Julie Tremble: BPM 37093, 2014. Still from digital animation. (detail)
A Conversation with Nathalie Bachand | Part 2
ZsSz-M: It is often said that curating new media art poses several new problems, such as the importance of interactivity and the question of ephemeralness. What do you see as the difficulties of organizing exhibitions with new media art?
NB: Technological aspects are never the easier part of an exhibition. One cannot improvise: one need specialists to handle more complicated problematics, though many artists themselves possess the technological knowledge to manage these issues. On a more practical issue, it can also cost a lot if you need to rent or buy technological equipment like projectors, computers, or sound system. One of the recurring problems concerns maintaining the technological devices. When an exhibition runs for two or three months, you have to be sure of the stability of the artworks you present, which can be more problematic when it comes to experimental artistic propositions, which are – almost by definition – unstable. One might think here of V2_Lab for Unstable Media,21 an interdisciplinary centre for art and technology based in Rotterdam, which put this characteristic in the forefront. For them, it’s a matter of identity. Then instability easily leads to ephemerality: a single footstep which prevents an artwork from changing from time to time, to gradually altering itself till it disappears. There are museum conservators who express a certainty concerning the need for an artwork – in a given situation – to give up on eternity. Maybe we should ask ourselves: does it not somehow make sense for any object in the world to encounter its end at some point? Why does art should have the privilege of claiming permanence while nothing else does?
Technological works of art definitely present heavier problematics than works which comes from more traditional art practices. Another aspect of the problem, I think, is the fear of technology. You fear when you do not know. You fear the lack of control, you fear not knowing how to start or restart a piece if necessary, or not being able to speak about the artwork or not understanding it. That’s a problem in art in general: many people fear art of any kind because of their need to understand, while art may be apprehended through other modalities. To feel, for example, is definitely a way to understand, but it needs our involvement in a different way. It’s more about being away from the Cartesian grid, about openness to possibilities, all of them, about being confident in ourselves in front of an artwork, whether it contains technology or not. But for sure, media art needs more awareness and attention from both curators and the public. They need more love I would say.
ZsSz-M: In your view, what new possibilities do media art exhibitions offer? (I’m thinking of works posted online, possibly content added at certain intervals after an opening, etc.)
NB: The fact that an artwork may evolve over the course of an exhibition is, of course, not exclusive to media art. But technological components offer many interesting possibilities. Online artworks are really a thing right now. Online events and galleries have been proliferating for several years now. One might think of The Wrong Biennale,22 which started in 2013 with a very clever format of web pavilions, where many online curators were invited to “build” their own galleries. All linked through a central web site, hundreds and hundreds of internet artworks were then presented and left accessible for three months. Closer to me, based in Montreal, Galerie Galerie23 (not to be mistaken with Gallery Gallery, which is not the same thing) is an online art-space which since 2016 has presented digital and web-based art projects. With the aim of disseminating, democratizing, and demystifying experimental art practices, this kind of online entity is able to reach audiences way beyond physical frontiers.
These initiatives are not perfect though: the lack of funding for these forums and efforts may left everyone involved unpaid. It’s also a question of privileged accessibility to technology: we often forget that technology is not easily available everywhere or to everyone. This was an issue in Cuba, for example, where I did a curator’s residency last November in Havana, with the RCAAQ,24 Artista X Artista25 and the Centro de Desarrollo the Las Artes Visuales. The lack of a reliable internet connection is really an important issue over there. This has a huge influence on their work: as a result of this, communication and connection are recurring themes in new media artworks there. But despite this patchy reality, these online initiatives are also necessary within an “official” art world which is pretty closed off.
ZsSz-M: Having curated new media art, would you curate non-new media art? And if so, how has your experience as a new media art curator affected your approach?
NB: In fact, I already curated non-new media exhibitions. From 2015 to 2017, I worked on a large project of 32 exhibitions for the Accès culture network on the occasion of the 375th anniversary of Montreal, ‘Un million d’horizons (1×19=1 000 000)’.26 Within these exhibitions, presented all over the large Montreal territory in the summer of 2017, there was a diversity of art practices including drawing, collage, photography, painting, and sculptural installation, but also interactive and generative artworks, sound and video installation, and electronic and light components. With about 50 artworks, there were more “traditional” proposals than new media ones. The main reason for this was the need to give the audiences – mainly non specialized ones – access to a wide range of artworks. Then in some cases, the lack of access to technological equipment influenced the choices.
My approach, however, is not that different: my aim is always to generate dialogues between artworks, exchanges where specificities of art practices become part of the vocabulary of a shared language which extends beyond the obvious. For me, media and non-media artworks are working in a complementary dynamic: they shed light on one another, and by doing so, they better reflect the complexity of our actual reality. Because, yes, we live a world which is totally overwhelmed under infinite digital layers, but no, the physicality of the world will not disappear in the digital cloud like in a magic trick. We do need, for the better and sometimes the worst, to find ways to coexist in a mixed reality. We definitely have something to learn from media art, since it always goes deeper in this “mixed reality” state of things by being more and more hybrid and embodying our fragmented perception.
Video documentation The Dead Web – La fin exhibition. Mapping Festival (Geneva), Co-production with Molior.
