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Blurring Boundaries at Subtle Tech
Dawn Danby, 4 Jun 05

subTech_web.jpg I spent last weekend at Subtle Technologies, a great interdisciplinary conference that overcomes the tyranny of specialization and gets the art and science communities talking. Co-founder Jim Ruxton, an installation artist and lighting designer, is among those very rare artist-engineers who can see clear connections between disciplines. Consequently, Subtle Tech is punctuated with local art openings and house parties, and guarantees excellent conversations: during breaks in the sun one table was caught up in discussion about the multiverse, while another talked about incorporating pollution- and mine-detecting organisms into artworks.

Though the academic scientists can be tougher to recruit, this year there were a wealth of amazing physicists, along with a mathematician talking about the complex patterns found in the Alhambra, and a theoretical physicist who used Waiting for Godot as a way of comprehending different interpretations of quantum mechanics.

Some highlights...

  • Juan Geuer, a Dutch-Canadian artist born in 1917, spent years working with geophysicists, devising physical models in the sixties to help prove the theory of continental drift. Since so much of his work predates advanced computer models, his sculptures are like machines that allow us to see and experience invisible phenomena, such as seismic activity, or the impurities and volume of a drop of water. The Loom Drum (1986-92), a machine powered by a motor and "player-piano affair", showed decades of seismological data as points of light, allowing his colleagues (earth scientists who hesitantly came to his gallery openings) to see seismic events sped up - and allowing them to watch for patterns. Juan's one of those artists who, like Natalie Jeremijenko or Noel Harding, engage with scientific research to make their work, often finding clever ways of solving the same problems with a tenth, or hundredth, of the budget.

  • Régine has reviewed artist Elio Caccavale's work, which imagines the integration of biotechnology and xenotransplantation into human daily life. Describing his Utility Pets project as a cautionary tale of a possible biofuture, he also talked about the ways that the work is interpreted: a conceptual device for trapping cigarette smoke (to save the lungs of your organ-donor pet pig) suddenly becomes an an attractive opportunity for parents to continue smoking, while protecting their young children.

  • Sally McKay's performance-lecture loosely covered her 'science-tourism' travel to the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO lab), two kilometres beneath Sudbury, Ontario (where it was recently proven that "neutrinos must actually have a tiny amount of mass, which may account for a portion of the missing dark matter in the universe".) Using animation, video, and a fabulous set of hand-drawn transparencies, she talked freely about neutrinos, theoretical physics, and the history of the nuclear age. Never mind that she does for the overhead projector what David Byrne did for PowerPoint.

  • Kenneth Huff makes phenomenal non-representational 3D images that pull themes from mathematics and science. Looking at natural formations, he maps prime number sequences into three-dimensional shapes; he was also artist-in-residence at GM, where he got to make insanely complex sculptures in their rapid-prototyping lab.

    Subtle Tech accepts proposals in January. The lack of wifi and open laptops was also an unusual relief, politely old-school Canadian. Note to locals: you can catch Juan Geuer's work at the Emmersive Gallery here in Toronto through June 17th.

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    Thanks for including my performance in your highlights! Very flattering. The conference was great. Other highlights for me included: Juan Geuer's quotation from Rilke (first recited in German) about the human mind (ideas, beliefs, opinions) obfuscating clarity of vision; quantum physicist Olaf Dreyer's thesis that space is not a fundamental factor in the universe; Rob Goodman's talk on his sound work with Vitruvian resonating vases was fascinating, though I thought he should've stuck to his guns more in the Q.&A. Physicists in the audience got bees in their bonnets about proving the actual existence of these pots, while Goodman's thesis was more abstract, excavating the *process* of historical investigation as a means of creating new, resonant, conceptual enviroments. Unfortunately I could not attend Sunday's presentations, because I was very curious about Donald Spector's presentation on Waiting for Godot as a an interpretation of quantum mechanics!

    Posted by: sally mckay on 10 Jun 05



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