Barnyard Digital Art

By David Lipson

Art and technology are converging in a horse stable in Toronto. Mac desktops and beanbag couches have replaced the champion
thoroughbred racehorses once kept at this heritage farm on Bayview Ave. It is now the site of the TELUS Interactive Art and Entertainment Program (IAEP), a post-graduate digital media training and production school started in 1997.

IAEP students tweak digital technology to create new media—tactile products such as video games, interactive film and art, and social networking applications. The program falls under the umbrella of the Canadian Film Centre (CFC), a film and television school started in 1988 by Canadian cinema legend Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night, Moonsruck).

The CFC’s programs have fostered Canadian talent such as Academy Award nominated director Sarah Polley (Away from Her) and Don McKellar. “I think certainly the focus of the CFC as a broad school is to make sure that we teach everyone here,” says IAEP director Ana Serrano. “Whether they are new media professionals, to filmmakers, to television people. . .to understand how the core business
is changing because of digital technology.”

Serrano is influenced by author Don Tapscott, whom she refers to as “Canada’s digital guru.” His recent book Wikinomics says that mass scale collaboration resulting from open-source digital communication such as Wikipedia, MySpace, YouTube, and
Facebook has democratized information flow. “The same medium for creation is the same for distribution,” says Serrano. “So for the first
time you have this incredible personal publishing platform that can kind of subvert the hegemony of large media companies that have typically been the bottleneck in that process of distribution.”

The IAEP is trying to capitalize on this. It is developing a Facebook application called Greenwave. “It takes the social network and leverages it to entice people to reduce their ecological footprint,” says Serrano. “It’s all about creating eco challenges across peoples’ social network.” Toronto is the Facebook mecca of North America. It was the first city in the continent to boast one million subscribers, according to a 2007 report by ZINC Research and Dufferin Research. Serrano says the IAEP’s approach to creation is
more practical than lofty. “So if you’re going to make a piece of art, it’s not just a piece of art that’s going to lie around in the lab. It has to have context in which it can be acceptable to all sorts of audiences.” This replaces the notion of the artist as an auteur, or the
egomaniacal control freak. “The producer or creator is creating a context in which people can express themselves,” says Serrano. “So that’s a very different role for the artist.”

In 2000, Serrano produced the Great Canadian Story Engine, a website where Canadians shared their diverse experiences on living in a multicultural society. A new project from the IAEP explores a similar theme. Transport is a series of short films shot on TTC streetcars in Toronto taken from the experiences of two immigrants trying to decipher the city’s social mores, says IAEP students Isabella Stefanescu and Carlo Ghioni. “Carlo is Italian, I’m Romanian,” says Stefanescu. “We came to Canada to a society that was rather different than ours.

At some point we talked about this unspoken code that people have that we had to figure out before we could function in a normal way here.” The IAEP plans on unveiling its new content at Nuit Blanche, an all-night interactive arts festival in the streets of Toronto. It contributed seven exhibits in last year’s festival, including Jason Goodman’s project LMNO Pics, a multimedia children’s game.
Goodman studied educational psychology and taught autistic children prior to applying to the IAEP. “I got a little frustrated that we weren’t developing new tools on the teaching and learning side,” he says. “And in the computer there was the most hope at the time.” At the lab he collaborated with two other residents to create an interactive learning game that uses uploaded family photo albums, a touch screen interface, and sound effects.

“This is the first generation to be bathed in bits...and the Internet and interactive technologies are part of the experience of youth,” said Tapscott during a February 2007 lecture at Google’s headquarters. “You put a technology revolution, with a demographic revolution, you get a social revolution.” Who knew a revolution could start from a dozen people sitting around a pimped out barn?

 

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