Art interfacing with the world

The Ideas section of our website brings together conversations and presentations about art and its place in the world. We explore how art and the work of artists intersects with some of the most interesting and challenging transformations in society. We see the term art as a big tent that captures a wide range of practices. 

The ideas here are driven by a desire to welcome more people into the tent so we can move beyond gatekeeping and explore how different practices contribute to making the world a better place. 

It’s a simple idea that creates fascinating conversations!

In conversation with Cheryl L'Hirondelle (who was in conversation with eels)

Cheryl L’Hirondelle joins us in the Artengine Studio to talk about her conversations with eels and a broader understanding of communicating with the world. After an excellent artist talk on the development her work Nipawiwin Akikodjiwan: Pimizi ohci (which you can check out here), Artengine’s Artistic Director, Ryan Stec, chatted with Cheryl about the works relationship to politics and the Climate Crisis, language and the land and the eels desire for her project.


Expand the scope of your curiosity with Jerrold McGrath, founder of UKAI Projects. In this conversation, Jerry shares the inspiration behind UKAI Projects and his desire to design for useful people–no…
Sound is inherently tied to space, it traverses. Once you start considering the possibility of a spaceless sound, you are delving into a realm of abstraction. Two types of re-encodings of sound that might be considered aspatial are the conversion of “vibrations moving through the air” to a digital signal and our memory of sonic events.
What does it mean to speak of “aural culture?”  What does listening offer, as a tool or technique for understanding our world, that visual perception cannot?  The sounds that fill our lives are dense with information about the interwoven cultures to which we belong, and approaches to their investigation can take similarly varied routes.  For Linda-Ruth Salter, language is a primary element of culture.  Expressed aloud it is a richly coded meaning system, but it can also speak volumes when forced into silence. 
Western thought has long assumed a special relationship between vision and knowledge: Seeing is believing.  But what about the traffic between sonic experience and ideas?  How do inherited beliefs about sound, its effects, and its meanings inflect our sonic encounters?  And what about sound’s role in shaping the way we understand our world?  Sunday’s first panel brought together artists and scholars whose work takes up sound-knowledge questions in various ways, exploring intersections of thought, perception, and technology (no less than science, philosophy, and politics) in acoustic space. 
Answers to the question can take many forms, from the technical through to the poetic and the phenomenological. Terms like sound and space are seemingly quite simple, in their everyday usage, yet when we begin to look past their conventional definitions, things start to get complicated. We find it difficult to talk about one without the other, and questions arise as to the workings of, and potentials in, that relationship.
Cheryl L’Hirondelle joins us in the Artengine Studio to talk about her conversations with eels and a broader understanding of communicating with the world. After an excellent artist talk on the development her work Nipawiwin Akikodjiwan: Pimizi ohci (which you can check out here), Artengine’s Artistic Director, Ryan Stec, chatted with Cheryl about the works relationship to politics and the Climate Crisis, language and the land and the eels desire for her project.
Cheryl L’Hirondelle presents the process and ideas behind her new work Nipawiwin Akikodjiwan: Pimizi ohci, shown for the first time as part of our Entanglements exhibition. The work is a immersive AV installation about (and with) the eels and their challenges in the context of our local hydroelectric dam on the Ottawa River. L’Hirondelle discusses how her relationship with the falls evolved as she discovered the existence of eel ladders designed to help the endangered animals on their journey through the river.
Expand the scope of your curiosity with Jerrold McGrath, founder of UKAI Projects. In this conversation, Jerry shares the inspiration behind UKAI Projects and his desire to design for useful people–not useful objects. Throughout the conversation, Jerry challenges viewers to question the assumptions society is built upon, reconsider the impact of metaphor, and embrace death and decay.
What is software without hardware? Join us as DEL participant, artist and National Director of the Independent Media Arts Alliance Emmanuel Madan shares his vision for the viability of the Arts ecosystem and what role a union, Artwork_Local404, could play within that system. In this conversation, we discuss the importance of language, authorship, and time when it comes to the development of meaningful work (tools, platforms, initiatives and art).
Famous New Media Artist Jeremy Bailey helped shape the structure of the Digital Economies Lab and here we discuss their vision for artistic prosperity in the 21st century. We chat about artists’ complicated relationship to capital and how we are in an exciting moment of transformation. Join us, as we delve into questions of value, the pace of production, and our perception of reality, augmented or not.
From NFTs to governance structures, blockchain technology may be a glimpse into the future. At least that is what Jesse McKee and the team at 221A are exploring. In this conversation McKee shares a bit about the history of artist-run centres in Canada, the limitless potential for blockchain to change how society is ordered, and the rise of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). Listen closely to discover the literary Easter eggs Jesse drops that are framing research at 221A.
