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reasonable & senseless: a technical disaster

Confront technological disasters, pharmacological madness, and ecological mayhem in three artworks.

“Of course the Hindenberg exploded,” says artist Donna Szoke. “How could it have done otherwise? Why do we call a technical disaster an accident? It isn’t a magical event— it is a product of human fallibility.” In the exhibition reasonable & senseless: a technical disaster, three Canadian artists confront the seduction and terror of technological disasters, pharmacological madness, and ecological mayhem. But rather than accept geopolitical despair, Michael Alstad, Donna Szoke, and K.D. Thornton offer a fool's hope.

reasonable & senseless

Viewed on 20 miniature LCD monitors, Donna Szoke’s video installation, reasonable & senseless, presents a history of technical disasters including methodologies such as "duck and cover"—taught to children in anticipation of a nuclear war. Szoke says, “Reason, when cut off from our hearts and souls, is a dangerous tool: it is literally sense-less. Often, in the name of reason, we make gravely bad choices. Educational, advertising and promotional films delineate a culture’s values, omissions and biases. By looking at the past, we have an opportunity to refresh the lens through which we see the present.”

Dairy and Fear

K.D. Thornton’s installation Dairy includes seven ordinary plastic milk jugs that appear to emit a sinister and mysterious glow. Created during an "orange terrorist alert" in the US, this work is inspired by technologies such as ultraviolet light, used to process our food to make it "safe" for consumption. Thornton says, “We can never really be completely confident that the products and processing practices of today are not the scandalous tragedies of tomorrow. The very idea that water systems, or common necessities are vulnerable to contamination strikes fear into our hearts, creating heightened stress and tension in times of instability.”

Her other work, Fear, uses a software program that searches for the frequency that technical disasters are written about online. A monitor shows a website documenting the results of this ongoing search accompanied by an audio response.

MELT

Our complicity in global warming is explored in Michael Alstad’s interactive video installation MELT. Melting of the polar ice cap will disrupt ocean currents that govern climate around the world. Visitors will view a "satellite’s eye’" image of the cracking and melting of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, and eventually see an image of themselves merge with the projection of the Arctic’s topography. Alstad says, “In an era when anyone accessing Google satellite views can zoom into remote areas and witness the results of excess greenhouse gas emissions on Earth’s topography, the threat of an encroaching ecological disaster becomes abstract and visually mesmerizing. Although technology facilitates our geospatial knowledge, the ‘disaster’ is perceived as something separate from ‘here’, as though only imagined. With MELT, my intention is to transport the viewer into a space where ‘there’ and ‘here’ converge.”

Read the exhibition brochure.

About the Artists

Donna Szoke

Donna Szoke holds a BFA from SFU and a BA from the University of Winnipeg. She is currently based in Vancouver, and is a graduate student working in interdisciplinary practices. She teaches video production and post production. Donna has collaborated with numerous artists in various capacities on work shown nationally, and internationally. Her art practice includes sculpture, kinetics, installation, media and video.

K.D. Thornton

K.D. Thornton is a Canadian artist, currently teaching at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. She has a BFA (honours) from the University of Manitoba and an MFA (Art + Technology) from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her sculptural and installation works have been exhibited in Europe, Canada and the United States, as well as interactive works online, since 1994.

Michael Alstad

Michael Alstad is a Toronto-based artist and curator working in installation and digital media. He is a founding member of the Canadian artist collectives Year Zero One and Symbiosis. Alstad has co-coordinated several site-specific projects in Toronto including The Bank of Symbiosis (97), The Hoarding Project (98), the Transmedia video billboard exhibitions (00, 02), Teletaxi (03), and in Montreal Telextaxi (05).

Image credit: Installation image of K.D. Thornton's Dairy at Surrey Art Gallery.