[ISEA2015] Curators Statement: Caroline Langill & Lizzie Muller – LIVELY OBJECTS: ENCHANTMENT and DISRUPTION

Curators Statement

Lively Objects is dedicated to the memory of Wendy Coburn, whose work was influential in the exhibition’s conceptualisation and who passed away during its development.

Lively Objects explores the seduction of things that seem to possess, or to be possessed by life. It brings together a collection of objects that vibrate with vitality through mechanical, magical or mythical forces. The exhibition addresses the idea of enchantment in a contemporary context and asks why and how, in an age of rationality, we are attracted by the animistic and atavistic experience of things “coming to life”. Spread throughout the eclectic permanent  collection of the Museum of Vancouver Lively Objects infiltrates dioramas, display cases and didactic panels. The works in this exhibition take many forms – gloves, tables, puppets, figurines, machines, houses and boxes. Seeding quiet disruption amongst the traditional museum display, the objects nestle, lurk, provoke, vibrate, dance, move and speak. Like a game of hide and seek, visitors can hunt through the museum to find the objects, or drift through and take their chances. Some objects are hiding in plain sight, speaking only to those who really stop to listen. Others are deliberately pulling focus and making a ruckus. Lively Objects engages with theories of distributed agency and new notions of objecthood in digital culture. It asks how this extremely modern phenomenon revives ancient aspects of the human-nonhuman  relationship. In particular it highlights the resonances between technological objects, imbued with artificial life, and natural, supernatural or magical things. Enchantment, that “strange combination of delight and disturbance” 1), offers a means to re-think and to re-feel the liveliness of objects.

As Jane Bennett emphasizes, enchantment connects objects and people bi-directionally: Objects are enchanted and we are enchanted with them.  Anthropologist Alfred Gell conceived of artworks as re-enchanted technologies 2) both tools for thinking through, and agents participating fully in social practice. Objects in museums often seem lulled by predictable taxonomies and display strategies. Held apart from the flow of exchange, interaction and decomposition, they become caught in suspended animation. The artworks secreted throughout the Museum of Vancouver gently disturb this soporific stasis, wake up their neighbours, and fan the flames of mutual enchantment. The growing acknowledgement of the vitality and agency of things also productively disrupts media art theory and curatorial approaches. It challenges the specialness of media arts’ claims around categories such as interactive, responsive, autonomous and generative art. Simultaneously it allows for an expanded fi eld of enquiry and exchange in which media art can escape its exhibitionary ghetto and form productive and provocative connections with an unlimited world of things. Lively objects demonstrates the curatorial possibilities of integrating new media art not only with other kinds of artworks but with all other kinds of objects. This exhibition builds on curatorial research in new media art and “post-disciplinarity” – the idea that the boundaries between traditional disciplines are not just shifting but inevitably eroding entirely.  Contemporary changes in knowledge formations demand new ways to combine, organize and experience things. The divisions that have separated the aesthetic from the useful and the magic from the mundane are wavering. Lively Objects asks what role enchantment may play in rethinking our mutual co-evolution with technology, and how we negotiate a world where machinic encounters are inevitable.

1) Bennet, Jane. Vibrant Matter – A political Ecology of Things. Durham and London: Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2009.
Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962. 

2) Gell, Alfred.“The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology.” In J. Coote and A. Shelton, (Eds), Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics. pp. 40–66. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992.

Haraway, Donna. When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
Marchessault, Janine. Mirror Machine: Video and Identity. Toronto: YYZ Books, 2006.

Shirky, Clay. “Half the World.” <http://shirky.com/ writings/half_the_world.html> . June 30, 2002. Accessed on May 27, 2015.
Turkle, Sherry. Evocative Objects: Things We Think With. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2011.

This exhibition is supported by OCAD University, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Canada Research Chair Program, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, The Ontario Arts Council, Intel, Telus, Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, Museum of Vancouver and the Vancouver Art Gallery.  The following provided production support for Judith Doyle’s work: Ian Murray, Robin
Len, Chao Feng, Nick Beirne, Naoto Hieda, John McCorriston, James Rollo, Fabiolo Hernandez Cancino, Cody Berry.                                                                                                    Production support for Germaine Koh derived from CNC machining by Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Alan Waldron / Infinite FX, Hamza Vora, and Gordon Hicks.
Members of the Social Body Lab who supported Kate Hartman’s work are as follows: Jackson McConnell, Hillary Predko, Boris Kourtoukov, Izzie Colpitts-Campbell, Alexis Knipping, and Rickee Charbonneau.                                                                                              The curators are indebted to the following OCAD University students who conducted preliminary research for this exhibition through their exhibition Influenced Machines: Robin Goldberg, Matthew Kyba, Kate Murfin, Tak Pham, Treva Pullen & Renée Stephens.

  • Caroline Seck Langill, Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the School of Interdisciplinary  Studies at OCAD University (Toronto, Canada), is a Peterborough based writer and artist who curates, researches and theorizes new media art in an attempt to rectify art historical exclusions of art engaged with technology. Her website Shifting Polarities for the Daniel Langlois Foundation tracks the history of electronic media in Canada. Recent publications  include The Menace of Things for the Cronenberg Virtual Museum and The Living Effect for Relive, MIT Press. She is co-investigator with Dr. Lizzie Muller on two SSHRC projects to examine the implications of exhibition for lively objects.
  • Lizzie Muller is a curator and researcher specializing in interdisciplinary collaboration, interaction and audience experience. Previous curatorial projects include Awfully Wonderful: Science Fiction in Contemporary Art (with Bec Dean, Sydney, 2011); The Art of Participatory Design (with Lian Loke, Sydney 2010) and Mirror States (with Kathy Cleland, Sydney and Auckland, 2008). Recent publications include The Return of the Wonderful: Monanisms and the undisciplined objects of media art in Studies in Material Thinking. Lizzie is co-investigator with Caroline Langill on two SSHRC funded research projects on post-disciplinarity and media art exhibition. She is Director of the Masters in Curating and Cultural Leadership at UNSW Faculty of Art and Design, Australia.