Saturday, February 20, 2010

Curator Malcolm Levy Builds Bridges Through CODE Live's New Media Art

“Within culture is the possibility to change. Within our world today is the possibility to bridge.”

Anytime coordinating an event tied to the Olympic Games comes into play, you know it’s going to be a lot of work, but it was a challenge that Malcolm Levy, Lead Curator and Producer of CODE Live, a component of the Cultural Olympiad and the Cultural Olympiad Digital Edition, in association with the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, was up for.

While the position attracted many potential candidates with their eyes on the proverbial “Gold,” Levy had been involved in the conversation about creating this grouping of art and music many years before. His career in Vancouver has afforded him the opportunity to work and curate around media, sound and related visual art, so he was a likely choice for the job. Despite the cachè, Levy still had to endure a grueling interview process. “Anything of this caliber is competitive for sure,” he said. In spite of all his accomplishments, Levy feels incredibly fortunate to have made the grade.

So what does a “Lead Curator and Producer” do to make something so grandiose as CODE Live come to life? Well, Levy came up with the overall theme, determined the artists to be involved, and developed the overall artistic vision for the exhibition and musical performances. “It was a two-year process of working with my director, Rae Hull, and the Cultural Olympiad to envision the proper artists, contexts, locations, and all else that goes into the final output of the exhibition,” Levy said. First and foremost he looked at everything through the theme of the exhibition, which was ‘bridging’, looking at cultures, interactivity, and our environment as focal points. This theme fit into the larger thematic context of CODE, which was “connect, create, collaborate,” and lit the path to determining the elements which would follow.

For many, the question of what exactly ‘new media art’ is arises. Levy is quick to point out that, in his estimation, new media art doesn’t exist. “It’s about interactivity, robotics, visual art, sound art, and computer programming flowing together to create a whole,” he said. “We have entered a world of hybridity, which is where a lot of the work comes from.”

For those interested in understanding the overall theme of CODE Live, here is an excerpt:

"Bridges, as physical structures, likely represent the first instance of communication between different cultures. Since time immemorial, the idea of bridging has been a centerpiece to civilization. Instrumental in providing passage, geographical and then man-made, bridges allowed for movement from place to place across the world. In electricity, the term has been used for measuring the characteristics of energy flow, registering the impedance or inductance of a conductor. In science, bridging refers to the intermolecular spanning of atoms or groups of atoms as they form their different compositions in the universe. In the online world, bridging refers to new advances in connectivity on the Internet, and in contemporary terms, has no relationship to where in a network a particular address is located. The curatorial approach to CODE Live envisions a project that has become a combination of these meanings within our modern day cultural context. Ideas of immersion, culture, tradition, oral history and perception intertwine with the body politic, materiality, movement, environment, ecology, space, telepresence, community, artificial intelligence and participation.”

From this curatorial theme, perhaps what people will come away from the exhibit with will be a sense that “Within culture is the possibility to change. Within our world today is the possibility to bridge.” It could be argued that these 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, seemingly more full of good will than in years past, have served to do just that—give people hope that we can bridge gaps. We’ve seen that from opening ceremony to date, and in these tough times, it makes us all feel better about where the world is headed. 

With all this hybridity, as Levy refers to it, happening, how do new media art and culture in general intersect, and how will the Internet influence the future of contemporary art? Levy contends that while fine art will always be around, “the ways in which work grows, changes, morphs and is accepted will be just another chapter in art history that is currently being written.” Levy agrees that there is art out there that is influenced by technology or the digital age in which we live, but that in no way implies that that art utilizes new technologies. “There are a myriad of ways in which art intersects with our world today,” Levy explained. “The transdisciplinary nature of art today means it is becoming far more the norm. If you travel to Venice, Istanbul, Dokumenta, or any of the major art fairs, you can see this happening. We have entered an age when the Internet, digital technology and new media are not always the tools used in terms of making contemporary art, but often what is discussed and referred to.”

Levy, an artist himself, works in a variety of mediums, including installation art, experimental film, and documentaries. When asked how being curator of CODE Live has impacted him as an artist and his work, he said “It has taught me a lot about the industry, in an academic, festival and commercial context. Any experience I go through affects my own art practice, based on what I learn, gather or think of during the process.” While toggling between these fields is quite natural and easy for his mind, one thing posed a real challenge for Levy—the scope of this exhibition. Proudly, he admits that it really helped him learn how to curate on such a massive scale.

If public response were the measure used to gauge a person’s capabilities of coordinating an exhibition on this level, then Malcolm Levy is clearly a master. In addition to bringing together a wonderful selection of world-class art and music, his work has served to focus eyeballs on Vancouver’s cultural and artistic riches. This event has shown “how strong the arts scene is in Vancouver and B.C. and what we can offer to the world,” he said. “I hope that we continue to see funding aimed towards the goal of showing our incredible culture to the world.”

Since the Cultural Olympiad ends next week, Levy urges visitors to Vancouver and Vancouverites alike to take the time to check out the remaining events. The exhibits are easy to navigate and the venues are quite accessible. “The Library is quite central. Emily Carr is on Granville Island, and GNWC (Great Northern Way Campus) is easy to drive to,” he said. “But really, it’s about an adventure of finding more about art in these wonderful spaces.”

To learn more about Malcolm Levy, visit his Web site here. For more information on CODE Live events, schedules and venues, click here.

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