Madman, Ernest Daetwyler’s piece, Life Is But A Dream, is ominous and fragile. It looks like it could explode at any moment and take away all your dreams. As an alien object, with sensors and speakers mounted on metal spindles producing the sounds of children’s toys and other outbursts, one imagines Kirk and Spock could materialize with their tricorders to communicate with the sentient object in order to diffuse it and save Thunder Bay from a black hole. TOO LATE! Ha ha ha ha.
But seriously, this alien piece does speak, with a critically negative attitude towards technology. “Technology” in our time has become THE magic word. We are in love with it. Nearly every glitzy television commercial slickly mentions the word “technology” to sell a product, including burgers, toys, chocolate and toilet paper. Every marketer is cozying up to the financial warmth of the electric node.
Daetwyler’s iconic piece makes a generic yet cold inference that technology can be equally dangerous as it is beneficial. Think of cars. The dream of freedom you obtain owning a car comes with a price. Glossing it over with gleaming cars flying down empty city streets and mountain roads can be dangerous.
And glossing it over is an activity that disturbs many contemporary artists. As much as fine artists make personal and emotional statements, expressing an inner reality, many are also interested in throwing back the wizard’s curtain to expose the truth.
As unfocused as Daetwyler’s criticicism may be, without specifics, he’s at least saying loudly, Look Out! It’s not a bad message and it doesn’t hurt to be made thoughtful and disturbed once in a while, especially when we’re in love with something as arcane as technology.
In Gallery One, Diane Landry’s, Flying School, also contrasts technology and fragility with an instillation of 24 umbrellas that rise and open, fall and close, automatically with varying noises of sighs and other sounds of effort or joy from the harmonicas at their base. Light cast through the umbrellas project light and shadow on the ceiling.
Employing ordinary objects to perform in this manner is fun and imaginative. The playful and colourful contrast with the automatic and dead, like a defibrillator. Beautiful, hypnotic and subtlety annoying, this kinetic piece also speaks for itself, and stands on its own as a fun work. If you sit in front of it and reflect on how it makes you feel, that may be the message. How deep you want to go, and how challenging or hypnotic you want the work to be is up to you.
Both Daetwyler’s work and Landry’s work rely on the more contemporary belief that art has a mission to reveal reality, taking on the philosophical role of bringing doubt to the discussion of the world we live in. Which is why Modern Art can be a bit of a downer, and sometimes a necessary one with intriguing results. When presented in an attractive and macabre manner where ugliness has it’s own dark beauty, the art can make one think, and make one reflect, about the art and life in general.
So these artists, like many artists today, cozy up to the authority of other fields; psychology, philosophy, and science. Traditionally these fields were limited in the role of art, and the domain of philosophers and scientists. Artists reference these fields generally out of interest and often because there are legitimate crossovers of learning, and it's become the norm today mostly because its expected and the traditional roles of art just don’t seem to be as valid or exciting these days.
Although it shouldn’t be necessary to do so, many artists qualify their work and statements because artists can be terribly insecure about the validity of their work. At its worst this can become part of a con, where the artist has no desire to communicate anything or make you feel anything, but to sound impressive. The intent becomes one of trying to be an artist no matter what. In our egalitarian society this is just too easy to accomplish. "Anyone can be an artist", is a refrain often heard, and even spoken by art and museum directors.
So, although both Landry's and Daetwyler's work are weak on specifics, and don't reveal typical artist skill sets, they both put an incredible amount of thought and work into their pieces, and the general feelings one gets from the work is worthwhile enough to ponder upon. If these pieces were put into a science centre they would be quite mysterious additions. And in a science centre, the crossover of science, philosophy and art might generate as much, if not more of a discussion.
Dr. Chaudhuri’s collection of 14 Contemporary Artists in Gallery Two is a contrast from the other two shows. Not relying on kinetics or interaction, most of these works are smaller and poetic, like a little anthology of the styles and ideas from a broad spectrum of artists in a variety of mediums. Here, variety is key.
Credit must be given to Dr. Chaudhuri for having such an eclectic sensibility and interest in contemporary art. It is rare and welcome to see such pieces by prominent artists, which also help art students and interested parties get a taste of what exists in some of the contemporary hot spots in bigger cities where the following is bigger and more dedicated.