Volume 95, Issue 66

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

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New age art show casts Shadow of doubt

Enjoy, cause the Mothman might be watching

Outside the Box

S Club rejects offer rap-rock relief

New age art show casts Shadow of doubt

By Shannon Proudfoot
Gazette Staff

Sometimes it takes a new perspective to clearly see the images we have come to accept in our daily lives.

Shadow of the Machine critically appropriates information formats such as computer programs, security footage and film that we have come to accept without a second thought and examine the ways in which media and technology shape our societal perceptions.

The exhibit is displayed in the Ivey North Gallery at Museum London, a space that occasionally suffers from an inappropriately cold atmosphere. In this case, the vast empty space, bland concrete floor and institutional silence are perfect for a show addressing the sterility of the modern landscape.

Only a few works are scattered throughout the large space, giving each an opportunity to create its own ambiance.

The artists featured have ironically used labour-intensive artistic processes to emulate and respond to technologies designed to for the most part reduce human effort.

Colette Whiten's "I Witness" is a series of glass globes containing crumpled embroidery fabric sewn with glass beads. The beads act as pixels composing black and white portraits of single faces.

The piece has the unsettling, yet comical effect of depicting real people enclosed in sterile, individual worlds. The glass separates and suspends the images so the shadows cast by the globes on the wall seem like their only physical reality.

To create this piece, Whiten scanned photos into a computer, produced digital images of them and then assigned the range of black and white tones to specific symbols.

The same images are used in Whiten's "Contiguity," in which the portraits are etched onto metals disks set diagonally into a long wooden shelf.

This work is difficult to see, unless viewed at an angle. These familiar information-age icons take on new life when used as the details of human faces and aptly reflect the degree to which human life has been digitized.

In "Battle Game," Michelle Gay recreates the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the 1066 Norman invasion of England in a distinctly modern format. At the same dimensions as the original painting, Gay's version uses the text of the programming code for the computer game Quake to compose the images.

Reinterpreting images of a war from over a thousand years ago in the language of a modern virtual war simultaneously reveals how much and how little society has changed.

Guest curator Cheryl Sourkes has her three "Cam Cities" interspersed among the other works. It would perhaps have been more effective to have "Virtual Vienna," "Virtual London" and "Virtual Toronto" juxtaposed side by side, but they are nonetheless interesting views of familiar, aggrandized urban landscapes.

These works are composed of grids of still images from civic surveillance footage broadcast over the Internet. The sphere in the centre of each grid is reminiscent of an eye and the sense that we are both voyeurs and victims in this watchful landscape is jarring.

The show does an excellent job of forcing an examination of the media forms we are bombarded with each day, but it is difficult to engage with on an emotional level. This detachment is perhaps intentional and meaningful, but represents a challenge to the viewer.

Despite this obstacle, the artists in Shadow of the Machine have succeeded in reclaiming the forms of human culture and reshaping them in thought-provoking ways.

Shadow of the Machine is on display in the Ivey North Gallery at Museum London until Mar. 2. Voluntary donations will be accepted as admission.

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Copyright The Gazette 2001