Like Pearls by Morehshin Allahyari is an animated and interactive mash-up of the Farsi spam Allahyari receives in her mailbox.
Montreal is the undisputed cultural capital of Canada and the largest city in the French-speaking province of Quebec. Although there’s a visible and perceivable strong legacy with France, there’s never a doubt that here we’re in North America, and also quite close to the U.S. Montreal is a place that has seen the rise of theaters, university labs (like the fabulous inter-universities “Hexagram” where different artists have their labs), and art and cultural institutions with an impressive amount of initiatives. In this stimulating environment the Elektra festival has taken place annually in May since 1999. Founded and directed by Alain Thibault, the festival has two different souls. The first is the IMDA (International Marketplace for Digital Arts) a short selection of guests from different parts of the world welcomed to share their work in a series of short presentations, and involving Canadian institutions and artists working with new media art. Among the institutions this year there were: Molior, an organization supporting the production of artistic projects which use new media; Le Laboratoire d’Art (Le Labo), a media arts research and experimentation laboratory promoting Franco-Ontarian artists in Toronto; Artengine, an artist-run center based in Ottawa which also runs the Electric Fields festival; the Mutek, which for a decade has organized the homonymous electronic music and culture festival; and the Society for Arts and Technology, a cross disciplinary center that has promoted digital culture since 1996. Elektra’s second soul is the public event schedule, mainly based at the Usine C, a cultural center with two theaters and a café, where a good number of AV performances took place. “The Tiller Girls” by Louis Philippe Demers, Phillip Schulze and Armin Purkrabek was a performance by twelve stylized robots able to bend and move their “shoulders” and “torso” which were dancing in synch (like the famous Tiller Girls), with some perceptible anthropo- morphic characteristics. “Feed” by Kurt Hentschläger was a really challenging performance. The spectators, after a few minutes of 3D video, were immersed in artificial fog so thick that they were not able to see the person sat next to them, coupled with powerful low frequency sounds and stroboscopic lights. This sensorial attack induced disorientation and even light hallucinations in the peculiar environmental conditions, resulting in a unique sensorial experience. Among the live acts, linear abstractions with consistent sounds were found in “OR” by Kangding Ray and “Multistability” by Mark Fell, as well as in the long 3D navigation experience of “Les Objets Impossibles” by Abstract Birds & Ircam. Classic Raster Noton style dogmas were perfectly developed by Frank Bretschneider in “Exp”. Much less serious, although smarter and effective was the French group 1024 Architecture with their “Euphorie”, during which they were able to play with animated lights at various levels with plenty of irony being spent against the sacredness of the live show and the aura of performers. “Firing Squad” by Tasman Richardson was also funny to see, but it had to be taken into account that the perfect synch that the artist applied to sounds and visual fragments (like a “paparazzi’s hail of fire” as he described it) was painstakingly work. Finally, Usine C was packed for the Martin Messier and his Sewing Machine Orchestra performance, with minimal sounds and gestures, strong lights and precise movements. The sewing machines seemed the same but they all produced different sounds. It somehow reminded of the “Dot Matrix Printer Orchestra” concept from more than a decade ago, which perhaps not by accident was developed by two other Montreal citizens: the duo [The User]. Following a now widespread strategy, there was no central exhibition, but a small number of galleries in the city involved with their respective spaces. Herman Kolgen, who had already performed at Transmediale 2011, had a structured installation at the Cinémathèque Québécoise, called “Dust Restriction.” His famous video projected on a very big screen, was placed after a tiny entrance at the end of a progressively narrowing corridor with a few peepholes on the walls through which visitors could observe through a magnifier lens small scenes with agglomerates of dust and small dead creatures. Before the corridor a dress and a vacuum cleaner were on display completely “mummified” with dust. At Fonderie Darling “Cycloïd-E”, the 11 meter diameter robotic polyphonic sculpture made by Cod.Act (seen at Ars Electronica 2010) was running all the time. After learning the principle of how this structure of steel and speakers functioned, guests were able to circumvent the other worldliness of the piece. At the Oboro Center it was possible to see a solo exhibition by Brad Todd. “La forêt bleue” showed a few works, including “Le Petit Prince” where one icon of French literature was isolated and magnified from a French banknote and projected on the wall through a mechanical system. At Ocurrence gallery “L’atomisation du temps” was an exhibition by François Quévillon, whose photographic works are “glitched” in a temporal way. Finally there were three artworks at the new, dedicated Eastern Bloc Center: “Titan et au-delà de l’infini” by Jean-Pierre Aubé, a speedy hypnotizing video reminiscent of seventies psychedelic abstract animations, “Coup d’éclats” by Danny Perreault, Manuel Chantre, Guillaume Bourassa, Sébastien Gravel and Victortronic, a system of projections and volumes in a large room, questioning perception and “sessile” a swarm of 50 small pods by Steve Daniels, attached to a wall and sensitive to light, which opened and closed limbs, and intriguing anyone passing close to them with its cinematic reactions. In terms of events, “Color Form Movement Sound, the films of Mary Ellen Bute” was an extremely interesting section curated by Sandra Naumann, projecting 14 original experimental short movies of this lesser-known artist from the first half of the 20th Century, displaying an elegant taste for exploring the possibilities of electronic images and sound. Linking back to France, there was the launch of a new book titled “Art contemporain nouveaux médias” by Dominique Moulon, a French writer and journalist from Paris, exploring the new media art that has entered contemporary art in various disguises. Next year Elektra will become the International Digital Arts Biennal, most probably exploiting fertile territory and maybe with AV experiments in- cluded in the program. Events will be held at the new futuristic dome being built at the SAT building, and the festival will continue to scan developments in the very interesting Quebe- cois new media art scene.