The Sight&Sound festival is in its 7th year, and it’s on this weekend until May 27th at Eastern Bloc. The 23 artists featured are a mixture of known and unknown digital artists, offering a blend of performance and installations.

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The theme is Hyperlocal: “we are interested in how artists experiment with distance, while operating in localized networks; how they create open, participatory networking structures that exist independently of institutional structures; and how they engage with and challenge notions of distance and proximity, centre and periphery”.

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This can mean a lot of things. British artist Martin Howse’sSubstrate” performance feels like an experiment in process. He stands at a worktable covered with wires, small electronic boards, and various bits and pieces – junk?  No – the bits become his instruments and the pieces begin to link to one another, so that the table turns into a sort of sandbox of sound and light, his hands playing with organic and digital materials.

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He picks up a lump of earth from a bucket, slaps it on a motherboard, and our ears are filled with the sound of an air siren. Now he waves a metallic coin over a stone, and new, bass-like tremors fill the dark room. He is improvising, performing, playing with the organic (earth) and the digital (sound system, lasers). The sounds he created made me think of the sound that the earth must make as it is drilled, pumped, transformed into tar sands.

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That’s probably just my need to find meaning in a performance I found difficult to grasp, other than understanding this as an exercise in play, experimentation, in creating connections between senses and materials that don’t exist in nature. Sometimes art is a question, and sometimes it is an answer – for me this was the former.

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By contrast, visual and media artist Daniel Joliffe’s installation called Nearest Cosco, Monument or Satellite feels focused on the outcome. The work looks pretty, childlike, delicate. Fourteen multi-coloured sculptures fill the space – arrows swaying, powered by electronics to point out…yes, you guessed it the nearest Cosco, monument, or GPS satellite. It is quiet, simple, subtle, and yet uses geolocation and sophisticated technology to achieve a simplicity of form that feels approachable, and inviting: Mirrored within these movements are familiar human actions: seeking, moving with certainty and uncertainty, the sense of being lost and of locating oneself in a larger landscape. It is a system that represents the dichotomy of the human sense of place.”

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It’s good to see these smaller festivals flourish and to watch Montrealers absorb digital art on a smaller, more intimate scale. The Sight and Sound festival feels like it’s made for insiders – people who get it, like it, dabble in experimental digital art.

(All images by Sophie Tarnowska @Conteska Photography)