Stories about robots replacing doctors in China, virtual reality being used to aid patients, and super computers writing algorithms to eradicate diseases are now becoming commonplace. We as a society are at a point where technology is now influencing our understanding and care of the body.
These are a few of the thoughts I had before stepping into a recent multimedia exhibition called Dyscorpia—found in the University of Alberta Enterprise Square Gallery.After spending upwards of two hours in the exhibition, I deduced that Dyscopria has taken these future intersections of the body and technology and created one of the most interactive and intriguing art exhibits I’ve ever seen.
A collaboration of more than 30 local and international artists curated by Marilène Oliver, Dyscorpia features installations of visual art, design, sound visualization, virtual reality, creative writing, and computer science.
The exhibition is broken up into 14 sections—A to I +—and can be experienced in any order the viewers wishes. To start off, I was quickly pulled into the East Gallery with a dimly lit room featuring HD TV screens, projections, and animations of vibrant trees, alien terrain, and landscapes in digital space. The installations are the creations of local visual artist Brad Necyk.
On one of the walls, a plaque gives the definition of solastalgia—the existential distress of a changing environment. The room is essentially a collection of mini illustrations showing these environmental changes on screen and through projection. It can be as simple as a tree being manipulated by the wind or a character in a white suit staying perfectly still as the terrain they are walking on shifts and contorts.
In the adjacent room is a series of paintings and drawings by U of A graduates that touch on the body’s interaction with the spaces around it. An excellent example is Phoebe Todd Parrish’s transcendent “Solute” drawing of an arm gently pushing through a woman’s torso to meet with a welcoming hand.
Behind these creations is another room featuring two VR pieces called “Deep Connection” and “Body Invaders,” created by Oliver and renowned visual sound artist Gary James Joynes. An assistant passes you a VR Vibe headset unveiling a floating, purplish coloured MRI scan of a body—set to an interesting sound byte edited by Joynes.. With a controller you can clasp the virtual body’s hand, revealing its beating heart. The minute you let go, the heart stops—hence the “deep connection.” On the opposite side is the “Body Invaders” portion, which allows you to walk inside three standing bodies. You can actually see various organs and the bodies’ brains if you’re patient enough.
The next installation I visited—and spent most of my Dyscorpia time in—was called “Anticipated Alliterations (Body Talk)” a living and breathing representation of sound from Joynes and sculpturalist Kasie Campbell. The room is covered by a sheet and only lit by three darkened LEDs, making place for the three vibrating sculptures that constantly react to recordings of droney and piercing sound. The sculptures took quite a bit of time to perfect as Joynes and Campbell needed to find a material that could handle the stress produced by the corresponding speakers and subwoofers. Joynes also points out that each organ plays like it’s own instrument and responds to its neighbours’ sounds. The organs also have somewhat of a futuristic jellyfish quality to them with their tendrils (guitar strings) hanging to the ground and jumping around from the softest to hardest introductions to sound. To fully experience the installation, I suggest taking one of the pillows and sitting in the middle of all the organs and turning off your brain for 10 minutes. The movements can be tranquil and meditative to full on bouts of sonic chaos.
The next room I visited featured an 18-minute film called Eve 2050 by Isabelle Van Grimde in collaboration with DAVAI. The short film follows a central character of all cultural origins and genders, Eve, experiencing the augmented reality of the future. Artificial intelligence runs rampant and humans have decided to implant themselves in organic material in the form of an interpretive dance. Due to time, I was not able to experience all of Eve 2050, but was delighted to hear that it is being adapted into a stage production by Brian Webb Dance Company for Edmonton in the fall.
With only 30 minutes left until the exhibit closed, I raced to the West Gallery and was met by a wall of wood, silkscreen, 3D-printed, and projected anatomical images rendered in modern or Renaissance style. The installation was put together by local artists Sean Caulfield, Oliver, and Scott Smallwood. Honestly, I suggest you take your time viewing each print. The amount of detail is unreal.
Next I visited another VR installation, Daniel Evans “Archipelago,” a multimodal project that allows the wearer to experience a digital island generated by the location tracking data of a single Google user account. You can actually see the rain of data cascading from the changing sky.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few more installations I didn’t fully get to experience during my time at Dyscorpia.
“Human in the Loop” is an interactive piece that allows the viewer to change and move the multi-coloured shapes just by walking past the mammoth sized wall. I decided to run in the open space and marvelled at the fun I had by waving my arms in the sky like someone mad.
There’s a room dedicated to a few computer games, like “Inkubus” and “ACESULFAME K,”
created by various artists that could each warrant its own review. Last, but certainly not least, is aAron Munson’s “Under the Sun,” a macro exploration “of extreme environments, mental illness, memory, and the conscious mind.” There’s a fantastic vocal track in the background as a video resembling film burning plays on a gigantic moon disc.
There are a few installations I did not mention within Dyscorpia and that’s because I was foolish and did not give myself enough time to truly experience everything. I suggest giving yourself ample time and to not rush your viewing. Edmonton might not get another exhibit like this for a while, or at all.
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