Some say volumes about the North, while others set their mark in toner

Plug In ICA’s Fax and Ice Fishing in Gimli are two unique works about perspective

Fax Machines of Canada Field Guide by Sandee Moore, part of Plug-In ICA’s exhibit Fax.

The Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art is looking more and more like a contemporary art museum with its two latest exhibits where artists contemplate old technologies in the digital age.

In the first exhibit, Fax, Plug In invites a group of artists, as well as architects, designers, scientists and filmmakers, to approach the fax machine as a tool for thinking and drawing. Artists from around the world have been asked to send in their art by fax machine for this exhibition.

Drawing is an important starting point for most of the artists, who use diagrams and cartoons while being both informative and creative.

Suzy Smith’s submission, sent from Scotland where she is currently earning her Master’s in Fine Art, includes a diagram that explains how to hang her piece.

Location is important with these pieces; each fax shows the date, time and place from which it was submitted.

Local writer and performance artist Sandee Moore’s fax, sent from Toronto, focuses on fax machines of the world, describing each machine as its own character, whose likes, dislikes and dysfunctions are completed with a portrait of each.

Due to the nature of the fax, some images degraded after transmission. This became a style of its own, providing coherence throughout the work. Local painter Melanie Rocan utilizes this to her advantage, her dark abstractions becoming more blurred and mysterious.

Fax began in New York at the Drawing Centre where over a hundred artists sent in work for its premiere.

Highlights include Zoe Keramea’s fax virus, which reenacts a project of hers from 1992. She illustrates a fax sabotage that involves the sender creating a looping fax that prints continuously and ends when the receiving machine is out of paper.

Plug In’s second installation resembles a library reference centre, with an invitation to study Rob Kovitz’s latest project, Ice Fishing in Gimli.

Kovitz offers up his collection, seven books in eight volumes, in carrying cases for those wishing to sign out the collection for a week. Considering the volume of work contained in this 10-year art book project, it is appropriate that Plug In members are permitted to borrow one or all of the eight volumes.

With Ice Fishing in Gimli, Kovitz combines images and text into over 4,700 pages of work, creating a narrative of the North. Kovitz calls this a novel, but it’s closer to a random encyclopedia or scrapbook. He covers a wide range of subjects loaded with Canadian nostalgia, from monumental roadside statues to images of old snow machines.

“I have imagined a man who might live as the coldest scholar on earth, who followed each clue in the snow, writing a book as he went,” reads a quote from John Haines.

As far as I can tell, that’s exactly what Kovitz has done. It’s like a series of footprints, and we are offered to follow the journey of Kovitz’s memory trail.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to look at this collection. Flipping through the books randomly, one can come across several fascinating things. Like an e-mail discussing the project in its early stages. Or artwork by local artist Simon Hughes that was appropriated from a 2003 issue of Border Crossings. Seemingly random, but all part of a long line of Kovitz’s interests, it reads as his personal interpretation of pop culture of the North.

There is a certain anonymity revealed in the books, becoming a history for everyone and no one. While eyes and names are blacked out, keeping things private, you can’t help but feel that you are looking through a personal journal or diary.

What prevents us from feeling like voyeurs is knowing all of the content has been appropriated from sources other than Kovitz, making it a work of postmodernism.

In a time where books and letters are going digital, these exhibits offer a chance to reflect on how technology has changed and how expressive these archaic forms of communication can be.

Published in Volume 64, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 21, 2010)

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