Think you can handle this video? Even the artist feels anxious watching it

Watch "Freak Show" — a looping 3D animation exploring feelings of anxiety — by this week's Exhibitionist in Residence, Félix Félix Gourd Gourd.

Watch 'Freak Show' by this week's Exhibitionist in Residence, Félix Félix Gourd Gourd

Gooble gobble, Félix Félix Gourd Gourd. Still from the Montreal artist's 2017 film, "Freak Show." (Courtesy of the artist)

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up. This week's Exhibitionist in Residence is Félix Félix Gourd Gourd, and the Montreal artist is taking you to the "Freak Show."

That's the name of this six-minute looping video, actually — a 2017 film that we'll be airing on Friday's episode.

Gourd likes to describe it as a "virtual parade," but the experience is more like an elevator ride to hell than an old-fashioned circus parade.

"People get really anxious seeing the video," Gourd tells CBC Arts. "I feel a lot of anxiety watching this video."

So, if you're brave enough to watch, prepare for an acid-hued cavalcade of not-quite-human stars. They can bend and snap — just not in a fun way. 

And if you're braver than most, crank the volume. Whatever the opposite of ASMR is, this is it.

The sound is designed by Gourd's collaborators Simon Chioni and his brother, Blaise Émard, and it packs a couple extra layers of unease. Crunching, clicking, rustling, robotic chirping — those are just some of the sounds a 3D "freak" apparently makes. And each of those creepy sonic details is fully audible over a similarly creepy ambient drone. Enjoy.

People get really anxious seeing the video. I feel a lot of anxiety watching this video.- Félix Félix Gourd Gourd, artist

Gourd, 26, showed the piece at Montreal's Chromatic Festival in 2017, but 3D animation like "Freak Show" is just one part of his practice. Before pursuing digital art, he studied classical percussion at the city's Conservatoire de musique, and he makes sound installations and sculpture in addition to designing performance environments for acts like Montreal electro-pop duo Milk & Bone. (His handiwork's going to be featured on their upcoming spring tour, for instance.)

And while he says he's always drawn to making work that feels a little bit odd, "Freak Show" was, in some ways, a freak accident. The film started as an experiment, he explains. He wanted to try out some of the tools in his 3D animation toolbox — to play with light and texture, and things like that. The fact that he was messing around with 3D models that look more or less like human bodies? That's how things got weird.

"The feeling you receive when you see it is very different from seeing abstract shapes," says Gourd. "It's because we identify with it immediately. It's really emotional, the reaction from the public."

Says Gourd: "It's really intense for me to see this video." Again, it's all about the feeling of anxiety that it dredges up.

"I started thinking about the fact that we are very anxious, the new generation," says Gourd, and according to him, our digital reality is to blame. People are overloaded with information, he says, and we have an unprecedented pressure to "curate" our lives on social media.

"I believe that this is a lot of pressure that was not there before, and how you represent yourself, how do you get people to like you? This is a big pressure," he says. "It's the pressure we have to present ourselves as best as we can online."

Even though he created them almost by accident, Gourd says the characters in "Freak Show" are as far from a perfect selfie — or "the perfect human avatar" — as you can get.

Watch "Freak Show."

Warning: imagery starting at 3:30 may potentially trigger seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy.

Watch CBC Arts: Exhibitionists online or on CBC Television. Tune in Friday nights at 12:30am (1am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT).


Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.