Go Wild

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the opening fete of Digifest Goes Wild! exhibition at the Design Exchange, featuring winners of New Voices (I'll explain that in a sec) and the National Post Design Exchange Award winners.

Digifest, as I'm sure you're wondering, is a festival of design and digital culture, where innovators and creators of every stripe are brought together, celebrated, and generally brought to public attention. New Voices is one of the premiere events, a competition where new, cutting edge work in digital art and design is exhibited. This year, the theme was 'wild', to which the voices in question responded with astounding inventiveness.

Meandering around the exhibition space in the lobby of the Design Exchange, I first noticed the diversity of the crowd. I'd guess the ages to range between 7-87. Attendees and artists mingled, some in suits and some in jeans, nibbling on various hors d'oevres. Guests tried their hand with the interactive technologies on display, while the designers present chatted with their audience, answered questions, and asked a few of their own - usually about the accessibility of the technology.

Irene Chong, a smiling and energetic coordinator for Digifest, spoke glowingly of the festival and the exhibit which she says shows "how design is influenced by digital design, culture, and ideas." The festival is a "place where people can exchange new ideas (...) [without] boundaries." She particularly noticed the integrative elements in the exhibit, how most installations defy easy categorization and represent a union of creative and technological elements.

Festival director Paola Poletto emphasized the combination of artistic and commercial viability, as well as changing the concept of what it means to be an artist and "the way art production happens." Now it's "more team based work, costs a lot of money to build and install and [contains] a business model element." She compares the development of these pieces to gaming or film production, which are more collaborative and commercial than more traditional art forms.

A uniting element to all of the art on display is that it either has an obvious commercial aspect, or could easily have wider commercial applications. The innovations here represent new ways of thinking about and using current technology, with ideation led by a clearly artistic aesthetic.

One of the artists, the friendly and erudite Trevor Haldenby, project manager and designer of Painting the Myth , spoke to me about Digifest and the evolution of his project. He described the New Voices theme 'wild' as the "untamed bastard-child of form and content," an "orgiastic mess of both rather than leaning to one or the other."


His project, an inventive piece I can only describe as 'interactive art history' (and possibly the most user friendly object on display), involves using a brush to 'paint' a canvas which not only reveals a Tom Thompson painting, but also triggers an audio biography, the length of which is determined by the speed of the brush strokes.

The goal of this project, which was developed at the Canadian Film Centre, was to "find a way to present a biography such that the form and content [were] indivisible, enmeshed,(...) [and] tell the story of a painter by painting." The team, which also includes Anthony Saad (who recorded the audio), James Chaarani (who researched like mad to write the history one hears), and Gordon Culley (who built the brush - first a wireless version then a more robust wired version for the exhibit to prevent it from growing legs and walking away), met at the CFC and spent most of the programme learning each other's abilities - the project development and design took only three weeks.

The other items on exhibit are equally impressive. The Workspace Unlimited Collective built


DEVMAP - originally developed for another exhibition space where their virtual space matched the actual space. The user creates an avatar and roams the museum digitally - the virtual environment responds, and is further enriched by information gathered from the real space. Voices of actual museum patrons are heard, physical events affect virtual ones; DEVMAP is different every day, for every user.

Several of the creations are web based. Unplugged! by lab)ideeclic! and the Montreal Science Centre is an edutainment website targeted to 9-12 year olds, and includes a game which is based on saving energy. The game is graphically appealing, bright and cartoonish, but somewhat difficult to navigate, especially given the time limit.

David Ciccarelli created Interactive Voices - The Voice Over Marketplace, the title of which is fairly self explanatory - it's an online interface for voice-over services.

Robert Ouellette and Johnson Chou developed Reading Toronto, a website aimed at creating a space for online urbanism - a kind of grassroots gathering for ideas and discussion.

Also on display were some uniquely designed objects (think fans, blenders, vases) from the Design Exchange's presentation at Expo 2005, Design Today Design Tomorrow - the launch of culture.ca, and PL@TFORM, developed by the Ontario Media Development Corporation and administered by the New Media Business Alliance that unites creators of interactive media content with financiers and mentors.

Think you should check it out? Walk yourself on over to Bay Street, just South of King; the Design Exchange is number 234. The (free!) exhibit runs until July 1. Questions? Call 416-216-2160.

Can't get enough of it, or have a morbid fear of the business district? No worries, head further South to the Harbourfront Centre, at 235 Queen's Quay W, where yet more New Voices are on display (I've head wonderful things about Gennaro De Pasquale's GHOST TRACKS). This show runs until July 10 and is also (say it with me) free. Their info hotline is 416-973-4000.

So check it out, see where these innovators are taking us fast as their digital feet can run. It's amazing to see what's potential their minds have developed in interactive digital technologies and environments. It should certainly spark some lively discussion about the uses of technology and it's place in art.

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