Three works from the MAJ collection that resonate strongly with the group show Smile! Emotions at Work are on display this fall. These mechanized or electrified works encourage visitors to reflect on the development of technologies, their impacts on human beings, and their integration into the art world in the twentieth century. Carl Trahan and the duo Béchard Hudon draw on the modernist context of the industrial revolution in Europe, whereas Robert Savoie builds on his research on perception inspired by the op art movement of the 1960s.
Technology has always been linked to art. Over the centuries, technology developed slowly; the invention of the printing press, in the fifteenth century, revolutionized the art of reproduction of texts and images. In the nineteenth century came a cascade of technological innovations, including radio, photography, and film, which were integrated into various fields of art—not without pitfalls, despite the effervescence, excitement, and hope that they generated.
Indeed, technologies incorporated into the creative and dissemination processes of art caused upheavals in conventions, production processes, labour relations, and institutions. The instantaneity of photography in the nineteenth century shook the world of portrait painters. Industrial mechanization wreaked havoc on the work of traditional artists, impelling them to abandon their workshops and studios in the early twentieth century. As Trahan’s work reminds us, this technical and industrial era was accompanied by a spiritual crisis related to technological and scientific advances. Some historical avant-gardes, including futurism and German expressionism, were inspired by this context. Béchard Hudon’s work transports us back to the European forerunners of abstraction and their quest for the representation of time, the fourth dimension. Savoie’s work is also situated in the context of research on abstraction, but focuses on the optical and perceptual effects made possible by technology.
The 1960s saw the arrival of video, and the 1970s and 1980s brought computers into general use, but since the 1990s developments have burgeoned in the fields of robotics, video games, the internet, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. This proliferating accessibility of knowledge and technological means offers artists numerous creative avenues, which they use to critique transhumanism—a contemporary movement that seeks to surpass human capacities—in order to show how it works and its impacts on society, more of which come to light every day.
Artists: Carl Trahan, Béchard Hudon and Robert Savoie
Carl Trahan, Uberreizung, 2015. Photo : Guy L’Heureux