by Barbara Black
The creativity of
Quebecers will provide the inspiration and raw material for an ambitious
enterprise called Hexagram, or the Institute for Research and Creation
in Media Arts and Technologies.
The $7-million project, which brings together artists and researchers
at Concordia and the Université du Québec à Montréal,
was launched at ExCentris, the glamorous cinema complex on St. Laurent
Blvd., on Dec. 10.
Quebec cabinet minister Pauline Marois was on hand for the launch, and
spoke warmly about the projects bright future. Hexagram has a $6-million
startup grant from the Valorisation Recherche Québec funding agency,
and the government has topped that up with another $1 million. Daniel
Lamarre, president of the Cirque du Soleil, is chair of the Hexagram board.
Sixty professors and about 250 graduate students will be involved in the
project. Its not easy for the technologically challenged to grasp
what Hexagram will do because its mandate is so open-ended, but a video
shown at the launch gave some tantalizing glimpses.
There are eight areas of activity, each involving researcher/creators
from both Concordia and UQAM: interactive performance and sound; interactive
television and virtual communities; robotic arts and artificial intelligence;
adaptive, broadband and wireless video; emerging cinema and virtual characters;
interactive textiles and wearable computers; advanced digital imaging
and rapid prototyping; and immersive environments, virtual reality and
No new building is envisaged for Hexagram; all its resources will be poured
into the work itself. Concordia Dean of Fine Arts Christopher Jackson
will be the projects interim executive director.
Exceptional artistic talent
In his speech at the launch, Jackson said that such a visionary project
could only be carried out in Quebec, with its remarkable diversity and
Rector Frederick Lowy added that Hexagram is likely to be a catalyst for
brain gain, attracting artistic and technological talent to the city.
The Cirque du Soleils Lamarre saw the project as an incubator for
talent, and said he will work to ensure that its research is applicable
to the cultural industry.
The two universities make natural allies in this enterprise. Concordia
has the largest university faculty of fine arts in Canada, and the best.
While about 15 per cent of Concordia students overall claim French as
their first language, a fairly steady figure over many years, roughly
34 per cent of the students in the Faculty of Fine Arts are francophone.
For its part, UQAM has a strong communications program.
To give just one example of the daring thinking going on among Hexagram
researchers, Ingrid Bachmann, who teaches in the Fibres unit of the Studio
Arts Department, was recently interviewed on the local CBC radio program
She spoke of building tiny computers into our clothes and accessories
so that they could be activated by motion, giving off light or sound,
even animation pockets that display messages as the wearer walks
Bachmann and her colleagues are thinking about giving computers the tactile
surfaces of fabrics, experimenting with conductive inks, imbedding solar
panels in fabric.
Artists are already using computer technology in installations, works
that engage the gallery-goer not only as a spectator but as a participant,
and this trend is likely to intensify as artists seek to provoke us to
see the world around us in new ways.
In fact, the movement signalled by the launch of Hexagram goes further
still. Bachmann says that artists want not simply to make use of technology,
but to shape it and use it as a generative force.
An interview with Dean of Fine Arts