How does it feel to interact with someone who isn’t actually there? This question arose while viewing and engaging with the current Surrey Art Gallery exhibit Rencontres Imaginaires by Scenocosme. The larger-than-life public art installation exhibits on the UrbanScreen outside Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre every evening.
Scenocosme are two artists otherwise known as Gregory Lasserre and Anaïs met den Ancx. They look at urban and social landscapes in a unique way. Their installations combine real life elements with technology, showcasing interactive artworks where spectators can share sensory experiences. With Rencontres Imaginaires, the spectator stands within a two-foot range of a digital kiosk system, which activates internal video software to display various video character performances.
The users are then compelled to engage with these virtual actors. “It was a project that took over a year to develop and implement,” says curator Alison Rajah. “Originally met den Ancx came to visit the site to evaluate how the interactivity and interactive kiosk would function. Following this, Lasserre came to the Gallery for a residency with his technician, Christophe Thollet, to work with local community participants who were the video performers.”
According to Lasserre, the size of the work was one of the considerations for the artists. When showing in previous galleries they had a video the same size as the viewer’s head. But in Surrey’s case, the head size was enlarged which required thoughtful modifications. The outdoor screen is on the wall of Chuck Bailey’s three-storey recreation centre.
“The Surrey installation has been the largest exhibit to date,” says Lasserre.
It was crucial that the structure still enabled the viewers to interact with the artwork. The most important criteria for our installations is that people are able to engage with them.
“The UrbanScreen brings a sense of humanity to the vast concrete cityscape,” says Mandeep Wirk, a video performer participant and Surrey’s artist-in-residence.
While passing by on the Skytrain, onlookers will see the whole wall lit up with people playing, making gestures with their hands – just having fun.
A work of social engagement
Lasserre and met den Ancx have been doing interactive artworks for about 13 years now.
“In the beginning, we were working with people inviting them to share in an artistic and creative experience,” Lasserre says. “We did use technology but it was the social engagement inside the installation. The sharing together was the major theme for the creations.”
Light Contacts for example, another installation from their Interactive Media Series, asks the audience to engage skin to skin through hands and fingers, activating a multimedia response. Seeing the continued interest in these explorations, they decided to expand the ideas in Rencontres Imaginaires. In this work, people have virtual contact with others on a projected screen. It is important to mention that everyone is real – there are no avatars. This then becomes the imaginary meeting. For the current installation, these situations create further explorations and unique behaviours with a participating audience in the urban space.
“It is about social engagement, whereby people interact with others inside a cinema graphic installation space,” says Lasserre
This is what has always motivated them.
The artists have exhibited internationally at museums, contemporary art centres, biennales and digital art festivals such as Nuits Blanches in Toronto. When asked where they see themselves in the near future, Lasserre says they have an important solo exhibition coming up in France. The exhibition will be another important one, since it hosts 15 of their interactive artworks at Lab Labanque / Lieu d’art contemporain – Béthune (France) from April to August 2017. The exhibit will incorporate concepts of human engagement with natural elements. People interact using touch in combination with their imagination to cross boundaries between the natural world and technology in a sensory rich environment.
“It is so much fun to be a part of it,” says Polly Gibbons, another participating artist.
Rencontres Imaginaires has been extended to May 7, 2017. The illuminated interactive artwork displays every night beginning 30 minutes after sunset and ends at midnight.