Skip navigation

Garden in the Machine

Examine the complex relationship between computer technology and nature through digital art.

The digital world changes as much as the natural world.

To mark the past 20 years of digital art programming, the Gallery is presenting new and recent work from leading artists in this field. Through large-scale images and environments, the artists invite visitors to question the limits of technology and nature.

In Data Mulch, Helma Sawatzky digitally stitches together dozens of photographs of a brimming compost bin at Granville Island Public Market. This market is one of Vancouver’s most celebrated sites of sustainable food and design. In addition to highlighting food waste, the artist shows how excess, accumulation, waste, and decay also mark our contemporary digital condition. As with organic waste, if we pay attention to our digital garbage, we can reclaim it to grow and harness new life and images for the future.

Faisal Anwar’s massive video CharBagh uses social media to generate a Persian-style Islamic garden known as char bagh (four gardens). This interactive artwork grows out of Anwar’s workshops with Surrey residents who took photos related to sustainable food production, climate change, and nature. Using algorithms, the artist morphs these photos into ornate geometric designs. This project exemplifies how social media can be a tool for positive social change. A variation of this artwork will play on UrbanScreen this fall.

Robert Youds explores the garden in a different manner in For Everyone a Fountain. Using computer software, he translates photographs of the iconic Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia into coloured light sequences spanning the four seasons. These images appear in a tower of gleaming metal building and office materials. Youds creates a compelling space that collapses the boundaries between architecture and nature, work and leisure, image and object, utopia and dystopia.

In Unceded Territories, VR artist Paisley Smith teams up with painter and sculptor Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun. Their virtual reality game invites participants to move through different natural landscapes inspired by Yuxweluptun’s bold paintings of colonization in British Columbia. As people play the game, their presence leads to sinister consequences such as forest fires and oil spills. The VR component of this installation is available for public viewing Thursdays between 3pm and 7pm.

On a similar note, Leila Sujir’s Forest Breath highlights nature as a space of spiritual connection and renewal that needs protection. She uses stereoscopic 3D video to show a section of dense woodland on Canada’s West Coast that is under threat of deforestation. The ethereal imagery encourages viewers to reflect on old-growth forests in relationship to cultural history, personal health, and mortality.

Artists: Faisal Anwar, Helma Sawatzky, Leila Sujir, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun and Paisley Smith, Robert Youds

Curator: Jordan Strom
Origin of Exhibition: Surrey Art Gallery

Image credits from top to bottom:

Robert Youds, Installation detail of For Everyone a Fountain presented at Open Space, Victoria, 2017, aluminum panels and sawhorses, desk lamps, and electronics. Photo by Tara Nicholson.

Helma Sawatzky, Data Mulch, 2019, inkjet print, 1.8 m x 3.4 m.

Leila Sujir, Forest Breath, 2018, stereoscopic 3D video lightbox with stereo audio.