Metahub – Nuit Blanche, Amiens 2011

Digital Arts: Flash in the pan, light at the end of the tunnel or oncoming train wreck. 

Amiens, France 15th October 

This year saw a conjunction between digital artists in the UK and France collaborate on a transchannel project featuring a wide array of art at the White Night festival held in Amiens. Boarding a Brighton bus, expectations for the event were high given the level of renown of the artists involved. Reading over the program, excitement was fuelled by the prospect of interactive art that would challenge our ideas on what was technically possible: the grail being new platforms for creativity.

At the heart of the festival was the Metahub: an experiment in interactivity that gave equal footing to location, technicians, artists and audience as each played a central part in the light sculpture erected as a beacon in the heart of the city. Consisting of an elevated ziggurat of white cubes, four surface mapping-enabled projectors displayed a mix of images across the illuminated faces. The content itself was sourced from video recordings made by people walking through Amiens, as well as a live online stream mixed by a variety of VJs including the Brighton based BigFug.

The danger inherent in crowd-sourced art is that, while it appeals to the inclusive remit of funding bodies, without an overriding vision or statement the artistic integrity of the piece is compromised. Arguably, without an artistic statement an object isn’t art and examining the vision of the Metahub one is drawn into a larger statement of meaning that is at once confusing and engaging. That the VJs drew the varieties of visions into coherence is laudable and many engaged viewers were held transfixed as narrative visual themes emerged from static, effectively remixing the city, both geographically and symbolically.

The other exhibitions at various sites throughout the city exhibited a variety of digital plays, but none had the strength of the Metahub’s presentation. It became clear that the possibilities of technology sometimes exceed the ability of artists to make a clear statement despite their playful intent. 

The most coherent piece on offer was an installation by Sylvain Barberot whose static figures were rendered naked, dripping and alive by the use of strobe. A pleasant conceit where the eye, tricked by frame rate, gave the sculptures life, a reversal on the usual use of stobe which makes figures in motion statuesque. So instead of witnessing a second for a minute we seemed to witness a minute for a second. What this says about the naked old man, the sculpted subject, or us, is open for question. 

Could it be that given the frightening oppression of the strobe we are looking at conversations with time, placed in circle striding towards the light, ‘water’ dripping from faces and appendages, we were encouraged to walk amongst the figures? If the figures were different, if they faced in different directions, if we weren’t distracted by attractive French girls tittering at penises the effect might have been different, a narrative more declarative. As it was, the viewer, perhaps cynically, is drawn to the idea that the placement of the circling clones were for decorative rather than meaningful purposes. A randomised placement or realistic presentation may have made the participants indistinguishable from the pieces, the uncanny valley would have been deeper, and the installation more disquieting. However, apparently we are not here the replace reality but comment on it.

Thinking harder, it’s impossible to know for sure whether all the figures were exactly the same (at least during the structured experience presented). Perhaps there were minor variations, perhaps that was the point. Statements about snap judgements and our snow flake nature seem more trite than any other alternatives, so perhaps we should let it pass. Contemporary Art at its most interesting rarely presents a coherent answer so much as a coherent question. The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu would argue that artistic merit is based on contradistinction so in some sense we can place the questions raised by Barberot’s work in the win column.

All in all the white night festival was a success. International visitors won over by the town’s natural beauty were happily engaged by the array of the fine and the fun. The Brighton Event starting on the 29th promises much, but how much more remains to be seen. 

Attend the White Night in Brighton, Hove 29th October, 2011. 

http://www.themetahub.com/

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