Dames Making Games (DMG) founder Izzie Colpitts-Campbell speaks with us about her art and design practice and how her role as a community organizer influenced her contributions to the DEL. In this conversation we discuss her new DMG project Damage Labs, similarities between game design and community organizing, and how artist solidarity can be provoked digitally.
Artengine’s Artistic Director Ryan Stec in conversation with Digital Economies Lab (DEL) participant, strategist, designer, artist and independent creative director, Julie Gendron, where they discuss Gendron’s work on the Offer Need Machine (ONM). Within this discussion Gendron addresses quantifying value by breaking down the mechanics of trust, recreating the ephemerality of chance interaction, and rating and evaluating with care.
Join us as Macy Siu gives us the lowdown on another development from the Digital Economies Lab – the Offer/Need Machine. In an era where the gig economy has monetized every informal network from ride sharing to pet sitting, the Offer/Need Machine proposes a network of decentralized reciprocity. Pay close attention to when Siu explains the need for an anti-capitalist model and more-than-human design.
In this conversation Tim Maughan chats with us about digital infrastructure, the role of organized labour in the creative landscape, and the DEL project Artwork_Local404. Join us, as we discuss technology and capitalism, the benefits of organizing, and what form collective action might take. Maughan also talks about how we need to rethink many of the platforms of tools of the digital world as public infrastructure: this may change how we understand what the government could do with them.
Developed in our Digital Economies Lab, An Artist’s Almanac is Suzanne Kite’s dive into artist solidarity through exchange and sharing. Kite discussed how she began from the DEL’s central focus on fostering artistic prosperity, and expanded toward questions about whether existing resources are going where they are needed most. Through her work on the project she builds a network of collaborators and fosters dreaming and imagining workshops as a path toward a better future.
Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT) made their way into the popular imagination and have been a lightning rod topic in the realm of culture throughout this year. As part of our Digital Economies Lab, we invited Famous New Media Artist Jeremy Bailey to help us consider this current moment and put it in a larger context of art, culture and technology. Check out the conversation as well as links and notes to help orient you or expand your considerations of this NFT moment.
Tracey Lauriault provides a dynamic introduction to the relationship between data and the city at the Future Cities Forum. This talk delves into the social and technological infrastructure and frames a new more open and democratic version of a data centered city.
An engaging panel with Kristin Anne Carlson, Davide Rokeby and Chris Salter, moderated by Nell Tenhaff which delves into different relationships artists are cultivating with machines. The panelists explore the question, if our body is essential for our perception of the world, what happens to the perception of an intelligent thing without a body or at least a distributed body? What does creative movement and expression look like when it is authored by an intelligent machine? Whether as a thing separate from us or as something we wear or even something inside us, can and/or how we co-create with an intelligent machine?
Madeline Ashby, a noted science fiction writer and futurist, delivered a thought-provoking talk at Artengine’s Future Cities Forum, focusing on the future of cities and their evolving roles in society. She began by emphasizing the importance of imagination over visual aids, setting the stage for a discussion about possibilities yet to be envisioned. Ashby introduced her work, including her novel “Company Town,” which imagines a city built around an oil rig, highlighting her unique approach to envisioning urban futures. Ashby skillfully used her platform to underscore the significance of acknowledging the historical and ongoing human connections to land, particularly the traditional, unceded territories, (…)
Ken Greenberg delves into the transformative impact of technology on urban landscapes, threading his discourse with both optimism and caution. Opening with an assertion that technology should fundamentally serve humanity, Greenberg sets the tone for a reflective and critical exploration of our technological dependencies. He raises an essential query—whether the pervasive, rapid digitalization we are embracing is unequivocally beneficial. Through a historical lens, Greenberg recounts the automobile’s ascension in urban planning and its profound but often detrimental effects on city structures and social health. He connects these historical precedents to today’s tech-dominated scenario, emphasizing the need for a balanced, critically aware approach to incorporating new technologies into urban environments. (…)
Dr. Tracey Lauriault addresses an engaging discussion on the evolving concept of smart cities at the Artengine’s Future Cities forum. Dr. Lauriault, a professor from Carleton University with affiliations to notable research initiatives such as the Programmable City Project, presents her collaborative work on defining smart cities under the Open Smart Cities Project in Canada, funded by Natural Resources Canada. This project engages a multidisciplinary team, including researchers from the University of Toronto and members from the Canadian Internet Public Policy Interest Clinic. During her presentation, Dr. Lauriault proposes a critical examination of “networked urbanism,” where cities are enhanced with technological infrastructures, big data, and the Internet of Things to manage urban life dynamically. She questions the prevailing efficiency-driven models that often overlook the socio-economic and privacy concerns inherent in the digital management of city spaces. (…)
Allison Parrish, a programmer, poet, and educator at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, discusses her latest project on computer-generated poetry. Her book, “Articulations,” explores poetic similarity using a corpus from Project Gutenberg and the CMU Pronouncing Dictionary to model phonetic resemblances. Parrish’s work involves constructing poetry by linking lines that sound alike, creating a unique phonetic cohesion. She emphasizes that her approach to poetry involves using computational tools not just to mimic human creation but to extend artistic capabilities and explore new forms of expression. Parish critiques the notion of AI replacing human creativity, arguing instead for a view of AI as an enhancement that brings new dimensions to poetic exploration. She highlights the influence of randomness and procedural generation in art, referencing historical and contemporary examples to underline that art made with computational methods still reflects the artist’s intent and personality.
