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DARC art: In the Absence program develops public art spaces for your web browser

By Maryam Sayid and Digital Arts Resource Centre on October 20, 2020

For almost 40 years, you have known us as SAW Video Co-op, SAW Video Media Arts Centre, or just SAW Video. You got us mixed up with SAW Gallery, you stopped wondering what “SAW” actually stands for. And if you were not privy to what we actually do, you have mistaken us for a video rental store. You have.

Coming out of hiding from our end-of-dark-corridor basement location into bright open space for all the world to see, we think it is time to let the world know what we do: We are now known as Ottawa’s Digital Arts Resource Centre, or DARC.

We remain a non-profit, charitable, artist-run space of joyful creativity, inspiration, and collaboration. We will continue to foster the growth and development of artists through access to equipment, training, mentorship, and programming, support a diverse community of media artists empowered by technology, programming and the exchange of ideas.


In collaboration with the City of Ottawa and CF Rideau Centre, Digital Arts Resource Centre (DARC) is thrilled to announce a new public art program, In the Absence. The program guided a cohort of emerging and mid-career artists, based in Canada, who expanded on their existing practice and learned to use new tools available for digital creation. Conor Byron, Deirdre Morrison, Mercedes Ventura and Najeeba Ahmed were given the task to create a space or an experience in a web browser, and each of them delivered using their own influences and prior work.

Some of the participating artists. Photo: DARC.

Conor Byron, a software developer by day, created an intimate and meditative experience with his work “Fragment Dots.” He began working with digital spaces by creating accompanying visuals for live music shows. He loved how the software was able to express the medium and show off what could be done with those tools. Those shows were loud, flashy, and boisterous, and the digital visuals that accompanied them followed suit; they were sort of how he views the internet, a cave of new and flashy links to get preoccupied with before you’ve even finished engaging with the last one. He wanted to find a way to make his work interesting while also creating a calm digital environment for the user to meditate with. He felt that those kinds of meditative interactions were missing on the web, a place to take a break from the go-go reality that is the interwebs. The visuals are simple yet complex, mesmerizing, and built from scratch.

Deirdre Morrison is a sound artist, composer, and audio post mixer who works with audio, video, and 3D environments to create immersive digital settings. Her piece “Endless Sound” explores transitional space through movement and sound, influenced by her move from an island in Nova Scotia to our big city here in Ottawa. She was also influenced by a trip to Lake Superior Provincial Park, where the stillness of the land brought an organic movement. The piece contrasts the static behaviour of urban structures with the organic motion of the natural world. Deirdre says that growing up so near the ocean, she never really appreciated it until it was missing from her reality. Audio stimulation challenges the memory and visual programming language makes the viewer the centre with their project.

Mercedes Ventura is an emerging interdisciplinary artist whose work functions as an autobiographical fiction examining ideas of identity, culture, and social media. Her work
“P A L M Y R A  P L A Z A” features a fictional abandoned mall’s central plaza, containing a variety of items made from pixel art and crude graphics, reminiscent of early video game and web interface graphics. She took inspiration from the fact that, while malls are spaces for cultural and capital consumption, the global pandemic has created an ironic emptiness in these spaces that are built to be engaged with. Online spaces cannot replicate the same feeling that physical malls give, but with the newer generation knowing only these digital spaces (especially in the age of COVID) it’s an easy tradeoff for communication and human interaction. The project emphasizes how absurd cultural and commercial spaces can be without humans there to consume them.

Najeeba Ahmed is a transmedia designer, researcher, and artist with an educational background from the University of Ottawa. Their B.S. with a double major in Biology and Visual Arts has helped to inform the pause and reflection experienced in their project “Brishti Pore, Tapur Tupur.” In an age where we are constantly in an unhealthy, non-reciprocal relationship with technology, they wanted to make something that could provide the soothing effects of nature through a digital medium. Experiencing nature is a simple interaction with no pressure that allows for the viewer to find value in the present moment. This current moment in time allows for us to really pause and come to terms with how we engage with the world around us. Najeeba worked at a butterfly conservation lab and found inspiration in examining the symmetry and colours of those biological specimens to create art. How we know and how we think about things shapes their outcomes, while the work itself questions how we are being. How do we be? Do we have to be? What is being? They use art as a medium to question things and an avenue to be free.


You can check out all four In the Absence projects at their creators’ websites (linked above) or at CF Rideau Centre.