Carte blanche: Alexandre Castonguay + Ross Birdwise

October 29 - December 3, 2005




Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain is proud to present two exhibitions of Alexandre Castonguay and Ross Birdwise. Alexandre Castonguay will present Portapak. In Portapak, a touchscreen is inset within the cover of a road case. The images consists in hi-8 video footage of the train journey from Ottawa to Montréal, which is about 2hrs or the length of a video tape set to 'ep'. The camera was pointed outside the passenger cart window, effectively creating a 2 hour linear traveling sequence. Surface effects occur that abstracts the images through the recurrence of objects close to the camera while open areas in the camera field read as a slowing down relative to the observer's position. The screen is placed in a context that hints at the portability of the apparatus. Indeed, the case originally contained a portapak-like camera, batteries and tape recorder unit. Touching the screen affects the speed and direction of the playback, revisiting the A to B of linear editing systems. Our very perception of the landscape between cities is transformed into that of an extended palindrome.

Accompanying Portapak, is a new digitally-edited photograph from his "Constructions" series. These digitally-edited images consist of more than 250 photographs that create a 360 degree view on a two dimensional surface of urban landscapes.

Sony CV Portapak

The introduction of the portapack into artistic formulation was paramount. In the late 1960's the use of video was confined to close circuit installations, a very elegant solution to the use of video in the gallery. With the invasion of tape on the scene it took some time to settle the problem of exhibition. Speaking to Steina about reel to reel machines Bruce Nauman put it more directly: "I almost dropped video when tape was introduced; when the tape ran out there was no one in the gallery to rewind it, thread it and run it again."

It was an entirely different story for the socially engaged. The portapack was considered a revolutionary tool, almost a weapon against the establishment. Overnight it dissolved the hegemony of documentary films. A vast number of genres sprang up (including the notorious 30 minute single take), and the documentary branch was never the same again.

The middle ground was also interesting. With tape new networks of distribution were quickly established. Video became truly international. It was easy to duplicate, mail, and view. With the introduction of the video cassettes in 1973 it became even easier, and harmonized with the exhibition purposes of video. By the mid-1970's video as art was fully entrenched in the galleries, with many developed genres, forms and concepts.

Only a few people tried to develop the so-called "abstract" genre. It failed in the first decade entirely. We and other people dealing with early synthetic images used tape primarily as extended studio material (input), and secondarily as a method of documentation of these new processes and phenomena unexpectedly popping up in front of our eyes. - Woody Vasulka

For the past 10 years or so, Alexandre Castonguay has produced a multidisciplinary body of work centred around digital photography, video, computerized installation and the Internet. A native of the Outaouais region, where he lives and works, Castonguay teaches in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa. He is also a founding member and the artistic director of Artengine, a website run by and for visual and media artists. A politically committed artist, he contributes to developing the field of free software. He has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Québec, across Canada and abroad, notably in New York, Los Angeles, Santiago and Mexico City. In 2004, he won the Graff Award instituted in memory of Pierre Ayot. Currently his work can be seen at Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal in his first solo exhibition titled Elements.

Ross Birdwise’s installation Videoportraits explores the tensions between the still and the moving image, photography and video, sound and image, memory and present time. For this piece, videos were made of people standing relatively still, with a neutral expression on their faces gradually breaking down into fidgeting, sudden movements, twitches, smiles or nervous laughter that were edited down into repeating cells of extremely short loops that convey a sense of stasis. In the installation, these loops repeat for long periods of time, periodically lengthening, and breaking the sense of stasis, thus giving way to a more normal sense of time and to the people’s breakdowns described above. The short, repeating mechanical loops represent still images, but nonetheless they move slightly, alluding to the moments before and after a still image’s genesis. When the loops lengthen, the mechanical movement disappears and time flows more normally. This is video. It is the ‘after’ a photograph cannot capture. Initially, the looping of the subject seems to dehumanize them, making them into an automaton, but this also permits the viewer to explore the nuances and subtle modulations of the subject’s facial expressions and surroundings. This creates a play between a mechanizing and a humanizing effect. The subject achieves a unique representation while nonetheless being standardized by the artist’s treatments. Videoportraits also explores how all of the subjects’ expressive potential is both actualized and delimited by the process of representation itself.

Ross Birdwise explores a number of different themes through his use of new technologies, visual and audio art and music. Often he makes work that encourages a reflection upon the medium and representation itself, while simultaneously creating work that is at times visceral, emotive, detached, formally beautiful, aesthetically challenging and occasionally humorous.

Ross Birdwise lives and works in Ottawa. He holds a BFA with a focus on photography and new media from the University of Ottawa. Recently, Ross's work was seen Ottawa in a group show entitled Urban Projections at the Artengine Lab and the Mercury Lounge. He has worked with Alexandre Castonguay before, in a collaboration with electronic musician Nathan Medema on the sound component to Castonguay's installation Generique. In addition to his visual art, Ross also organizes and curates new music concerts and plays music in the Ottawa experimental group if then do. The artist would like to thank Artengine, Alexandre Castonguay, Pierre-Francois Ouellette, Nathan Medema, Darsha Hewitt, and Sul Pont.



-Alexandre Castonguay's page on the PFOAC website