The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) presents Roland Brener: Discoveries in Digital Design, an exhibition of recent work by Canadian sculptor and installation artist, Roland Brener. The exhibition opens Thursday, August 28th and runs through September 22th at the Gallery of Contemporary Art at Lewis & Clark College. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, from noon to 4 p.m with a suggested donation of $3. An opening night reception for the artist will be held Thursday, August 28th from 6 – 8 p.m. and the public is invited.
Roland Brener’s work is characterized by his irreverent use of technology for purposes other than that for which it was originally intended. His earlier works center around the use of everyday objects to create mechanical sculptures that perform simple tasks or mimic human behavior. More recent works involve computer technology and explore more abstract notions, such as randomness and space. Many of his works are interactive, requiring the viewer to activate or alter them in some way. Others are reflective and self-contained. All deliver Brener’s wry commentary on contemporary life and culture with wit, intelligence and grace.
The centerpiece of Discoveries in Digital Design is a large-scale, interactive installation entitled Endsville, which was commissioned by PICA for this exhibition. Endsville investigates how contemporary architecture addresses public space and community by replicating a suburban housing development. Utilizing a computer design program, Brener creates a series of individualized “trophy houses,” designed in 30 second intervals, which are then manufactured and placed along a grid on the gallery floor. The computer will also be used to drive the installation’s sound and light systems which will be affected by the viewers’ presence as they move within and around the exhibition space. Endsville furthers Brener’s exploration of technology, as the computer actually becomes the material of the installation, rather than merely an artist’s tool.
It is with great pleasure
that PICA presents a solo
exhibition of recent work
by Victoria-based artist,
The title of the exhibition,
Discoveries in Digital Design,
is intended to reflect the
interests and explorations of the
artist,describing both his process
and the completed works in the show.
Roland Brener is considered one
of Canada’s most important contemporary
artists. He has gained an
international reputation as a prominent
sculptor and his work has
been included in numerous prestigious
venues such as the Venice
Biennale and the Power Plant, in
addition to occupying several museum
collections. Characteristic of his work
throughout the previous decade is
his provocative execution of
kinetic possibilities in sculpture. The
works in this show illustrate
the range of these investigations.
Ghost of Untitled explores
an implied kineticism by artificially
suspending non-congruent shapes. In
Ghost of Weeper he reduces
movement to its barest element,
that of a single tear.
Ghost of Teddy requires the
viewer to interact with the
sculpture by pulling a lever,
making the eyes roll and
In recent years his sculpture
has expanded from direct physical
kineticism to the more “virtual”
movements of light and sound.
His most current installation entitled
consists of 45 cardboard houses
which sprawl along the gallery
floor in a grid. Within
it he incorporates interactive sound
and lights controlled and randomized
by a computer. The vocal
sounds of a viewer are
picked up by microphone and
translated through a specially designed
midi-system, causing both elements
to jump from a default
setting to an instantly animated
series of aural and visual
patterns which cast light, shadow
and sound throughout the room.
Viewer interaction with art has
been a long-standing interest
of Brener’s, and often occupies
a component of his sculpture.
With Endsville he has incorporated
this into the actual making
of the piece itself. For
over a week, during nightly
“work parties” Brener provided house
designs for groups of volunteers
to translate and manufacture in
cardboard. The volunteers ranged widely
in their professional trades and
personal interests, from designers to
architects to PICA’s members
and staff. In order to
complete the installation in time,
a minimum of 5 houses
had to be completed each day.
Their efforts were documented and
daily progress was posted on
PICA’s web site, which accompanies
the exhibition. They will also
be included in the catalogue
for the show.
Equally characteristic has been his
ongoing exploration of materials,
reflecting his curiosity and knowledge
of their possibilities. His primary
interest is in making various
materials do what they seem
least capable of withstanding,
or providing unexpected juxtapositions
that result in witty, often
strange and utterly refreshing sculpture.
Relative to this show, Brener’s
primary material and tool of
trade has been the computer,
and its role in the
work cannot be underestimated.
From his extensive use of digital
imagery in his house designs,
nearly a year’s worth of
correspondence via email,
interactive web site design,
disks, zip drives, a midi sound
and light system design, to
basic word processing, it seems
that all matter of software
and hardware has been employed
in service of this show.
Most notably in his voracious
exploration of the computer, and
what it can do.
“When I was working on
the computer I would say
to it, ‘make those’ according
to certain specifications, and
then I’d say, ‘and then
make them out of something.’
Which would result in an instantaneous
transformation due to the computer.
I have just pushed a button
and it happens, which for me
has created a different consciousness
that has become part of
how I look at everything.”
Of particular intrigue is
Brener’s decision to use that
shift in consciousness as subject matter.
In doing so, he raises
questions of merit and aesthetic
meaning, as the “push button ease”
is antithetical to what
we have come to commonly
associate with art and,
perhaps more so, what we
expect from art making. He
is acutely aware of his
own irreverence, and in
keeping with the show, I
include a recent piece of
Brener’s writing that reveals
something about his art:
“My parents had emigrated and
twenty five years after first
leaving home I visited my
mother and Leo in their adopted country.
The move alleviated the bitter
antagonism that had poisoned their
lives since the death of their daughter.
But soon after my arrival many
of the old difficulties resurfaced.
Their new house overlooked a
beautiful panorama of beach and ocean.
The first day of my visit,
returning from a walk,
I stood on a needle stuck
in the carpet. It broke
in half and penetrated the
joint of a toe, lodging
into a nerve bundle. Leo
had a monopoly on pain
in his house and my
accident created an unwelcome
diversion. He was annoyed with
having to compete for the
attention that was normally his
exclusively. Hospitalised for two
operations, one on the wrong toe,
I was back in their
house on crutches and pain killers.
Being unable to venture out
to experience the spectacular environment,
I was able to examine their
home at leisure. With surprise
I realised that many of my
behavioural peculiarities and
intolerance’s had been derived
from Leo Ñ tough luck as
he wasn’t even a blood relative.
I also intuited that years of
exposure to his curious approach
to the world had probably
influenced my approach to art.
His stubborn refusal, or inability,
to adopt orthodox methods was
enough to ruin almost anything
he touched, but he also created
solutions that were unique and unexpected.
Leo survives alone and the house
is gone. I remember him
best with affection through the
few snapshots I took in their home.”
Nearly a year’s worth of
work is reflected in the show.
It has been a rare pleasure to work
with such an extraordinary artist,
as a thinker and as a maker,
Roland Brener is truly unique.
-Kristy Edmunds, Curator