New Forms Festival 2012

Anyone remotely interested in Vancouver’s arts and culture scene has noticed how jam-packed this September, what with dozens of exhibitions, festivals and several hundred concerts going on. It’s easy to miss out on some great stuff with so much going on.

This year’s New Forms Festival is one of this month’s gems that cannot be missed. “New Forms Media Society is a non-profit society and media arts organization founded in 2000 that nurtures and connects local and international arts, science and grassroots communities through the annual New Forms Festival (NFF). By promoting Canadian Artists in collaboration with the international arts and technology world, the NFF facilitates multimodal art works and engages in discussion on their role in our cultural environment. Since its inception, an integral element of the NFF is the recognition of independent and ground-breaking artists; the NFF aims to showcase and increase awareness of these artists and their work within our community and beyond by promoting them within a larger milieu.”

I made my way to the Centre for Digital Media on Thursday night to get a glimpse at what the festival was all about. I was kindly redirected to the back of the building after trying to enter by the front, and as I walked, thought about what a great place this would be to “whack” a “snitch” – dark, secluded, low-traffic industrial area. Note to gangster self.

I entered the building and got my pass and, after presenting my ID, was informed by the woman in charge  that, “Oh, that’s not necessary. We trust you. And if you’re not who you say you are, we’ll figure it out. Then you’re dead. There are cameras everywhere. Even at your house. Watching you. Always.” She flashed a playful “Am I joking?” smile as she tied my wristband and sent me on my way. The offbeat-ness of the evening had begun and I wasn’t even inside yet.

I passed through a tall, large dark room with active visuals covering the walls, then onto a narrow white corridor draped in light, wispy material on which was projected colourful shapes and designs as peaceful music played. Once you’re past this part, you’re in the lobby bar area among the New Forms crowd, which on Thursday night was comprised of staff finally able to enjoy the fruits of the labour, artists discussing their work with attendees and other artists, and a wide, un-generalizable crowd of art and technology aficionados and avid seekers of cool stuff.

Here’s a sneak-peek at some of the cool stuff this year. Click on the artist’s name for more info about their work.

Dan Royer, a video game industry veteran, was very receptive to questions about his installation, the Drawbot, which is essentially (I’ll try not to butcher this…) a robot that can draw any image without breaking its line, thanks to a program that can convert any image input into it and, based on Pythagorean law, figure out the easiest way to get from point A (the beginning of the line) and point B (the end of the line). Along the way, Drawbot draws whatever the image is; in this case, a cat… awww.

Leó Stefánsson’s installation seemed rather plain until you read up on it a bit. Inside his room were posted brainwave printouts and an analog television. Stefánsson had projected his thoughts of various objects (e.g., an accordion, a hat, glass) to the television from a remote location and recorded the results. The New Forms Guide notes how “Leó deals with the translation of consciousness into physical matter”. Out there.

One of the most interactive areas was Asuman Gencol’s light-sensitive encoded Braille projection piece. “What?” Exactly. You walk in and see these orange dots projected onto the floor. People’s natural curiosity prompts them to touch the orange dots, at which point the dot becomes hollow for a period of time. Many people have the compulsion to push more of the dots, again and again. Let’s get all the dots, everybody together! Some of us homo sapiens are quite easily amused (I gladly include myself in this group). A young guy mentioned how he felt like a cat, chasing these dots, as if playing an abstract game of Twister. There’s much more to this exhibit than I’ve outlined here. You need to see and [other sense] this thing to fully experience it. Very cool.

One last thing, and then go see it all for yourself. Don’t miss AUDiNT’s Dead Record Office. It may look like a private video booth draped in a black sheet from the outside, but don’t let that fool you – there’s another world in there. A deep, dark world. The NFF12 theme is ‘Living Labs’ and this hits the nail right on the head. Bring a flashlight and learn about the many different ways sound has been and is being used to effect change in human behaviour. Some of it is truly terrifying. From David Koresh, to the Nazis, to warrior monks, to Gaspar Noé, to the secret military, to the First Earth Battalion, there is some information in this room that may very well change the way you see and hear the world.

NFF12 is happening all weekend at the Centre for Digital Media (577 Great Northern Way), the Waldorf Hotel (1489 East Hastings St.) and New Brighton Special (at New Brighton Park). Note that there’s a lot more than audio-visual installations too; there’s tons of music happening too. Check the schedule and go blow your brain wide open.