Avonova forum examines digital impact on art
By Mike Beitz
An image of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs by Kitchener artist Jennifer Gough was a perfect backdrop for the discussion at Factory 163 Tuesday night about the intersection of art and technology. (MIKE BEITZ The Beacon Herald)
So where exactly does digital technology collide with art?
Last night, it happened at 163 King St. in Stratford.
That's where some photographers, videographers, writers, publishers, filmmakers, theatre technicians and visual artists gathered to discuss how digital media has changed the creative process, and the creative landscape.
"We wanted to have a conversation about the intersection of art and technology, what that sounds like and what that looks like," said Karen Schulman Dupuis at the start of a well-attended Avonova meeting at Factory 163.
The converted industrial space, which is now a mixed-use facility geared towards arts, culture and other creative industries, was a fitting venue for that conversation.
It served as a backdrop for a display of photographs and video, mixed-media artwork, snippets of three groundbreaking videogames, and an engaging panel discussion on how those things have evolved in the digital age.
Schulman Dupuis admitted at the start that digital media is still a "grey area" for many people, even among those who work in the field.
"We really don't know what we're talking about yet because I think we're still defining it," she said before introducing a group of area artists who outlined how digital media has impacted their work.
Photographer and podcaster Chris Luckhardt suggested that, for artists looking to tell a story, the Internet and digital technology have opened doors that were simply not there in the analogue world.
"Through digital media, I've been able to reach not just a local audience or a provincial audience, but more of a worldwide audience," he said.
Carol Mcleod, who helps create electronic books (e-books) for independent authors, agreed that digital technology creates new opportunities, but also new challenges as artists struggle to stand out in an increasingly crowded digital world.
"If an e-book falls in the forest, does anyone hear it?" she asked.
And having a book published is not enough now, noted local author Yvonne Hertzberger.
"You have to market and you have to promote," she said, adding that social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have become valuable tools in that regard.
Stratford artist Leslie Walker-Fitzpatrick pointed to the evolution of cameras as an example of the evolving relationship between art and technology.
"I use it as a tool to elucidate my vision so that other people see it more clearly," she said.
And Jason Clarke, a digital media producer at the Stratford Festival, argued that digital media is about more than just advertising and pushing a product or a brand online.
"It's really more about telling a story, engaging people and standing out," he said.
But perhaps the best example of art and digital technology converging came from Kitchener-based visual artist Jennifer Gough, who has, for one of her exhibits, actually used technology in her work. Literally.
She spent three months taking apart Apple computers, harvesting motherboards, chips, wires, and other parts, and then using them to make art.
The impact of digital technology on the arts was explored even further during the evening by a panel that included Clarke, local film producer Craig Thompson, and Avon Theatre technical director Elissa Horscroft.
They all agreed that digital technology can be, at times, a double-edged sword for people who make art.
"Technology has given us a lot of freedom of creative expression, but it has also increased the speed at which you can and are expected to do things," said Thompson.
"That's one of the challenges. The expectations have become a lot higher," added Horscroft, who talked about the curious blend of technical skills required now to bring a production to life. "The capabilities the systems have given us of what potentially you can do are so massive, that the expectations have grown immensely."
Still, new technology, and especially the increasingly powerful smartphones capable of taking high-quality photos and video, is making it easier for the average person to create something, said Clarke.
"People have the ability in the pockets to tell their story," he said, adding that the challenge is telling a story, or producing content that stands out.