The 2017 edition of Sight + Sound put ‘capital I’ innovation in its cross-hairs and dispassionately pulled the trigger. This year, Montreal’s artist run centre Eastern Bloc welcomed guest curators Disnovation.org (a working group initiated by Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska) to program their eccentric, eclectic, and experimental festival to quite positive results. Organized around a central theme of ‘non-compliant futures’ (which doubles as the exhibition name) the work of more than thirty artists was assembled to “reveal, perturb, and pervert the cult of innovation” and pervert they did. Sight + Sound has been on CAN’s radar for years and we were truly excited to finally check out Eastern Bloc’s annual festival; while we were not able to stick around for the symposium and workshops we carefully combed through the flagship exhibition that spilled across the Never Apart Centre and Eastern Bloc during its opening at the end of September.
On entering the main exhibition space at Never Apart the viewer is immediately confronted with various technological artifacts (phones, hard drives, cassettes, CDs, etc.) that are cast in epoxy and, beyond that, an array of crude machines built out of branches and foliage – this juxtaposition sets the tone for what follows. Created by Canadian artist Audrey Samson, Goodnight Sweetheat ‘embalms’ the technological everyday, reducing slightly obsolete gadgets to solemn mini-monuments. Dead tech is chased by simulated tech in Austrian artist Peter Moosgaard’s Supercargo, which construct a crude plane and automobile out of bundled branches. The project emulates the techno worship of cargo cults, when a remote tribe or people that encounters more advanced technologically advanced society mimic the appearance of those forms or rituals, despite their inability to engineer correspondingly functional tools. While lacking in subtly and decidedly sculptural, the aura of worship these objects convey disarms the viewer by underscoring their participation in a particular technological epoch. Or perhaps they naively re-present marvels that are so enmeshed in everyday life that we no longer see them. In the background, exonemo’s Fireplace flickers; HD video of a fire kindled by optical mouses and keyboards is the perfect hearth for the contemplation of non-compliant futures, obviously.
Elsewhere, American artist Ernesto Oroza’s handsome zine Technological Disobedience (tactical interior design) is tiled, presenting the commendable ingenuity of Cubans as pedagogical wallpaper. Existing in what might be (ethnocentrically) described as an alternate timeline, residents of the heavily sanctioned country are virtuoso object hackers who need to keep ancient consumer technologies running for years beyond the forced obsolescence regime most of the world adheres to. The artist collective Dardex’s Refonte presents another take on refuse: it weaponizes it; the artist collective have fashioned knives and spearheads from melted down e-waste. The intended purpose of these didactic totems is not stated but perhaps they could be used to shank egregious polluters (i.e. you and I).
Technological Disobedience’s presentation underscores one of the most commendable qualities of “NON-COMPLIANT FUTURES” – the thoughtful staging of more research-oriented projects as installations (or even ‘stations’). There are numerous other examples: Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke’s The 3D Additivist Cookbook (and manifesto) beams their video essay above an ever-operating 3D printer (presumably turning out a steady stream of crapjects) and their compendium; Autonomous Trap 001, James Bridle’s glyphic demarcations to trap a driverless car transform a small room into a quasi-ritualistic space; and, notably, Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon’s documentary World Brain about the internet is ‘broken up’ into separate chunks and presented across multiple viewing stations in pseudo woodland environs (with the books that inspired the documentary scattered about for browsing).
This brief review only mentions about a third of the artists that participated in “NON-COMPLIANT FUTURES.” That is partly due to a desire for brevity, but also because of the sheer volume of practices and perspectives the show presented. If Disnovation.org’s goal was to induce a cognitive overload they succeeded, and the weird playful, posthuman, future primitive, and pluralistic currents that run through the show surge with energy and possibility. During the opening Aliens in Green presented Xenopolitics#1 : Petro-Bodies And Geopolitics Of Hormones, that exposed the tangible presence of the petro-chemical, agricultural, and pharmaceutical industries in our physiology (which notably sought out and received volunteer urine contributions for communal filtering – quite the party activity); at pretty much the same time Thomas Bégin’s slightly menacing Robotic Trolley (a robot arm shopping cart: a truly heavy-handed allegory of post-Amazon consumerism) was parked amongst the packed opening crowd. There was a lot going on.
“NON-COMPLIANT FUTURES” bombastically situated itself by offering “a host of artistic alternatives, not necessarily likely outcomes but far more enticing ones” to counter prevailing capitalist ideology and technological paradigms – and it succeeded. Many works were didactic, some naive, others used humour or pseudo-ritual to evoke and (at times) embody alternative ways of being. While much electronic and media art and speculative design hermetically packages ornate aesthetics, Disnovation.org’s smartly curated exhibition simply held a (funhouse) mirror up to our present technological moment and flashed a spectrum of ugly, oblique, and alternative glimmers.