Objects to words

Exhibit combines technology and toys

In David Rokeby’s The Giver of Names, a camera detects the object on the pedestal and a computerized voice describes it.
In David Rokeby’s The Giver of Names, a camera detects the object on the pedestal and a computerized voice describes it.
Photo: 
David Rokeby’s exhibit The Giver of Names first debuted in Toronto in 1997.
David Rokeby’s exhibit The Giver of Names first debuted in Toronto in 1997.
Photo: 
Photo: 

I walked into the Agnes Etherington Art Centre a student and walked out an artist.

It’s not often you get to help create the art you see but David Rokeby is one step ahead of you with his exhibit The Giver of Names. Rokeby puts down his pencil and paintbrush in favour of something a little different — children’s toys, a camera and a projector.

Once I saw the toys on the floor, the child inside me was intrigued.

The items ranged from rubber boots to stuffed animals to, my personal favourite, toy trucks. A camera hooked into a computer was set up in one spot of the room, pointing at a spotlit pedestal where I placed my objects of choice.

Immediately, a photo was taken of the item. To my shock, the computer then verbalized words associated with that item. When I elevated a stuffed cat from the pile on the floor the word “Prussian” appeared on the screen.

The emotionless female GPS voice provided no connection between the words, which was unsettling.

It contrasted further with the light-hearted and lively nature of the toys.

After continuously reorganizing the items on the pedestal, the seemingly jumbled sentences I heard from the computer voice began to make bits of sense.

The computer’s ability to describe uniquely artful objects left me captivated.

Rokeby’s The Giver Of Names debuted in Toronto in 1997 and, at the time, I’m sure it was considered to be technologically advanced. In September, the installation traveled to Kingston to start its residency at The Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

But even 15 years from its first installation the exhibit’s ability to collaborate between technology and children’s toys still felt innovative.

By helping to create the art, Rokeby’s exhibit makes for a more personal experience and not just a spectacle.

David Rokeby’s The Giver of Names is on exhibit in the Davis Foundation Gallery of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre until Jan. 27.

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