Kristen Carlson, an assistant professor at Illinois State University, merges computation with embodied creative processes across choreography and media performance. Her diverse background includes movement, technical theory, theater, interaction design, and programming. She is notably published in fields like cognitive science, computing, and electronic arts. During her talk, Carlson emphasized the integration of procedural coding in reconsidering compositional processes in choreography. (…)
Sandra Alfoldy’s artist talk delves into the intricate relationship between craft, technology, tradition, and the evolving discourse surrounding the maker’s hand. With eloquence and depth, she navigates through the complexities of terminology and the shifting paradigms within professional studio practice and popular culture. Alfoldy deftly unpacks the dichotomy between the glorification of handcrafted authenticity in consumer culture and its diminished significance within professional studio settings. She critically examines the Eurocentric underpinnings of craft and design history, questioning the persistent dominance of European traditions and philosophies. (…)
Valerie Lamontagne delivered an electrifying artist talk that traversed the dynamic intersection of fashion and technology. With a whimsical twist, Lamontagne embarked on a journey through the alphabet, offering a visual compendium that encapsulated the multifaceted landscape of wearable technology. From “Art” to “Big Data,” Lamontagne’s discourse navigated through diverse realms, highlighting the fusion of artistry, innovation, and functionality within the realm of wearable tech. Drawing upon historical references such as Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet and contemporary pioneers like Anouk Wipprecht, Lamontagne illuminated the collaborative ethos driving this emergent field. (…)
Sarah Brin, an accomplished writer and curator, explores the intricate relationship between art, technology, and community. Brin highlights her experience as a public programs manager at Autodesk’s Pier 9 Workshop, emphasizing its significance as a hub for various discussed projects. She expresses a deep interest in “art that happens in the corner”—art that operates outside traditional institutions and engages underrepresented demographics. Brin shares her concerns about how, in the realm of digital fabrication and tech-integrated art, form often overshadows personal experience and context. She uses examples like biased AI in Google image searches and the initial racial recognition issues with Microsoft Kinect to illustrate how digital systems can perpetuate human biases. Moreover, she emphasizes the importance of safe spaces and community guidelines to foster inclusivity and prevent harm in diverse environments.(…)
Chris Salter is an artist, University Research Chair in New Media, Technology and the Senses, Professor of Computation Arts in the Department of Design and Computation Arts, Co-Director of the Hexagram Network for Research-Creation in Media Art, Design, Digital Culture and Technology, Director of Hexagram Concordia and Associate Director, Milieux Institute for Arts,Culture and Technology. Salter’s large scale installations, performative environments and research focuses on and challenges human perception, merging haptic, visual, acoustic and other sensory phenomena. (…)
Ben Bogart explores the concept of “machine subjectivity” within the realm of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Bogart delves into the intricate relationship between human cognitive processes and autonomous machines. They challenge the conventional view of machine learning as merely objective statistical models, proposing instead that these systems can be seen as subjective entities capable of autonomous learning and decision-making. Bogart discusses how machines, through unsupervised learning algorithms, categorize and interpret data, (…)
Suzanne Kite, an Oglala Lakota performance artist, visual artist, and composer based in Montreal, weaves an intricate narrative that bridges her indigenous heritage with contemporary technology. Educated with a BFA in Music Composition from Bard College and currently a Ph.D. candidate at Concordia University, Kite’s work explores the intersection of art, technology, and cultural identity. Her projects often incorporate immersive video and sound installations, using technology such as body interfaces made from carbon fiber to create music and visual art that respond to the movements of the human body. Kite has launched Unheard Records, an experimental electronic imprint, marking her entry into music production. (…)
David Rokeby, a vanguard of electronic, video, and installation art since the early 1980s, delivers an artist talk that delves deeply into the evolving interplay between humans, technology, and artificial intelligence. Living and teaching in Toronto at Ryerson University’s RTA School of Media, Rokeby has consistently explored themes of digital surveillance and the perception of time through his art, a concept he refers to as ‘process time.’ During his presentation, Rokeby recounts his artistic journey, starting from his work in the 1980s that researched the interaction between human bodies and machines. (…)
