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David Rokeby, Very Nervous System

David Rokeby, Very Nervous System (1986-2004), video camera, computer, custom software [Kelowna Art Gallery, Kelowna BC, Jan 4-Apr 6] Collection: Carleton University Art Gallery / Photo: Courtesy of the artist

David Rokeby: A Very Nervous System

Kelowna Art Gallery
Kelowna BC – Jan 4-Apr 6, 2014

The press release announces “An Empty Room Full of Surprises.” That it recalls what Ezra Pound once said of novelist Ford Madox Ford (“Put Ford naked in an empty room and within an hour behold total chaos”) is but one outcome of an exhibition reliant on participant-activated musical inventories. Another depends on one’s definition of chaos.

At some point during his 30-year career, the Toronto-based Rokeby emerged as a leading figure in what is now comfortably known as New Media. But if there is any discomfort in this designation – any nervousness, as it were – it might lie in an art world’s occasional uneasiness with a category which at times privileges the certainty of technological innovation over those beautiful ambiguities that can result from technology’s shortcomings.

That said, much fun is to be had in a room wired to transpose movement into sound. Indeed, for people more interested in what is seen than in what is heard, there is the visual spectacle of watching others bound into the installation armed with granny's helicopter dance, or more carefully, tai chi's “White Crane.”

Rokeby made some interesting choices in assembling his sounds, drawing not on the Western musical tradition but on a more expansive Eastern palette that resembles Indonesian gamelan (an aggregation of instruments, some with very fine tunings, designed to stay together as one). Like the integrated circuits that generate audio and visual sequences, gamelan is a system that often includes movement in the form of puppetry and dance.


Michael Turner

 Thu, Feb 6, 2014