Satellite of love

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Satellite's gone way up to Mars / Soon it'll be filled with parkin' cars / I watched it for a little while…” – Lou Reed, “Satellite of Love”

“One of the satellites that was sent to focus on Mars was recently set to catch up with Earth recently and actually pass it for the first time in 10 years or something like that. It’s been flying around the solar system for 25 years, but the communication between Earth and that satellite is no longer. And so this thing that we sent out to explore for us is coming back, but all we can do is sort of say, ‘See you.’ There can be no actual communication.”

When Toronto artist Oliver Pauk tells this story, he isn’t offering any insights that are new, per se. Scientists have been probing the far reaches of the galaxy with experimental instruments they have been unable to guarantee a return trip to for so long and with such persistence that we have all become well acquainted with the concept of “space junk.”

But perhaps that’s the point. Maybe there’s something intrinsically romantic about the densifying halo of failure-speckled “progress” Earth is accruing in its extraterrestrial orbit.

Seated across from Pauk at a table in the back of the Bloordale Village location of art studio and shared workspace Akin Collective, fellow artist and frequent collaborator Michael Vickers (with whom Pauk co-runs Akin) offers that symbols like the satellite Pauk mentioned point to “a tumultuous relationship”: one that speaks to an ironically alienated human sense of orientation within the universe, and the fleeting nature of provisionality.

That relationship is something Pauk and Vickers are addressing collaboratively in a multi-faceted, site-specific work the pair will show for just one night, March 7, at the final edition of this season’s Long Winter.

Centered on a process involving digital feedback projection loops and large sculptures, the artists will juxtapose and collide expansive images of starscapes taken by the Hubble Space Telescope with scenes of curiosity punishing disasters – including footage of the failed Challenger and Columbia rocket launches – in a piece titled Spectra Logic.

“We didn’t want it to just be big, beautiful stars, you know? And maybe not everyone will pick up on the fact that they’re watching footage of a disaster, but at least it’s there,” said Vickers.

And more than big, beautiful stars it is, indeed.

“It’s [focusing on] that quest – that innate human desire – to explore into unknown territory, but then the consequences that come with that. The risks that are taken every day,” Pauk explains. “I think that what we wanted to convey was the relationship between humans and high technology, the apex of that being space travel or space exploration. In my mind, that’s sort of the peak of technological development. And in a sense what we’re doing is involving that: it’s not ‘at the peak of technology,’ but the projection work is going through us, and the computer, and the projection, so there’s that relationship [between humans and high technology] on a much smaller scale.”

In spite of Pauk’s modesty, the tech savvy he and Vickers have tapped into to make the piece work will be something to wonder at itself (and something bound to affect Long Winter’s audience’s relationship with the space around it at the Great Hall on Friday): with their images projected onto the ceiling of the Great Hall, Pauk and Vickers will also have a camera in place to capture their projected images, and an additional process set up to route those impressions through the projector again, ad infinitum; just as quickly as the camera captures an image it will alter it exponentially, almost simultaneously; just as audiences absorb the complicated beauty of a specific visual, they will have to absorb too the temporariness of it all.

It will all happen as bands play on the main stage, aerial acrobats perform gravity defying stunts, gamers test out new indie games in the Long Winter Arcade, and people come and go from the room, the ambient light reflecting off of all, affecting both the glow of the room as well as Spectra Logic’s projections, turning the entire evening into a performance of its own.

“It’s about creating a specific environment for that evening, through sculpture, and the projection,” said Pauk. “I would like it to compliment the music that’s being performed, too. It’s something we’re trying to be considerate of. I mean, visuals and music always tie in together, but to do it well is difficult. And that’s sort of an interesting element of the performative aspect of it too, to be able to interact with the music kind of in real time to be able to affect how the projection is looking and how that plays in with the sculptural element.”

All things considered, Spectra Logic is high concept and high tech, and just as its projections will literally shoot over people’s heads, so too might the logic (or logics) behind the whole undertaking. But as Vickers explains, he and Pauk aren’t necessarily worried about people “getting” it as much as they are concerned with affecting a general atmosphere in the space.

“Even if you don’t start brooding about fear of failure and loss or nothing else, if you’re like, ‘Wow, this looks stellar and it’s really brought the space alive,’ that’s number one.”

By Tom Beedham