Montreal’s BIAN (International Digital Art Biennial)

Digital art is still being uncared for within the contemporary art nebula. The multiplication of major events will hopefully reverse this ostracism. Thus, following other major events, Montreal’s BIAN (International Digital Art Biennial) should contribute to focus on works using digital technology tools in a unique, innovative, or critical way . The first BIAN will take place next spring, launched by the team of the Elektra festival, with the support of its Director, Alain Thibault. Here is some further information.

How did this biennial idea come to fruition and why this format, instead of organising a more recurrent (annual) event?
This project was born out of the desire to give digital art an equal status to that of contemporary art. The term "biennial" has a resonance around the art world: it instantly evokes major biennials such as Venice, Sao Paulo or Sydney. This is what we aspire to create: an event where the whole world will be invited, a biannual appointment which will recap this evolving practice.

What will be the specificity, the positioning of this biennial that will set it apart from other international events focused on digital arts such as Todaysart, Ars Electronica, STRP or CYNETART?
The BIAN will exclusively comprise exhibitions and installations. Also, in parallel, we wish to develop a sort of market feature for collectors, just as Art Basel Miami. We can see that, nowadays, more and more art collections include works from media art.

What is synergy, the links uniting this biennial, the Elektra festival and the MIAN (international digital art market)?
The three activities are complementary and each has its specific function. They offer a more complete picture of the two main components of digital art. The MIAN allowed our international community to better identify itself and get organized through formal or informal networks, through the introduction of co-diffusions and co-productions. This activity is therefore beneficial to all the participants in this field. Elektra will remain a yearly event, in early may, but it will focus on real time performance. Installations are generally more complicated to show and set up. They require more preparation, particularly with our diffusion partners, but their life expectancy is longer than a performance. Hence their prominent place in the biennial.

You are talking about a "natural territory" to designate Montreal in relation to digital arts: what makes this city more specific than others in this instance? Is it an exception in Canada or even in North America as a whole?
Montreal is indeed an exception in North America. The degree and the seriousness of its activities in the field of diffusion, research and creation in this domain is akin to what is being done in some European countries. Besides, the majority of our activities outside of Montreal (or the province of Quebec) take place in Europe, where this field (and its network) is the most developed. Québec is the Canadian province that has invested the most in culture (all enhanced, of course, by Canada and Montreal).This certainly supports the fact that there is an interesting quality of artists and diffusers here.

This biennial is clearly an international event, but there is a focus on France for this first event: who was responsible for this choice?
First, thanks to the France-Quebec cooperation fund, we have been able to produce the Quebec Numérique event for the second Nemo festival in Paris in October 2011. About twenty artists and diffusers from Quebec presented performances and installations in the halls of the Gaîté Lyrique and the CentQuatre. In addition they engaged in a market activity similar to that of MIAN, meeting French and European producers and distributors. In return, a group of French artists selected by Nemo, most of whom had benefited from Arcadi’s ACME fund, will take part in the Biennial.

The curating of this first edition is focused around the concept of "phenomena", in the etymological sense of the word: "demonstration of something wonderful", in reference to the famous quote by Clarke on science… Why was this theme chosen?
Because I think that we have already forgotten how our life is being regulated by digital technologies!...

To date, five months away from the opening, what are the curating elements you can already share with us?
For the opening of the Biennial, precisely, we will show Fragmentation, a 3D video installation by Robert Lepage, using the ReActor device developed by Jeffrey Shaw, which will be presented at the Museum of fine arts of Montreal. The new installation by Carsten Nicolai, unidisplay, will be presented for the first time in North America at the Museum of contemporary art of Montreal. Also, a monographic exhibition by Ryoji Ikeda will be shown at the DHC/Art Foundation, located in the old part of Montreal. There will also be works by Bill Vorn (DSM - VI) and Zimoun (80 prepared dc-motors…).

Beyond the first occurrence of the festival next spring, are you already foreseeing further ideas, themes, wishes, dreams and so on, for the development of the biennial?
Beyond making a recurring event (in 2014, 2016 etc), we are working on a project called CIAN (Digital Art International Centre). We are planning its opening in 2017, the year that will match the 375th anniversary of Montreal. We are currently working with the city of Montreal and one of the best architectural firms which has a special proclivity towards cultural matters. This exhibition centre will be specifically designed for digital artworks. Unlike museum rooms, ours will be ultra-flexible: white boxes, black boxes of various dimensions; and an experiential room to test and interact with extraordinary works, without sound, visual, ventilation or any other kind of constraints. This place will welcome exhibitions of international stature and artists in residence for new projects or commissions .With a team of curators; including one with the specific function to bring in what may be the future of art, the CIAN must become a hub focused on art innovation, research and experimentation. The installation axis is the one that currently provides us with the greatest number of new ideas and concepts, both on the artistic side and on the use of technologies. We are thus planning to present exhibitions and events, of various dimensions, throughout the year.

interview by Laurent Diouf

Biennale Internationale d'Art Numérique, ( International Digital Art Biennial), from April 18 to June 13, 2012 in Montreal, Quebec / Canada.

Published in the Digitalarti Mag #8.

Digitalarti Mag, the international digital art and innovation magazine.

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