South of the Fraser

Surrey, Delta, White Rock and Langleys

Curator's talk: The future is already here

Rachel Rosenfield Lafo explains what's going on with Alex McLeod and Brendan Tang's exhibit at the Surrey Art Gallery


February 2, 2013. 3pm. 11 people. 1 curator. Talk.

"the future is already here" (no initial capital letter) is a collaboration between Brendan Tang, who works in ceramics, and Alex McLeod who creates digital landscapes which are output as large photo-like prints. The title is a reference to a quote from William Gibson, a science fiction writer. The complete quote is "The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed".

In fact, the real collaboration is a piece called "love child"; but there are other works in the space leading to it, ranging from the early 2000s to 2012. They work as a sort of antechamber to the real work which resides in a darkened sacred place off to the side.


The antechamber of unearthly delights

The tour started, after introductions, in this antechamber, where McLeod's prints lined the wall and Tang's ceramics poked up on plinths from the floor.

If there is one clear theme to the exhibition it's mash-up: cultures, time, spaces and generations. Both artists share an interest in artifice, illusion, science fiction, computer gaming, anime, manga and artificial colours.

12 people now. 13. 14. 16 people by the end of the tour at 4pm.

McLeod is clearly influenced by the diorama and model: intricate detailed pieces crowd together in plastic saturated colours and rendered textures. Scale is impossible to determine, we get the impression these are close-ups of something really small, but there's no way to be sure. There are no skies. Instead artificial roofs or backdrops enclose the sets. However, these computer-generated creations are printed out. They are meant to be permament.

Tang's ceramics combine Ming-like vases with bits and pieces of manga and transformers. They are called "ormalu", after the European technique of gilding Chinese (original Mings) vases in 18th and 19th centuries. Often it appears as though the ceramic has been shaped or modified by the science fiction elements, pulled and distorted. Technically excellent they also appeal across generations: kids love those techno-bits.


love child

And now into the darkened chamber. It was, perhaps, Rachel Rosenfield Lafo herself who may have propelled these two from talking about collaborating into actually doing something. Nothing like a deadline to get things done! The title comes as a tongue-in-cheek explanation of these two artists' collaborative off-spring. One of Tang's ceramics sits on a pedestal, broken in two as if it were an artifact from another time. A camera points at it. Behind the camera is a screen which shows the sculpture and anyone who wanders into the camera's frame.

The term "augmented reality" was bandied about. The basic concept is reality is augmented by some sort of display. And here on the screen, on top of, and in the crevices of Tang's piece was McLeod's animated forms, creatures and clouds swirling around and modifying the piece, but only on the screen.

Here we have some sort of scale to judge the growing plant-like spikes and strangely mechanistic clouds. After all, the source object is right in front of us. However even here this is an illusion. If you place your hand between the camera and the vase your hand on the screen still appears behind the vase when it should be in front.

Perhaps this broken fragment is only a model, part of a diorama of something much larger that the augmented reality is demonstrating.

Apparently, however, this overlay was a technical constraint, and not intended, but on reflection it helps preserve that ambiguity of scale and time (is the screen part of the ceramic piece's past, present or future?)


The point of a curator's tour

Rachel Rosenfield Lafo obviously has all sorts of information about McLeod and Tang, stuff that helps viewers get more out of an expedition to a gallery. The informal explanation and discussion, not to mention other people on the tour's comments and observations made visiting the exhibition more informative.




Here's the current exhibitions page for the Surrey Art Gallery. Presumably at some point this link will point to something completely different. Grab it while it's hot.

Alex McLeod's website

Brendan Tang's website


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