If you’re a culture-lover (or even a fly-by-nighter), you’ve probably seen media arts before. In fact, in Calgary, you’ve probably seen it produced or supported by Emmedia, a local electronic media arts centre that offers production facilities to artists. Emmedia has been around since 1978, and the time has come for it to host its first festival — Particle + Wave.
But, what exactly is media art?
“Our definition of [it] is typically any art form or project or artwork that has an electronic component to it,” explains Kyle Whitehead, Emmedia’s production co-ordinator. “It could be digital video, it could be a sound art piece, it could be interactive installation work that uses electronics.... It’s a pretty broad category, and there’s a great variety of works that get produced under that blanket term of media arts.”
There’s a whiff of modernity to the term, perhaps a touch of avant-garde, but it actually has a decades-long history. “I think it just seems new, because every time a new technology comes out, then media art follows it.... It just kind of evolves with the technology that comes out, [so] it’s always new,” says programs and outreach co-ordinator Vicki Chau.
The festival itself runs September 27 to 29, showcasing a broad range of film and video installations — and while some pieces have a narrative arc, don’t expect film fest-like fare. Whitehead explains that Emmedia’s productions and exhibitions are really approaching video or media technology from a fine arts perspective. “These things are valuable as cultural products, but they’re not always easily digestible so they don’t often find a home in the mainstream festivals. I think that the more people get out to see experimental film and video works, the more they begin to understand it.”
The festival programming is largely based on work produced through Emmedia, such as its compression camps, where artists have two days at Emmedia’s facilities to make an audio or video work. Particle + Wave will showcase this year’s compression camp creations, premised on the theme of why Calgary artists continue to make this city their home base, as well as top selections from previous years.
Another cornerstone of the festival is the “Bring Your Own Beamer” (that is, projector) event happening in Central Memorial Park on Friday night (September 28). Following an idea concocted in Europe, Calgary’s first “BYOB” occurred earlier this year in a community centre, and Chau explains they wanted to take it outdoors where artists will have the chance to project video and light on the side of the library, statues and installations.
“There’s a huge diversity of works, and certainly not everything is for everyone, but I think there is at least something in there that anyone can find that they will enjoy or appreciate,” says Whitehead, and both he and Chau point to the fact that Emmedia has year-round programming that would interest anyone who’s jazzed by Particle + Wave offerings.
“This is just a small tidbit of what we do,” says Chau. “This is an opening point to the fall year... stick around because Emmedia’s got more for you.”