For the last three years, Ottawa-based new media collective Artengine has hosted a Critical Blogging Residency, with the aim to bolster critical writing about technologically-based art within the city. The organization, which brings to Ottawa events like Electric Fields, the Mini Maker Faire, and bimonthly meet-ups at the Mod Lab (they have a 3D printer!), has recently selected Megan Smith for the year-long residency. I met up with Megan and Artengine’s Artistic Director Ryan Stec over coffee a short while ago to chat about the residency and their plans for the upcoming year.
Apt613: Ryan, can you talk a little about Artengine and the Critical Blogging Residency?
RS: We started the Blogging Residency as a way to engage writers – particularly art writers – into the domain that we’re working in: what you could call New Media, digital art, electronic art. To target emerging critics or existing critical writers to look at the work that we’re doing, not just at Artengine, but more in the city and through media arts happening here. It’s also about seeing a lot of interesting stuff happening locally and wanting to connect that to a larger Canadian and international context.
We partnered for the first two years with an online journal called Vague Terrain which is based out of Toronto and Montreal. They have a more international perspective on new music and experimental digital work. The bloggers had to be based locally so we could connect what was happening here within a larger context. This year we’re partnering with Apartment613 in the sense of connecting the local spheres, the overlapping elements that happen within our two communities, to talk about some of these interesting creative technological issues.
Apt613: This year’s blogging resident is Megan Smith. Welcome! What drew you to apply to the Critical Blogging Residency?
MS: I’ve been following Artengine for a couple of years from abroad. It was an introduction, for me, to what was happening in the city. I was curious as to what was happening in Ottawa. So when I decided to move here, I started exploring the site more and realized there is a lot of crisscross between my own personal practice as an artist and a researcher, to what Artengine’s aims are, and to the artists that they are engaged with. When I saw the Critical Resident Blogger, I thought the description was fantastic and I wanted to be able to, having just finished a PhD, articulate some of the research that I’d accumulated, but in a more public realm. I felt that it worked symbiotically with Artengine’s philosophies.
Apt613: What is your connection to the city of Ottawa?
MS: I grew up in the country, in Quebec. As a child I would come to Ottawa and for most of my adult life I’ve lived abroad. When you do that, after awhile, you have this yearning to come back to your own city. When I left Canada in 2002, I always knew I wanted to go and learn things, and come back to Canada – and Ottawa was a really good fit for a number of reasons. I felt that I wanted to come back to Ottawa, engage with the community that’s here, which the Blogging Residency has allowed me to do. To talk critically about what I’m seeing and bring the knowledge that I have from my research, here.
Apt613: With that in mind, Ryan – what sets Megan apart for you, in terms of her writing and artistic practice?
MS: I find it quite exciting. Artengine allows me to be critical and develop knowledge of the community, the media community, and artists. Apartment613 allows it to have this very jovial, celebratory, social aspect. Part of my research is about combatting the dryness that you experience in higher education, especially at the PhD level, where I feel like we’re in a realm where we communicate personally – to people that we don’t even know. We don’t necessarily need to address people in sterile ways anymore.
RS: Hopefully we’re not that serious… I was hoping that our goal at Artengine is to try and be less serious. Again, that’s part of what attracted us to what Megan is bringing to the residency. The aesthetics of the work can be so serious.
MS: We can reach a greater public by being casual about the way we communicate with people. I like to be clear with people, in plain English.
Apt613: And with your critical writing, there is an opportunity to demystify artistic practices that will speak to people who may not otherwise go out to experience work of this kind.
RS: One of the interesting things as you try and explore tone – that not being serious doesn’t mean that we don’t have respect or depth or capability.
MS: I wouldn’t have been attracted to Artengine if it hadn’t been all of those things.
Apt613: It’s a few months into the residency now. What have you written so far?
MS: I did one post where I went with Artengine to Montreal, we went to the Elektra Festival and the BIAN (Biennale Internationale d’Art Numérique). I did that first post about my experiences at ELEKTRA – it was the first time that I had gone to an event like that, in Canada. It was exciting for me, to finally engage in my home country. I thought it was fantastic, especially the session called the Digital Marketplace, which were short presentations by all the artists involved. You don’t get that opportunity very often, to be in a room with so many artists that are involved, where you can listen to them talk about what they’re doing or what they’re working on next, in a really casual way. I learned a lot at that event.
What I want to explore during this residency – it’s about open projects. Politically-charged projects that are interacting with technology to relay messages in a new way, to tell new stories. We have the capacity and the technology to communicate, but yet those communication systems are tailoring how we communicate. I think as a designer or artist, our role is to re-look at those systems, break them if we have to, to communicate better.
To hear from Megan herself, take a look at her second post, #BustOutYOW/ I want to beam your content to the world., which was published on Artengine yesterday.