On Fuzzy Boundaries and Dreams of a Post-Capitalist Future With Local Artist, Ben Bogart

Art meets science meets classic sci-fi cinema in interdisciplinary artist Ben Bogart‘s series of video installations, ‘Watching and Dreaming‘. Screening now until June 10th at the Surrey Art Gallery as part of the Capture Photography Festival, Bogart’s computer-programmed regurgitations include the sights and sounds of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Bladerunner and TRON. The resulting projections are essentially a futuristic glimpse through artificial ‘eyes’ via a simulated robot’s cinematic experience. What follows is a glimpse into the very real (and sometimes surreal) mind of the creator…

What’s your neighbourhood and what makes it home? I live in Kensington–Cedar Cottage and the diversity is what makes it home. I can get lemongrass and curry leaves within a 15-minute walk. I’m also on the edge of Riley Park where I can get a great chai from East is East and visit an even increasing number of veg restaurants.

Where do you go to get inspiration? Everywhere; I spend a lot of time looking — at people, at the ground, off into the distance. Reading and making art are inspiring in themselves.

The last unexpected or weird thing that inspired you? I’m just starting a new project that has been in the back of my head for years that was inspired by Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers’ franchise.

The last argument you had? I had a great discussion about whether objects exist independent of thought; it did not get resolved.

The meal you cook for yourself at home? I cook a lot, but when I cook for myself my go-to is couscous with garam masala, ajwain, turmeric, and seasonal veggies.

Tell me a bit about your upbringing. I grew up here in Vancouver playing with both computers and art (photography) thanks to my dad. It was not until I moved to Toronto in the late 90s that I realized you could make contemporary art with computers; I’ve never looked back.

Your favourite thing about Vancouver? Mountains with forests and wildlife.

The thing about Vancouver that you would most like to see change? I would love to see a well-funded Vancouver arts council like the one in Toronto, and affordable housing for artists.

What is your role at ECU? I am a sessional instructor and have been teaching a second year Intro to Programming for Creative Practice class since 2015.

An alternate career path that you could have taken? I got into an engineering program at UNBC but never went. I think I would have been very bored in a purely technical job.

A hidden talent? It’s not so hidden, but I’m pretty good on a slackline.

A skill that you wished you possessed? I wish I was better at math.

The last movie that you saw in a theatre? The Blade Runner reboot; I was quite happy with it.

A tool or piece of technology that you can’t live without? GNU/Linux.

How has your artistic process changed over the years? I ebb and flow between conceptualism and formalism; technology and code have been my artistic material since the early 2000s. I’ve only recently accepted that I am, indeed, an image-maker – but an image-maker that also makes sounds, and maybe objects too.

What does ‘the future’ mean to you? Following from William Gibson: “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”, our sense of the future tells us how little we understand the present.

Describe you new series of work, ‘Watching and Dreaming’, in 10 words or less. Breaking sci-fi films into millions of fragments to construct new compositions.

“I want people to feel skeptical and unsure of what they experienced.”

What inspired you to create this series? This work follows from my PhD on a machine that dreams where I considered a constructive conception of perception as constrained dreaming. The idea of a “dreaming machine” has probably been in my unconscious for a long time. thanks to 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke.

What did you learn in the process? Key points: (a) there is a fuzzy boundary between waking and dreaming; (b) all experience of images in the mind (e.g. dreaming, mind wandering, mental imagery, perception) depend on shared cognitive processes. Also, art-science projects are hard, especially when you try to embody both sides.

How do you want people to feel after visiting ‘Watching and Dreaming’? I want people to feel skeptical and unsure of what they experienced. I want people to come away from the work having been challenged by the constructive nature of the watching machines, and having enjoyed the trip between readability and abstraction.

“Watching (2001: A Space Odyssey)” (2018), Still from video | all images via the artist

What questions do you hope ‘Watching and Dreaming’ to bring up? What answers do you hope it will provide? I’m much bigger on questions than answers. The meaning of the work is up for interpretation. I hope the viewer questions the relation between brains and computers, the validity of their own perceptions, the nature of dreams, and the hype around AI and machine-learning these days.

The last dream you remember? Ironically, I remember very few of my dreams; in fact, it has been months since I last remembered a dream and I have no recollection of what it may have been.

A burning question on your mind? “Is objectivity possible without a subjective point of view?”

Are you an activist? I’m more of a proselytizer and advocate.

What do you do when you get a creative block? Just move onto something else… I have a long list of art ideas to make.

You’ve worked across many mediums. What is material or medium that you would like to tackle in the future? Bioart (using biological materials as art media) is something I would like to explore and gets to the heart of my interests in the line
between life and machine, computation and physical/chemical process.

What excites you most about the future? A peaceful end of capitalism with a technologically-engaged, socially and environmentally sustainable economic system to replace it.

What scares you most about the future? We continue to assume that just because we think the world is like so, it actually is.

Your biggest fear? Not having inspired anyone.

Where do you see yourself in a year? 5 years? A decade? I would like to have a healthy presence in the market, a stable prof job with enough time for research and collaboration with brilliant people in other disciplines.

What would you like to leave as your legacy? Being part of a new Renaissance of art and science.

  • “Watching (Blade Runner)” (2016), Transmediale installation view, Photograph by Luca Girardini, CC BY-SA 4.0
    “Watching (Blade Runner)” (2016), Transmediale installation view, Photograph by Luca Girardini, CC BY-SA 4.0
  • “Watching (Blade Runner)” (2016), Transmediale installation view, Photograph by Luca Girardini, CC BY-SA 4.0
    “Watching (Blade Runner)” (2016), Transmediale installation view, Photograph by Luca Girardini, CC BY-SA 4.0
  • “Watching (Blade Runner)” (2016), Still from video
    “Watching (Blade Runner)” (2016), Still from video
  • “Watching (Blade Runner)” (2016), