Shining stars of this year's Elektra Festival propose content over form
I haven’t always been enthusiastic about digital arts. Some years ago the screen had been declared dead – a superfluous two-dimensional artifice so void of resonance that its only interaction with the viewer was on the level of distraction. The two directions digital arts seemed to be taking were self-reflexivity and deeper immersion relying on increased amplitude. It seemed the simple, subtle, content-driven new-media works by artists like Bill Viola were a thing of the past.
Then I attended a Skoltz Kolgen performance. The local duo describe themselves as penetrating "the ephemeral skin between solid matter and the unsubstantiated, the intimate and the objective." They create "worlds that gestate between accident and intent." Put simply, the duo perform image-sound synchronism, but with a precision and concerned aesthetic previously unknown to me. There is nothing, beyond some esoteric technical details, that separates Skoltz Kolgen from their predecessors. Their importance lies in their careful arrangement of digital detritus, the constant tension between privileging image or sound and their ultimate decision to emphasize content over either. Skoltz Kolgen make eerily familiar moving paintings in a rich sonic landscape. Then the performance is over; rather than lingering in a way somehow typical of ever-reproducible digital media, the curtain drops and the spectator is left only with the memories of an event.
Festival director Alain Thibault contends that "Elektra is about exploring all the links possible between visuals and music." He continues: "[But while] Elektra placed the term ‘audiovisual’ on the map in 2005, this year will mark the exploration of the third dimension of audiovisual. The works selected place a common focus on the relationship between sound and image as it relates to the object and body in a technological perspective."
Chris Salter’s work Schwelle I: Bardo endeavours to situate the body and the spectator in the immediate realm of the event. According to Salter, his Schwelle triptych (of which Part I will be shown at Elektra) deals with "different sets of thresholds, not just the threshold between sleep-waking, life-death, but also the edge of hearing, the edges of perception." Salter describes Part I as a three-screen, eight-channel audiovisual work that attempts to simulate transitory and meditative states of consciousness. Salter is a smart and thoughtful artist, with an interest in humanizing digital media. He has pondered our perceptual relationship with digital media and says "at the level of edits, digital media is discrete, but on an experiential level, it’s continuous." It’s this dichotomy, between discrete and continuous, with which Salter is primarily concerned. In explaining the narrative jumps in Schwelle I, Salter says, "One minute your life is one way, and something can change and it’s radically different. It’s a kind of break in the world. There’s a continuum, and there are these holes in the continuum."
Elektra promises to challenge typical notions of immersion and interaction again this year.
At Usine C (1345 Lalonde), to May 14