David Rokeby is one of the most important media arts figures in Canada. In 2004, his works were shown at the 26th Biennale of Sao Paulo (Brazil); in 2002 he received a Governor Generals Award in Visual and Media Arts. His more than 20 year career has allowed him to create numerous works that explore two different areas. The first examines visual perception and time through footage from surveillance cameras. His work Seen (2002) is an example of this exploration. The work, created as part of the project Next Memory City, Toronto: Venice, was also a collaborative effort between Rokeby, pianist Eve Egoyan and architect Michael Awad. Seen debuted at the 8th International Architectural Exhibition at the Venice Biennale. In four separate video projections, Seen provides a view of the Piazza San Marco in Venice. The first and fourth projections separate that which is still (the architecture and kiosks of the piazza) from that which is moving (the people milling about and the San Marco pigeons). The two centre projections offer another perspective of the patterns of flow through the piazza. The blue projection takes the moving images of the first projection and feeds it back on itself with a half-second delay; this allows for the tracing of each movement. The third screen tracks the recent trajectories of each moving thing, with the traces, like memories, disappearing over time. The work also displays the passage of time in the image, its formation and its distortion. In this way, the work reflects another of Rokebys works, Machine for Taking Time (Boul. St-Laurent) (2006-2007), which can be seen at the Ex-Centris Complex in Montreal and was commissioned for the foundations tenth anniversary. Two surveillance cameras positioned on the Ex-Centris roof have captured images of the area surrounding the Foundation and stored the images on a computer disc. The artists software edits the shots and merges the images seamlessly together but in a random time sequence: in the space of a few seconds, we pass from spring to autumn or from summer to the end of winter. People and cars appear and disappear as do the leaves in the trees; the light changes in an unsettling manner. As the title suggests, Machine for Taking Time is not only a machine to record time but also a dream machine. Here, the present does not tick away with the seconds on the clock; it is instead a moment where images of the past are fused into a reconstructed memory: from the deconstruction of time is built a present, where expectation is enriched with reverie.
The other aspect of Rokebys work involves language that of both humans and machines and how these languages present (and represent) the world. In this exhibition, The Giver of Names (1991-) and n-cha(n)t (2001) illustrate this focus of the artist. These works produce equations where the computer system and its peripherals create a singularly poetic experience one in which the logic and formal systems in a computer interact with human uncertainty and the human capacity for ambiguity in expressive, connotative, and poetic language.
The Giver of Names exhibits the complex processes involved in formatting the worlds objects into human and computer linguistic systems. The work is comprised of an intelligent interface that translates into words on a screen the characteristics of physical objects that the visitor chooses to place before a camera. A computer analyses the visual data collected and links to a preexisting network of semantic parameters stored in a relational database. Finally, a sentence is displayed on a screen that reflects this association process. And while the sentences may initially relate to the objects in question, the language soon becomes detached from this observed reality. The work is based on techniques similar to those used in artificial intelligence, but one of the limits of artificial intelligence lies in human language, which is more connotative than denotative and thus carrying values and sentiments that are difficult for a computer system to model. The computer lacks the potential for experience incarnate in humans beyond all logic, the experience of a body able to sense feelings and desires and largely motivated by the search for pleasure. As Rokeby writes on his Web page about The Giver of Names: a computer has not burned its hand, scraped its knee, been hungry, angry, fallen in love, wanted something it couldnt have. (1)
n-cha(n)t, created as part of a 2001 residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts and winner of the Golden Nica Award for Interactive Art in 2002 at Ars Electronica (Linz, Austria), is in part based on the computer systems used in the previous work described. n-cha(n)t consists of seven computer monitors, linked in a network and suspended at head height, each with its own speaker and unidirectional microphone. The computers have the linguistic capabilities of The Giver of Names, a lexicographical base, word associations and sentence structure rules. However, in n-cha(n)t, the computers are programmed to seek unison with one another, meaning that each computer synchronises itself with its neighbours in order to chant the same words. The visitor is invited to say a few words into the microphone when the screen displays a hand cupping an ear, as if the computer is ready to listen. When the visitor speaks into the computers ear, the system is distracted and the unison interrupted. With some justification, it has been said of this work that it aims to act as a political metaphor on the clash of individualities within the community, the dialectics of the foreigner and the community, and the visitor who disrupts the unison of the community. (2)
This artist of human intelligence uses his machines to take an irreverent look at us all, and in doing so he underscores the differences and associations that exist with intelligent machines.
J.G. © FDL 2007
Computer, 2 projectors, digital source footage, software created
by the artist
Collection of the artist
The Giver of Names (1991-)
Video camera, computer, software created by the artist, amplifier
and speakers, objects
Collection of the artist
7 computers, 7 monitors, 7 noise-cancelling microphones, 7 sets of
multimedia speakers, software created by the artist, and commercial
voice recognition software
Collection of the artist
David Rokeby studied experimental art at the Ontario College of Art from 1979 to 1984 and has been creating interactive installations since 1982. He has participated in numerous events, including Ars Electronica (Linz, Austria, in 2002, 1997 and 1991), the Florence Biennale (Italy, 1996), the International Architectural Exhibition at the Venice Biennale (Italy, 2002), the Gwangju Biennale (South Korea, 1995), and the Algorithmische Revolution exhibition at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe (Germany, 2004). Also in 2004, he represented Canada at the 26th Biennale of Sao Paulo (Brazil). During the same year, he won the World Technology Award for the Arts in San Francisco (CA). Recently, two retrospective exhibitions were held on his work, one at the Oakville Galleries (Oakville, Ontario, 2004) and the other at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) in Liverpool (UK, 2007). Among the numerous prizes he has won are the first Petro-Canada Award for Media Arts from the Canada Council for the Arts in 1988 and the Ars Electronica Award of Distinction for Interactive Art in 1991 and 2002. In 2002, he was a recipient of a Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts.Links: