A black and white image with multiple faces on it framed like a film reel.

Works from the Gallery's permanent collection address the rise of mass media culture.

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Surrey Art Gallery - 13750 88 Avenue

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This exhibition centres around an interactive installation by the late media artist Nancy Paterson (1957–2018). Entitled Garden in the Machine, the artwork invites visitors to pull a lever on a slot-machine styled device that manipulates images on display on a series of nearby monitors. Each monitor cycles through a series of television clips pulled from news programs, cartoons, gameshows, religious programs, advertisements, and more. Every time the lever is pulled, the resulting display is random, producing a possible 729 different combinations of images.  

Though developed in 1993, Paterson’s installation is timeless in its distillation of popular television culture. In presenting visitors with random combinations of footage that vary in tone between light-hearted comedy and serious-minded news reports, Paterson anticipated the rise of the internet and the now endless stream of content available to consumers. In places such as Twitter feeds, Instagram’s “Explore” tab, or TikTok’s “For You” page, browsers can access an endless stream of messages that both terrify and titillate. 

Also in the exhibition are key selections from the Gallery’s permanent collection, most of which, like Paterson’s artwork, have never been exhibited before. These include an unusual two-sided print by 1970s video and media artist Michael de Courcy, photographs of the West Edmonton Mall by Vikky Alexander, and a colourful silkscreen print by Robert Davidson. 

During a time when television, image-making, and internet culture have completely saturated both our public and private lives, On Air illustrates the ways that media works to shape our worldviews—for better or worse.  

Curator: Rhys Edwards
Origin of Exhibition: Surrey Art Gallery