Illusion in the everyday

Flower’s films present puzzle with his latest exhibit at Modern Fuel

Thinking Inside the Box is in line with Modern Fuel’s experimental mandate.
Thinking Inside the Box is in line with Modern Fuel’s experimental mandate.
Flower’s exhibit is as dizzying as it is playful.
Flower’s exhibit is as dizzying as it is playful.

Upon entering the Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, I felt as if I had waltzed into a miniature version of the Toronto Science Centre. Surrounded by six different video installations, it was hard for me to decide what to explore first.

A combination of both digital and analog technology, the seemingly alive, ever-changing and usually interactive works of Montreal-based artist Christopher Flower are definitely not what you might expect from your average trip to an art gallery. The exhibit’s name, Thinking Inside the Box embodies the artist’s attempt to reclaim the generic box that has come to contain video material and content and re-imagine it, playing off of and bouncing away from the implied limited scope.

Flower uses an inventive method and a variety of new and unpredictable media to unravel the image of the box, staying within the lines and wires of film installation while stepping far outside them by including items such as rocks, plastic cups, bagels, googly eyes, light bulbs, cat toys, eggs and beer into his work.

Combining conceptual art, illusionism and the everyday is Flower’s mainstay and it’s particularly evident in his current exhibit, which fits nicely into Modern Fuel’s contemporary art theme.

Artistic director of the gallery, Michael Davidge explained that Flower’s proposal for an exhibit stood out and was in line with the centre’s constant desire for new media.

“It is part of our mandate to promote this kind of work,” Davidge said.

Always ready to take a chance, the gallery has its finger on the pulse of exciting and groundbreaking art, both mainstream and otherwise. Demonstrative of this, the gallery has recently added a new media workspace for members to make art more accessible, allowing them to rent equipment or screen locally produced work.

Each part of Thinking Inside the Box is a puzzle to be solved when first approached. Enveloped by the sounds of mechanical whirring and buzzing, as you move around the room it’s difficult not to become engrossed by the multiple sets of images, screens and game controllers.

The first interactive video piece, “Streetari Basketball” and its brother piece “Streetari Soccer,” reveal the role of the viewer to also be the role of a player in various games. In these pieces, one simply tilts the angles of a small box containing miniature characters with a joystick and can dunk a tiny basketball or kick a miniscule soccer ball while simultaneously viewing an enlarged and more detailed view of the feats on screens placed in front of the player.

The viewer gets a sense of engaging with the work more than witnessing or observing the work. All are players and members aiding in the overall success and fluidity of Flower’s exhibit. His work encourages you to participate in the game and the vision of the installation, for better or for worse.

One particularly dizzying installation, “Spinning Camera,” disoriented me after a push of a button on the wall left me staring back at a rocket-fast rotating image reflected on a screen in front of me, only when I let go of the button could I identify the image as myself—but even so, Flower’s version of me was upside down.

The most intoxicating piece is his paradoxical “Spinning LCD Still Life,” an encapsulation of a simple aspect of art production turned on its head. He takes the all-too-familiar still-life images of fruit and flowers, amalgamates and continuously spins them, creating a fluid and smooth pattern of movement. His methods effectively blur the static images, and the glimmering screen creates a state of both serenity and chaos.

The final piece in the set, “Box Videos” caused me to lose myself for a while on my way out of the gallery as it blends the ordinary and the absurd on one small screen, I gave up trying to figure out how he must have constructed the images in the videos. Flying gumballs, bouncing balls, malleable cats or bananas and bricks engaging in combat were only some of the images dancing across the screen that I was forced to grapple with. Giving in to the lovely abstraction of everyday materials is the key to Flower’s work, a feat made easy once I realized that part of the appeal of exhibit is its digital patchwork of mystery, illusion and limitlessness.

Thinking Inside the Box will run at the Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre until Feb. 21.

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