Saturday, February 13, 2010

Online Olympiad - Best and Worst of Vancouver's Digital Culture Offerings

Earlier this week, I noted ways in which some artists were refusing to participate in cultural activities at the Vancouver Olympics.

However, another thing that's also kind of interesting about these Olympics is the way in which arts and culture have been put online for a wider Canadian and international audience to enjoy. (Apparently, it's the first time the Olympics has taken this tack.)

Today, the National Post published a condensed version of my picks and pans for the Games' web-art component. Full reviews are below. Happy clicking! (If only that was an Olympic sport, I'd be a medallist, I tell ya.)

1. Vectorial Elevation by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
Over the past 15 years, Montreal artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer has won international acclaim for his wonderful interactive light installations. But while some of his artworks—like Pulse Front, the heartbeat-driven spotlights that lit up Luminato 2007—rely on bodily interaction, Lozano-Hemmer’s Vancouver Olympics artwork, called Vectorial Elevation, can be programmed by Internet users worldwide. At, everyone is invited to create a design for 20 high-powered spotlights arrayed around English Bay. And every night to February 24th, the site streams video of the spotlights, which shine each design into Vancity’s skies for 8 to 12 seconds. There’s just one snag—the Google Earth plugin needed to submit designs can be tricky. Nonetheless, Vectorial Elevation is a surprisingly lovely thing to view and to think about. As with all of Lozano-Hemmer’s art, individuals can make themselves visible in a different, expansive way, even if only for a few seconds. It’s also cute to see how participants dedicate their designs (“JJ in Vancouver for Theo,” for example) so that the project shines a light not only on individuals, but also on the importance of their relationships—things that loom large in personal life, but not always in public space.

2. CODE Screen
Taking a more traditional approach to the Internet as art venue is CODE Screen. (CODE is short for Cultural Olympiad Digital Edition.) Since it its September launch, CODE Screen has posted slideshow-style exhibitions of contemporary Canadian art every few weeks. Though its intentions—to promote Canadian art to international audiences—are worthy, CODE Screen’s results are often awkward and disappointing. First, the interface for viewing these “shows” (which can be downloaded to one’s desktop) takes some getting used to and never feels quite user-friendly enough. Second, many of these shows seem like mere sketches for bricks-and-mortar exhibitions—with all the art scaled to 1024 pixels (or similar) it can be really hard to understand artworks whose impact depends on physical space, like Kristi Malakoff’s 5-centimetre Fairy Ring and Brandon Vickerd’s 18-metre Northern Satellite. Videos are represented by still images, which only make sense to viewers who’ve seen related screenings. Granted, there are some revelations here—lesser-known works by famous Canuck artists, for instance, or particularly successful sequencing efforts in the exhibits “Group Show,” “Corporatization,” “Test Pattern,” and “When the Night Comes.” But more work is needed to truly rival a real-space gallery experience.

3. HorizonZero: Bridge
Since 2002, the online journal HorizonZero has aimed to explore the changes our digital realm has wrought. Nowadays, in iPhone-besotted 2010, HorizonZero’s take on the idea of “new media” (which is no longer all that new, frankly) can seem a bit quaint. Nonetheless, HorizonZero’s special bridge-themed edition, published in conjunction with the Cultural Olympiad, has some fun surprises. Just ignore the tired, Eraserhead-era drone and click through to Augmented Bridge, Champagne Valentine and Aaron Myers’ playful web project. The setup’s a bit of a hurdle, including some application downloading. But once everything’s installed, you can hold an animated-bridge-cum-virtual-Slinky in your hands, at least via webcam. Not perfect, but nifty. (Bridge Jumping by Mere Phantoms, which provides paper-model blueprints for five iconic Canuck bridges, is less doable and less impressive—but still kinda sweet.)

Concept sketch of Rafael Lozano Hemmer's Vectorial Elevation from


L.M. said...

CODE Screen is an appalling piece of clueless crap that cost a lot of money (I know that about end of the business and how much a company can charge some government agency for a stupid useless tiny slideshow)

Yay 1999 technology, these internets are going to change how we look at art!!!! (so we can cut funding to actual galleries and art orgs, because we made a lame ass slide show instead, and IT'S CURATED TOO, HOW AWESOME IS THAT!)

Stop embarrassing me, Official Canadian Internet, just stop.

Leah Sandals said...

You are more eloquent than I, Lorna. Well put.

Anonymous said...

Further to that, I don't understand why why why in this day and age we should have to download apps to look at art online. -Sally

Leah Sandals said...

Yeah, that program is annoying and pops up every time I turn on my computer.... I assume they did it to offer a more "controlled viewing environment" or something but could have been better handled online as you suggest.