March 9 → July 9
In many ways, conventional advanced technology reinforces the separation between mind and body, between the material and the immaterial—a reality that these artists resist in their work through their experimental approach to technology.
Unholy Ghost by Mara Eagle, addresses the material and immaterial dimensions of the cycle of life and death. The video piece presents the figure of a pregnant woman in an exposed CGI environment partaking in a virtual reality (VR) experience that allows her to wander through a cemetery. Unholy Ghost contains a material anchor with an installation of four 3D printed ceramic cherub sculptures.
These sculptures make the link between our physical world and the one experienced by the figure in the video, who wears a VR headset. The sense of physicality is heightened by the low camera angle, and the slow way in which she navigates the environment, caressing the grass, flowers, and headstones. The natural ambient soundscape also contributes to grounding the experience in the outdoor environment of the cemetery.
Through the mediation of video and VR, amplified and distorted sounds are inserted in addition to slippages and glitches in the image, creating an atmosphere of eerie disquiet as we experience the spiritual and physical manifestations of a cemetery. The sound of the pregnant woman’s heartbeat, and the cherub sculptures bathed in red light, contribute to the unsettling atmosphere.
Paired with Unholy Ghost is an installation in two parts by Shanie Tomassini, titled Lueurs d’écrans sous un ciel sans lune (or Screen Glimmer Under a Moonless Sky). The installation contains a series of different sculptural elements that evoke the artists’ relationship to nature, and the seen and unseen. They also evoke a spiritual relationship between the artist and the elements. In the first part of the installation, there are two imposing sculptures framed by a cascade made of ball chain that strongly evoke a sense of touch. The craters we see on the surface of the sculptures are modelled after impressions left in clay by the artist’s hands that have been digitally enlarged and abstracted. Despite the artist not being present, these human traces of the labour of sculpting, which are often hidden in many works, draw attention to the origins of how these objects came to be.
To access the second space of the installation, located in the gallery’s alcove, we pass through a curtain of ball chain, a material portal signalling a space of ritual and spiritual practice. The cellular phone shaped incense sculptures, which are to be burned one by one at various points in the exhibition, evoke that which they ultimately represent in our time: objects of veneration. The vases, and the motifs that adorn them, tend towards a cohabitation of the symbolic and the physical. For example, here we see the tarot card motif of the star on the clay surface of the vase.
Embedded within this part of the installation are four natural elements of earth (clay), fire (ash), water (fountain), and air (smoke) which form the building blocks of our environments. The ephemeral qualities of nature in the work remind us that nothing is stable or fixed, but that everything is instead in constant flux. Together, both artists use technology to deepen our relationships to the material environments. In turn, this opens up possibilities to explore our affective, imaginative and spiritual lives.
In her essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” Ursula K. Le Guin proposes that the technology of the container—one thing containing another—reveals much about our humanity. Among other things, she sees the altar, or museum, as an “area that contains what is sacred.” Keeping this short text in mind, reflect on Shanie Tomassini’s work.
Following the ways both artists represent technologies that allow us to access the immaterial (e.g. the VR headset, mobile phones), what are some other technologies that allow us to explore immaterial worlds and sensations? Hint: This can include emotional, spiritual, informative, or imaginative spaces.
 « La théorie de la Fiction-Panier », Terrestres, octobre 2018. Traduction par Aurélien Gabriel Cohen de “the Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction”, extrait de Ursula K. Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places, Grove Press, 1989.
Prakash Krishnan is a researcher and cultural worker in the fields of digital media, contemporary art, archives, and accessibility. He completed a master’s degree in Media Studies at Concordia University in 2021 and has penned a number of essays, articles, and reviews for international publications. Prakash is an educator at the PHI Foundation and works with various local organizations, artist-run centres, and collectives on cultural mediation programming and accessibility.
Marie-Hélène Lemaire is Head of Education at the PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art. She has over twenty years of experience as a museum educator for contemporary art in various galleries and museums, such as the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery. She holds an M.A. in Museum Studies at UQÀM (Université du Québec à Montréal), as well as a Ph.D. in Communications Studies at Concordia University that focuses on developing a movement-based pedagogy for guided group visits in contemporary art exhibitions. Using a feminist pedagogy of embodiment, new materialist and poetic inquiry approaches, she aims to privilege and validate sensorial, sensuous and affective engagements with contemporary art. She has published in The Journal of Museum Education (2021), the Canadian Review of Art Education (2021), and Muséologies (2018). She also nurtures a poetic writing practice for developing, facilitating, and interpreting curricula for guided visits, as well as to express her own personal aesthetic engagements. She is committed to epistemic justice in the arts.
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