At the Art Gallery of Alberta, March 11 through June 10, 2006
Gayle Gorman


The exhibit at the AGA titled Crowds/Conversations/Confessions “promises a form of engagement, communication and personal contact, but each (work) also suggests this promise of technology might never be fulfilled".

Such obvious devices like telephones and the internet certainly have fulfilled such a promise, it’s art that relies on technology to create interaction between people that often fails when it approaches machines as some sort of savior for the distance that imminently exists in human relationships.

Out of the six pieces in the show, it is the three that avoid this claim to “interaction” that are most successful in mediating between people and their complex states of being. The remaining three rely on either bombastic or transparent technology to promise revelation-through-interaction, yet this supposed interaction is never between people, rather it is consistently between you, the realtime realspace viewer, and a preprogrammed semblance of a human, or in the case of Don Ritter’s Vox Populi, multiple humans -- bad actors at that. Unfortunately, in these works there are vocal demands being made on you as you are confronted; “do you want to be me”, “say something”, “tell us what you think”, as if there is a real “us” on the receiving end. The “interaction” is a technical illusion and, indeed, a false promise. The brilliance of the pieces by Atom Egoyan and David Rosetzky, in contrast to these others, is that no empty promises are being made for the sake of trickery with the justification of "investigations of the self" that you are expected to embark upon at the demands of a machine; they present people speaking of intimate occurrences without the need to involve you other than on a level of affective response, which is where the real work of art occurs -- in the space between the subject of the work, and the viewer as subject.

Atom Egoyan’s Hors d’usage: Le recit de Marie-France Marcil presents us with monitors, headphones, and a seat to have us bear witness to this woman’s story of her mother’s old reel-to-reel tape machine, which sits before her on a table as she speaks, and is seen on the second monitor being handled with care by disembodied hands. Her story is inspired by the machine itself but soon turns into an emotional and revelatory remembrance of her relationship with her mother, of the way she would handle this machine and receive pleasure from it that she was incapable of attaining from her own children. Through this story the machine -- the technology -- acts as a mediating device between this woman who lacks and her mother who she still, after all these years, wants to know, and can seemingly only really see through this machine and her mother’s relationship with it. The descriptions turn into insights as she freely remembers out loud for us, the distant viewer who feels for her as she tears up, as she speaks of this machine as “an open door to the world” for her mother, as the re-presentation of her story through this medium affords us “a window” into her own world… her personhood.

Much in the same way that affect is evoked through personal stories, David Rosetzky’s Custom Made resembles the confessional with a wooden bench in a cubby facing a large projection of another cubby-bench. Single figures -- a wide range of types of people -- sit across from us, one at a time, softly fading in and out of the visual, each one waiting patiently for the other to finish before they begin. They look at us and speak of someone close to them: a boyfriend, a playmate, a friend, someone who hurt them or who they can’t imagine life without. These short stories are told to us with point-blank earnestness with soft hands-in-lap sacredness, each one short yet full of the complexities of human relationships and the way they provide us with what it is we truly revere. The way that these people, these hauntings, fade in and out of place before us, accompanied by an easy-listening rhythmic interlude, illustrates the fleeting relations they relate to us and the melancholy nature of their retellings.

These uses of technology are worlds apart from the callings for machines to somehow create a connection where, in the absence of what makes people human, only bifurcation and nihilism of the spirit exist. The call for interaction can use what technology has to offer but, without a space between a giver and receiver, we are left cold and forever apart; it is not technology itself that fails us, rather it is each other.