Exhibitionists·In Residence

This artist is exploring how our smartphones are changing the human experience

This week's Exhibitionist in Residence, Trudy Elmore, has been chosen to represent "the digital age" at the Art Gallery of Ontario's annual Massive Party.

Meet Trudy Elmore, this week's Exhibitionist in Residence

Carrying Christina. (Trudy Elmore)

The work of Toronto-based digital artist Trudy Elmore — this week's Exhibitionist in Residence — explores, in her words, "the alchemical potential of technology." In grand works of CG animation and digital painting, she considers how our devices and the virtual lives they extend are changing the human experience physiologically, psychologically and spiritually.

Her characters — skeletons and chromed-out gynoid bots — pose like figures from Renaissance narrative paintings, cradling their glowing screens with the reverence of religious relics, suggesting that perhaps the iPhone is our modern-day philosopher's stone. A new tool to help transcend our limitations.

"As apes," just a few strands of DNA away from bonobos, she says, "we're normally restricted to the clicking sounds that come from our mouths to communicate ideas. With smartphones, we've more or less achieved telepathy. We don't have to move our meat bodies places to get things done. Now, we can do it with ones and zeroes."

Death Bed. (Trudy Elmore)

In Carrying Christina, a six-part print series, three metallic humanoids are pictured carrying a fourth, lifeless body across some craggy shore, while another walks ahead, fixed on its open laptop. She's thinking about how people are mercilessly scourged — or crucified — online (Elmore calls the comment section a "bareknuckle boxing match of free speech"). At the same time, the work cycles back to that dream of transcendence latent in technology.

Some people think her art is post-apocalyptic, she says, but really, these are allegories about the present. 

The 32-year-old artist is fascinated by the Silicon Valley techno-cults still chasing after eternal life, no longer attached to myths of religion, but now to the promises of innovation. Instead of immortality and instead of advancements "driven by war machines and unfettered growth," she hopes the tech sector — our new alchemist — engages humanity's more urgent challenges and limitations; "using deep think computers to solve something like climate change," she offers as one example.

With smartphones, we've more or less achieved telepathy. We don't have to move our meat bodies places to get things done. Now, we can do it with ones and zeroes.- Artist Trudy Elmore

For its 13th annual Massive Party, the Art Gallery of Ontario has selected Elmore among its three featured artists to present work on the theme: the relationship between man and machine. She has been chosen to represent "The Digital Age."

At her home studio, she's in the throes of rendering a new animation created specifically for the event. This project calls on the central panel of Hieronymus Bosch's "The Garden of Earthly Delights" — the panorama of a sensuous playground peopled by fantastical creatures, outsize fruit, and nude figures cavorting variously. According to scholars, it is either a vision of paradise or of corruption. Recast in Elmore's aesthetic, it will become a representation of the Internet.

"There are a lot of fish out of water, a lot of low hanging fruit," she says, "you know, it's the Internet." There's a graveyard of glass rectangles. Nearby, gawkers observe their distorted reflections in large mirrored spheres — a symbol for social media. And elsewhere, giant cats roam, "because the cat memes are undeniable." People blip in and out. Some freeze in their tracks.

Carrying Christina. (Trudy Elmore)

You come online at the centre of the pond in "The Garden," she says, then you move through all this nonsense, and once you've escape the glass bubble, you come back online in the pond again. It's a loop.

When the work is installed, the animation will play on an assemblage of monitors built at the centre of the AGO's Walker Court. Hanging from its surrounding archways, rear projection screens will display scenes from the piece, held in tableaux, animated minimally, and perhaps — Elmore's still tinkering — treated to peel back the slick digital skin, revealing their mechanics.

Those works will be hung vertically, she says, in portrait to evoke the aesthetic of painting. Or, incidentally, the screen of your smartphone.

AGO Machine Age Massive. Apr 27, 9pm-1am. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. www.massiveparty.ca

See more of Trudy Elmore's work on her website or on the new episode of Exhibitionists. Watch online or Friday nights at 12:30am (1am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT) on CBC Television. 

Want to see your creations on CBC Arts? Just send us an e-mail! You could be an Exhibitionist in Residence this season.


Chris Hampton is a Hamilton-based freelance arts and culture writer. His work has appeared elsewhere in The New York Times, the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The Walrus, and Canadian Art. Find him on Instagram: @chris.hampton


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