North By, already my favourite week in Toronto, just keeps growing; attracting new artists and fans – and now all-new forms of media. Introducing NXNE Art, untested and in its infancy, this addition to the traditional music-and-media beating heart of the festival has an uncertain future, but hit or miss, NXNE organizers have earned the benefit of the doubt and I would be remiss to pass up the opportunity to catch up with the many artists who will try and tug at the curiosity of festival goers this week. My curiosity was peaked by Dorian Batycka’s installation at Neubacher Shor Gallery (5 Brock Ave.), Brain Damage, which opens at 7pm on Friday. Combining music and brain wave imagery, the exhibit seeks to expose the audience to a completely unique experience. I conferred with the eloquent Dorian via trans-atlantic cable.
What role should artists play in shaping society. More specifically, if you could have a big impact in one specific area, what would it be?
Exercising a critical voice is certainly something I find important, though I’ve become increasingly suspicious of ‘socially engaged art’ and artists who operate using politics and ideology as a framework for cultural production. It’s a difficult balance, however, as art occupies an incredibly tenuous place within society. On the one hand, artists are often tasked with creating works that impel the masses to unite and transform their environment, while on the other hand artists are often used to commodify and objectify dominant narratives and aspects of the ‘social.’ It’s not an easy question to answer, but I think, for me at least, it’s important to remain studious and aware of different things happening around me (locally as well as globally) and from there figure out how to communicate and develop art works and projects that are responsive to my own lived experience.
About a year ago, you launched ‘temporary projects’. What were you trying to bring to the Hamilton community?
Yes, I’m glad you asked about Temporary Projects. In 2011, after returning from a year long sojourn in Europe, I started Temporary Projects. The main idea was largely based off Charles Esche’s concept of the ‘dispersed museum.’ My initial idea, however, was to engage the local James North neighborhood in Hamilton, by creating a sort of dialog about what an inclusionary and non architecturally bound art platform could look like.
As a horizon of infinite possibility, Temporary Projects has taken on many forms including art exhibitions and projects I have curated, reading groups and seminars on Deleuze and Marx, small music concerts, parties, and street based collective actions. I grew up in Hamilton and it will always be my home and the city itself occupies a very special place in my heart. Temporary Projects, though not relative to any geographic location, was initially conceived in order to bring people together to imagine new possibilities about what and how a contemporary centre could look like, and how this could in turn function throughout the city. It’s an idea I’m constantly returning to, be it in Europe or back at home in Hamilton. Though I should probably update the website, it’s been a while!
You have multi-disciplinary talents, and several avenues of expressing yourself. Why isn’t Dizzy F. Richard performing during NXNE?
Ah [Danny], you’re totally pulling a Nardwuar! That was a name I used to DJ with back in the day, an alias I used for a while. I’m still really into the Dizzy F. moniker and several people today still call me Diz. Though increasingly I’m realizing that all these monikers I’ve created for myself can be really confusing for people. I once even had the idea to change my name every time I got a new DJ gig, just so people wouldn’t pigeon hole me, but promoters like brand names so now I go by prince rotten and/or sans papier and/or Dorian.
How do you feel about NXNE expanding into the visual and performance arts? Do you think it is a dilution of the festival’s core strength, or a great move to bring together even more of the arts community?
As a platform NXNE Art seems to offer a lot. It’s cool that you bring a lot of new and emerging talent out and I think it works. For me, there is not such a big gap between the arts nor should people really pay attention to such distinctions. Channeling Goethe who once said “architecture is frozen music” I think the same can be said and applied across the entire creative spectrum. In fact, just today I’ve worked on a bit of music in Ableton, worked a bit on some hand crafted jewelry in the morning, stolen a few videos from Youtube I plan to mash up and remix later, and wrote a bit of critical theory for an exhibition text I’m curating in Venice. I think any distinctions separating the creative faculties are more often than not quite illusionary, and I think the current trajectory of NXNE parallels this idea exactly, so I’m quite optimistic.
I’ve seen you describe yourself as a cyber-utopian luddite. Can you please explain this apparent cognitive dissonance, and what it means to you?
The idea of cyber-utopian ludditism is quite complex. In it’s most basic form, the idea is a dialectical one. Technologies are often used both for good and for bad. Take the Internet for example, as a technology the Internet has spawned both an Orwellian nightmare premised on ever more powerful surveillance states, while also creating a space for more rhizomatic and inclusionary public and open communication, or a renewed public sphere. The idea of cyber-utopian ludditism attempts to channel the dialectic of technology, articulating how one should approach these issues from a critical perspective. In this way, the main idea behind cyber utopian ludditism offers the philosophical possibility of remaining critical of technological progress, while also remaining optimistic in terms of it’s emancipatory potential.
Tell me more about what you are doing for NXNE this year. What interested you in exploring brainwaves tones?
This project started out as a dialog between my collaborator Celeste and myself. Celeste is the real force behind this project; she is the logic to my analytics. Together we began to imagine and explore what happens to the brain when musicians communicate, not only with each other, but also the audience. Celeste is the musical and scientific genius behind the entire project, and so together we began to research different ways for analyzing brain functions and neural pathways, from fMRIs to more conceptual approaches including muscle response indicators. Our initial idea was to partner with an institution in order to use medical imaging hardware, but this proved too problematic due to the sheer cost of transporting and operating these machines.
So Celeste and I returned to the drawing board and began to conceptualize how we might create an audio/visual installation that uses neuro-scientific studies and images. We began compiling all sorts of data and information and came to the idea of creating a performative installation that explores different mental states, including schizophrenia, LSD trips, insomnia and death. In this way, we became interested in how the brain processes these different occurrences and how we could translate this into an installation.
What show are you most excited for during NXNE this year and why?
At heart I’m a hip-hop / jazz kid, though in the last few years I’ve become much more interested in experimental / electronic music. Though if I wasn’t in Venice, I would be sure to check out my Hamilton homies WTCHS at the Gladstone Ballroom on Thursday June 13!
Dorian Batycka’s installation at Neubacher Shor Gallery (5 Brock Ave.), Brain Damage, opens at 7pm on Friday June 14th