and Limheeyoung from South Korea. It rotated the pieces of hair around, and this will most likely haunt my nightmares for a while.
Everything moved in this exhibit, and that made it very engaging, somehow changing the way that you experienced the work. I am not much of a visual art person, but I could really get into what I was seeing. The pieces by the French artist Pascal Haudressy really touched me. Watching the bodies pulsate with energy and light made the human forms portrayed more vulnerable, ironic in a robot-generated environment.
The center piece of the show was Inferno by Bill Vorn and Louis-Phillipe Demers, a couple of local boys. This involved the exoskeleton. A performance where 24 people were invited to wear the exoskeleton, strap in, and let it control your movements as music played. The performance-experience lasted about half an hour and it was electric. Because I am such a charmer, I managed to get snuck into a suit. They started the show as I was hurriedly pulling on a grey jump suit and enthusiastically getting strategically in position to replace someone who got tired or bored, or whatever.
I was a “switch”. Basically, as people got tired, they switched out. It took about 15 minutes before someone got fed up and I was fed to the beast. Watching the piece was interesting, because people started out happy, dancing along with it. Mostly facing the DJ-artist controlling their movements, or facing their friends. As they were moved around, you could see them tire, and slowly have it dawn on them. The piece is based on Dante’s Inferno. There’s a reason for that.
Then I got switched in. Oh my god. What a trip. The exoskeleton is heavy even though it is partially suspended, and rests on your hips, and while they make you wear the protective jumpsuit, the metal edges hurt and are unexpected when you are forced into certain positions. There was one song where the energy was very muted, smaller movements and then in another, I felt distinctly like a war machine, my hands forced into battle. In another song, I was being stretched out, like on a rack, and in another, it was time for recreation,. The freedom of restraint was interesting, and I had to consciously remember to let it happen sometimes, and not to fight it, so that I didn’t hurt myself.
With time, the exoskeleton grew heavier and heavier, but I didn’t tap out. I was in turn alarmed, elated, freaked out, turned on, uncomfortable, and fearful. I wondered about how the machine was strong enough to rip my arms out of my sockets if something went wrong. I wondered about how the machine could be used in the workplace, or for sex. It was depressing in so many ways, and it really made me question why we need human beings to participate in most day to day functions at all, the redundancy of us.
Anyways. Art. Check out the Elektra Festival and the Digital Art Biannual for more events this year and challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone. There was a lot of beautiful things to see and hear, and while the price tag was a bit hefty at $25 for the opening party, it was pretty darned worth it.
Info about the Automata exhibition HERE. To see the exhibit until July 3 it only costs $10 at the Arsenal Gallery (2020 Rue William).