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Organized and presented by Elektra at Arsenal Contemporary Art Montreal from December 1, 2022, until February 5, 2023, the 6th International Digital Art Biennial (BIAN) under the theme MUTATION addresses the issues of necessary societal changes after the recent events our world went through.


The word mutation is extremely evocative in the context of a global health crisis. Certainly, the pandemic has made us realize how the microscopic life can disrupt our environment dramatically. However, these mutations are also perceptible in many other spheres of our society: artificial intelligence, robotics, the entertainment industry, the environment, geopolitics, social relations, beliefs and even art. 


In this major exhibition entirely dedicated to digital art, 27 artists from four continents (Europe, Asia, Africa and America) address the subject in 26 artworks through the metamorphosis, the mobility of human beings, ideas and identities.


Copacabana Machine Sex, Bill Vorn © C.Pomerleau, GRIDSPACE

A participatory experience


Each work in the exhibition has to do with the theme MUTATION and what we are currently experiencing. The associations between the pieces are not limited to those made by the curator and their narrative aspect remains open to anyone who visits the exhibition. Everyone can draw his own interpretation, make his own connections. The architecture of Arsenal, with its large space and vast concrete and steel structure is an asset because it doesn’t impose a specific trajectory on the visitor.


After a rather singular welcome with Blowback, a work by Montreal-based artist Michel de Broin consisting of two military cannons connected by a metal tube, our attention is immediately caught by this Mercedes and this Cadillac slowly crashing into one another. Then, we are free to wander around the space as we please and experience playful interactive installations, a robotic cabaret, 3D works, the virtual museum, motorized dresses, unusual sculptures, humanoid portraits and videos. 


Reading clues scattered around the space, the visitor makes his own reading of the exhibition conceived as a musical composition with multiple interpretations. His understanding is then left to his imagination, making it a participatory experience.


Under the curatorship of Alain Thibault, BIAN 6 offers a playful and philosophical experience of the world around us. While the works are thought-provoking in many ways, entertainment and emotions are part of this compelling exhibition.


Blowback, Michel de Broin & Slow-Motion Car Crash, Jonathan Schipper © C.Pomerleau, GRIDSPACE

This association between contemporary art and the digital world is inevitable and even increasing since its development goes hand in hand with the democratization of technologies. Too few are the exhibitions that offer such mutualism between the two worlds. Sometimes the artwork displayed is a digital installation, sometimes the digital dimension of the work is not directly visible as it takes part of the creative process. 


The centerpiece of the exhibition is the monumental Slow-Motion Car Crash installation, by American artist Jonathan Schipper. This is a physical simulation of a head-on collision between two real cars at the speed of about one millimeter per hour that will go on for the two months of the exhibition. The crash is inevitable. Of course, the work refers to our relationship as humans with the car. However, it can also refer to the decline of gas-powered cars and the consequences of the use of this obsolete technology on the environment.


Twisted Dump Truck is another stunning work. This nickel-plated stainless steel laser-cut sculpture made by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye was designed with software.


Thanks to its entertaining and engaging aspect, the exhibition will please everyone, even children. In this regard, let’s mention two works that are particularly popular with the public, RÉSONANCES by Louis-Philippe Rondeau and Bilateral Time Slicer by internationally renowned Montreal-based artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. 


RÉSONANCES is a metaphor for the passing of time. Thanks to a camera integrated into the installation, this piece is entertaining for people inventing their own timeline by adding their gestures to those left by previous visitors. Many minutes of pleasure are guaranteed choreographing your body in this very original visual and sound loop.


As for the second work entitled Bilateral Time Slicer, a camera captures the image of the visitor. Using a biometric tracking system that finds the vertical axis of symmetry of the body, a live computer divides the image into two slices. With each new participant, time slots are recorded and set aside. When no one is looking at the work, the slices close and come together, creating a procession of past recordings.


RÉSONANCES, Louis-Philippe Rondeau & Slow-Motion Car Crash, Jonathan Schipper © C.Pomerleau, GRIDSPACE 

The party


The exhibition is a kind of wake-up call, according to the curator Alain Thibault.


“The party is over. You have to give a serious push to make things change in the world. BIAN 6 is a look at a multitude of aspects of our society. Some themes addressed by the artists take a reassuring look at our future while others encourage reflection on our lifestyle. Therefore, I wanted to balance the different discourses by offering works with a positive, but not naive vision of the future, and others expressing a more direct message, always with an ounce of humor or irony.”


Thus, some pieces give a lighter tone to the exhibition and its theme. This is the case of The Soft Porcelain, a very “instagrammable” work by Montreal-based artist Chun Hua Catherine Dong, representing a giant inflatable bear whose patterns and colors are reminiscent of Chinese porcelain.


The visitor can even find a double meaning of the works. This is the case of the impressive performance entitled Copacabana Machine Sex showcasing dancing robots. The show is entertaining and the music catchy, but it also leads us to reflect on our relationship to robots and automated machines: is this the future of entertainment?


The pathfinders


This ambitious exhibition also offers a reflection on the transition that we must accomplish in this post-pandemic era, disrupted both geopolitically and climatically.


By taking a closer look at our time while trying to anticipate the consequences of our past and future decisions, the artists of BIAN 6 act like pathfinders, messengers. This is certainly, beyond creating aesthetic artifacts, one of the missions of the artists whose works are shown in the exhibition.


The word mutation carries powerful social symbols illustrated by the artists participating in BIAN 6. But behind the scenes of this exhibition, there is also the question of the relationship between visual art and digital technologies, which are increasingly explored by the artists.


Jean-François Cyr

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