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‘Adjacent possible’

Live-data driven art at Emera Innovation Exchange produces visual lullaby

Part of a special feature that illuminates the synergistic relationship between individuals, communities and community organizations and Memorial, with a focus on Memorial’s supporting role to community-led work.

By Kathryn Lear

A visit to Eastern Edge Gallery in downtown St. John’s recently may have had people confused about whether or not they were in an art gallery or a computer science lab.

Over the past couple of weeks, Teresa Connors, a recent post-doctoral fellow at Memorial, a creative practitioner working in digital art and Eastern Edge’s artist-in-residence, could be seen projecting a screen full of code onto a wall while she scribbled down an equation.

In between the artist’s mathematical calculations, a visual lullaby formed from the code’s resulting colour and movement.

Ms. Connors is a featured artist of the Hold Fast Festival, Newfoundland and Labrador’s longest running contemporary arts festival.

Members of the Strategic Operations Office at Signal Hill Campus (SHC) are partnering with Ms. Connors and festival organizers to exhibit her work, titled From the Edge and present workshops in her discipline of creative code, as well as provide shuttle transportation during the art crawl potion of the event.

EIX mission

As a past resident of SHC’s graduate accommodations, Ms. Connors approached the strategic operations team there about displaying her work on the large compilation of screens that hang in SHC’s Johnson Insurance Atrium during the festival.

“I knew from the moment I moved in, that I wanted my art displayed in that space,” she said.

“The mission of the Emera Innovation Exchange (EIX) located at Signal Hill Campus, combined with what’s happening in the digital creative practice on the global scale, made me automatically think this is absolutely the place to bring this kind of work.”

From the Edge is live digital art produced through creative code or, what is known to some, as generative art.

Generative art can be described as work that stems from concentrating on the processes involved in producing a piece usually (although not strictly) automated by the use of a machine or computer, or by using mathematical or pragmatic instructions to define the rules by which such artworks are executed.

“I was trying to find how to get away from that so things could change on the fly.” — Teresa Connors

In the case of From the Edge, Ms. Connors partnered with the Marine Institute to use data driven from the SmartAtlantic St. John’s Buoy.

The buoy, an initiative of the Marine Institute and the Institute for Ocean Research Enterprise of Halifax, sits outside of St. John’s harbour and collects data sets that update every 30 minutes and indicate things such as wave direction, wind speed and air temperature.

Ms. Connors accesses the data by sending messages to a server requesting data sets from a particular day and time. The response is sent back directly into the creative coding program that she works with. She then uses it to build something visually and sonically expressive.

Teresa Connors working at Eastern Edge Gallery.
Photo: Submitted

In August, Ms. Connors finished up her research position with the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation at the School of Music at Memorial. Through this position, she expanded her work in non-linear creative systems and the use of environmental data as a co-creative apparatus.

Ms. Connors says her work expands on a practice she started a number of years ago, when she tried to get away from artworks that were fixed in time.

“Like a film for example, you write music and lay it on a film track, it’s always going to be that way. I was trying to find how to get away from that so things could change on the fly depending on what kind of variables are put into the system.”

As a result of a previous showing at Eastern Edge, Ms. Connors applied to be part of the Hold Fast Festival and was received with open arms.

Daniel Rumbolt
Photo: Submitted

“Teresa was working a lot with new media, projection and data collection, which we weren’t overly familiar with, so it was like treading unknown waters for us,” said Daniel Rumbolt, assistant director, Eastern Edge Gallery.

“It was certainly eye-opening and exciting, not only for the board and staff, but was well received by the community, also.”

Mr. Rumbolt says the festival has partnered, and is continuing to partner with Memorial’s Grenfell Campus, but is excited about the addition of SHC.

“The fact that the EIX has the proper setup for Teresa’s piece to be viewed live is a match made in heaven,” he said.

“These types of partnerships are so important to us because not only does it help us reach new audiences, but in the most basic of terms, the festival would not happen without community collaboration.”

‘Inspire and be inspired’

Jennifer Adams, interim director of strategic operations for Signal Hill Campus and Conference Services, says seeing Ms. Connors’ work at the EIX is exactly the type of project the space was developed for and hopes the public comes to view the innovative piece.

“The EIX is a dynamic hub where people come together to collaborate, to inspire and be inspired,” Ms. Adams said. “Teresa’s current and future work is the perfect example of what can happen when varying perspectives and expertise combine.”

For Ms. Connors, From the Edge has progressed and she now sees it as a long-term project involving more partners. With the help of Parks Canada, she applied for and received funding through Memorial’s Office of Public Engagement’s Accelerator Fund to purchase a hydrophone.

Ms. Connors is working with the Marine Institute to attach the hydrophone to the buoy, adding yet another changing element to the art: audio.

Glen Keough
Photo: Submitted

Glen Keough, visitor experience manager, Parks Canada, sees Ms. Connors’ work and their partnership as an asset to the visitor experience.

“Someone like Teresa helps us tap into a different expertise and helps us engage with visitors on a different level than we otherwise would be able to,” he said.

“While we’ve always dreamed of capturing ocean sounds, partnering with Teresa helps us make that a reality and simultaneously helps us expand and improve the visitor experience.”

‘Fuel curiosity’

The Marine Institute will continue to be a partner as Ms. Connors moves into the next phase of the work.

Richard Kelly, senior project engineer, Marine Institute, says at first he was confused as to why the artist was contacting him to add instrumentation to the buoy.

Richard Kelly
Photo: Submitted

“Typically our network is used to help aid in operational activities on the water,” Mr. Kelly said.

“After meeting with Teresa, her initial request made sense. Humans are curious beings, so the sounds of the ocean would be very alluring. I look forward to seeing and hearing what Teresa is able to produce with data collected from our network and how that can be used to further fuel curiosity.”

Ms. Connors says she has been collaborating in some form or other “forever” and that it is an important part of her work and life.

“I like the notion of the adjacent possible, when you bring different elements into play you have more possibilities and that’s what collaboration is to me,” she said.

“I’m not going to come up with stuff on my own without these other ingredients in the pot. You can’t do these large projects all by yourself and also, it’s just more fun working with other people.”

From the Edge can be viewed during the Hold Fast Festival art crawl on Saturday, Sept. 21, from 4-8 p.m. at the EIX or during daytime hours (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.) for the duration of the festival (Sept. 18-22).

As part of the festival, Ms. Connors will present two workshops at the EIX on Thursday, Sept. 19 and Friday, Sept. 20 from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. The workshops will be an introduction to code and creative code; registration is required. More information can be found on the Eastern Edge Gallery website.

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