The Dead Web27 exhibition, which I independently curated first in 2017 at Eastern Bloc,28 an artist-run centre in Montreal (and more recently in 2019, with the support of Molior,29 a Québec organization the mandate of which is to diffuse the work of Canadian media artists abroad), is also not a “pure” media art one: an oil painting by Julien Boily30 and a video-sculptural installation by Dominique Sirois31 & Baron Lanteigne32 go side by side with an interactive installation by Projet EVA,33 a 3D animation by Julie Tremble,34 and a web-based installation by Frédérique Laliberté.35 The meeting of different art practices in the same space and around a shared conceptual context is an approach of which I am fond in order to deepen reflection by offering a diversity of perspectives.
ZsSz-M: I am intrigued by Adam Basanta’s work All We’d Ever Need Is One Another (2018), which you showed during your talk. If I understand correctly, it is an installation which first creates images and then examines whether these images correspond (to a high percentage) to existing contemporary art images found in various databases. Arguably, the history of art can be written as the history of how we understand the creative process. How do you think new media art fits into this narrative?
NB: For sure an installation like All We’d Ever Need Is One Another by Adam Basanta36 this capacity forces us – including art historians – to take another look at the “official” art history by casting light on it on from different sides – creative process being one of them. I think that Adam Basanta’s installation works on both sides: while reminding us of the main art history narrative – a mostly occidental one, one should note – it also contributes to what we understand as how the process and its materiality shape the art. And it does so in a way that interlaces artistic outcome and creative process. Concerns around creative processes are also interlinked with a certain media theory related to the use of technical and technological tools and their influences on artistic outcomes, as Lev Manovich37 put it in The Language of New Media38 back in 2001. The easiest way to “inhabit” these two historical paradigms – the official linear one, which gives more room to traditional art practices, and the processual one, which we associate more with the new media – is of course to see them as two parallel and autonomous paths, and not to bother about the how and why of this dichotomy. But it would be a shame not to interconnect the dots between what we see in the distance, as we start to get a distanced overview given by time – mostly for media art, which is younger than other more traditional art practices. Art history could be much more meaningful if we’d be more inclusive in our ways of seeing and understanding.
ZsSz-M: Can you tell us about the upcoming EIM Triennale – Espace [IM] Média?
NB: The triennial Espace [IM] Média (EIM2019)39 is a media art festival based in Sherbrooke and organized by the artist-run centre Sporobole,40 with which I have been involved on different levels since 2017. The festival focuses on the public space as a specific context for the presentation of new media artworks. There are also some indoor exhibitions, but the focus is really on providing an artistic presence in the city. For this edition – for which I’m co-curator alongside with Éric Desmarais, Sporobole’s artistic director – we decided to work on the theme of connected surveillance and reflect on the ways in which we are constantly monitored. The fact is we do not own our data anymore, our pictures belong to our social networks, we are followed through each of our gestures on the internet and our credit cards purchases. Many of these forms of surveillance and infiltration into our lives are at the very limit of legality, and we thought that this meta reality in which we now live should be thrown into question and examined through the lens of artistic proposals.
EIM2019 proposes two app-based soundwalks lasting until mid-October created with a GPS tool by Myriam Bleau41 and Steve Heimbecker;42 two sound pieces about connection hacks and fake news to be listened to through an immersive triangular structure of 15 speakers by Phillip David Stearns43 and Pierre-Luc Lecours;44 three satellite projects presented in regions outside Sherbrooke by Meriol Lehmann,45 Isabelle Gagné46 and Alexandre Castonguay47 & Mariángela Aponte Núñez48 (most of them also outdoor: interactive and photographic/sound installation). We also present a “connected” installation by Sébastien Cliche49 in the Sporobole gallery about memory process and how the digital has a deep effect in this change of paradigm, and there will be other exhibitions in partnership with galleries and the Sherbrooke museum of fine-arts by Véronique Béland,50 Herman Kolgen51 and Philippe-Aubert Gauthier & Tanya St-Pierre.52 Then evenings of AV and sound performances are also organized with the cooperation of the artists: Jean-Pierre Aubé,53 Tasman Richardson,54 Jesse Osborne Lanthier,55 Sébastien Cliche56 & Julie Faubert,57 Pierre-Luc Lecours58 et Émilie Payeur.59 So this is really a major event with many artists and a diversity of artistic proposals.
ZsSz-M: For the Hungarian presentation of the exhibition Dead Web at the Ludwig Museum in 2020, will you include Hungarian artists, and if so, who?
NB: Yes, we will definitely include Hungarian artists – and that’s the exciting part of presenting the Dead Web exhibition abroad – thanks to Molior – as we did for the Mapping Festival60 last May in Geneva, where we included three artworks by Swiss artists: a video and sculptural installation about the difficult work of the social network’s moderators entitled ‘Praying for my Haters’ by Lauren Huret;61 a mural series made of broken iPhones entitled ‘[I]’ by Simon and Romain de Diesbach;62 and a generative installation about future and lost languages entitled ‘Membranes’ by Lukas Truniger63 and Nicolas Hein.64 This creates a new exhibition where the initial proposal extends toward new perspectives and angles which explore the speculative idea of the end of the internet – and this is what we want to do with this new iteration of the Dead Web exhibition at the Ludwig Museum.65 We started to work on it last June, while I was doing a curator’s residency with Molior and the Ludwig Museum. Together with Béla Konya – Head of the Conservation and Collection Care Department at the Ludwig Museum – we will deepen our reflection and go further in the process of selecting artworks for the exhibition. But we can’t announce anything specific for the moment. More to come in the next few months…