Jackson 2Bears, a Mohawk multimedia artist, shared insights during an artist talk after participating in a panel discussion. Currently based in Lethbridge, Alberta, where he teaches at the University of Lethbridge, Two Bears is known for blending his artistic practice with deep cultural and theoretical explorations. His talk delved into the integration of Indigenous perspectives within contemporary technology and art. (…)
Sofian Audry, an assistant professor of new media at the University of Maine, delivered a thought-provoking presentation on the intersection of art and technology. With a robust background in computer science, Sofian explored the philosophical and practical aspects of machine learning and artificial intelligence within the realm of contemporary art. They delved into how these technologies could be leveraged to question and expand our understanding of human nature and autonomy. Sofian’s work primarily focuses on subverting traditional applications of AI and computer science to uncover insights about human imperfections and societal constructs. (…)
This discussion brings together artist, scholar and Director of Creating Knowing and Sharing: The Arts and Cultures of First Nations at the Canada Council for the Arts, Steven Loft; craft historian Sandra Alfoldy; architect Tom Bessai; and fashion designer, Valerie Lamontagne, to consider the way we talk about making. Which terms do you we use to describe what is done now? Some reach back to claim connection to European traditions of craft while others search for new broadly inclusive language. What is important in staking a claim on terms and definitions? How do we facilitate constructive and inclusive conversations about making?
Joanna Berzowska explores the realm of electronic textiles, a subset of wearables. She introduces the broad spectrum of projects within this field, from electronic tattoos to biometric shirts. Berzowska advocates for exploring textiles beyond wrist-worn devices, emphasizing her efforts to integrate sensors into traditional textiles. She underscores the importance of respecting manufacturing traditions while incorporating new technologies. Challenges include overcoming a product-oriented mindset and embracing the complexity of electronic materials. Berzowska envisions leveraging existing manufacturing infrastructure and interdisciplinary collaboration to shape the future of materiality. Throughout the talk, she offers insights into the innovative potential of electronic textiles and the intersection of technology and craftsmanship.
Garnet Hertz’s talk delves into his personal relationship with his 3D printer, using it as a lens to explore broader themes of technological adoption. He discusses the initial excitement and promises of new technology, the eventual realization of its limitations and challenges, and advocates for a balanced approach that integrates both old and new tools in creative endeavors. Through anecdotes and reflections, Hertz offers a nuanced perspective on technology, emphasizing the importance of critical engagement and realistic expectations.
James Hayes delves into the intricate relationship between architecture, technology, and the concept of making. Identifying himself primarily as an architect, Hayes emphasizes the unique perspective from which he critiques and analyzes technological advancements in architecture. Throughout his talk, he explores the notion of “translation” as a fundamental aspect of architectural processes, drawing inspiration from Robin Evans’s essay on how architectural ideas transition from drawings to physical structures. Hayes elaborates on the multiple translations that occur within architectural practice—from sketches to digital models and from detailed plans to built environments. (…)
Greg Sims, a jewelry designer and digital fabrication instructor at OCAD University, shares insights into his evolution from traditional craftsmanship to embracing digital techniques. Initially skeptical of casting and mold making, he favored direct fabrication with precious metals and gemstones. However, a project involving wedding bands changed his perspective, leading him to realize that success lies in how materials are handled and presented rather than the technique alone. Sims emphasizes the transformative impact of digital design and fabrication, which offer limitless possibilities for creativity and innovation. (…)
In Tom Bessai’s engaging artist talk, he delves into the dynamic role of architects and designers amidst the advent of digital fabrication and technology. With a background in architecture and a deep involvement in technology, Bessai offers valuable insights into how these fields intersect and evolve. Throughout his talk, Bessai covers a range of topics, starting with the essence of ideal digital fabrication projects, emphasizing the importance of geometry, order, and meaning. He then delves into the practicalities and challenges architects face, such as technology integration, workflow optimization, and the relationship between digital design and physical fabrication. (…)