Avant-Garde Legends Join Forces

In Ikons, two master artists collaborate on a high-tech, and very west-coast, sculpture and music experience.

Ikons is an interactive art installation that has been a long time coming. For nearly three decades, Vancouver performance and visual artist Eric Metcalfe and legendary American composer, trombonist and intellectual George Lewis have been skating around the same circles, waiting for the right time to collaborate.

It seems that right time is now.

“In early 2007, George approached me and asked me if I’d like to work on a piece with him for the Cultural Olympiad. I said I’d be delighted to,” says Metcalfe, who is a Governor General award-winner in visual media arts as well as the co-founder of the influential Western Front artist-run centre in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. “I really enjoyed this project. It was very exciting, because I took it in a direction that, quite frankly, has gone far beyond my expectations.”

For the piece, which will be on display from January 28 to February 28, Metcalfe has created seven vibrant hand-painted sculptures, each about eight feet tall, that will house sonar sensors and speakers. The exhibition space will be full of recorded music composed by Lewis and performed by Vancouver’s contemporary/classical Turning Point Ensemble.

In a high-tech twist, Metcalfe or Lewis won’t be the ones deciding what the viewers hear.

“When someone goes up to a particular area, looks at a piece of art and stays in one place for a long time it means they’re interested in the work. Computers are good at detecting things like if a person stays in one place for a long time or not,” says Lewis, who is currently the director of Columbia University’s school of jazz studies and is renowned for his work with computers and electronic music. He received a MacArthur Foundation (genius award) in 2002.

 “The computer program knows whether you’re passing through, or if you stay for awhile, and it acts differently and sends you different material depending upon what it infers from your degree of involvement with a certain area,” he says from his home in New York.

“You multiply that with the number of people who could be in the space at one time, and you wind up with the piece being a site for a kind of sociology. The composite sound is basically a result of who is in the space and what they’re doing.”

Which means these massive musical sculptures and their site will become a site for social networking between the computer and the listeners. But, says Metcalfe, the process is going to still be very west coast.

 “To make it more interesting I built these shapes that come out of the sculptures that evoke birds and fish and west coast wildlife,” he says. “I thought I should make this piece a west-coast homage to many of the things that I experienced growing up here in Vancouver. This is my turf.”

“Ikons” runs January 28 to February 28 from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at Five-Sixty, 560 Seymour Street, Vancouver.Admission is free.

More information on Ikons

More in The Cultural Olympiad

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

Cultural Olympiad continues during the Paralympic Games with daring dance, thoughtful theatre and awesome art.

Soul game

Raphael Saadiq dishes about his youth, music and video games.

The Cons of Consumption

Winnipeg curator provokes a closer look at the environmental, social costs of our collective appetite.
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.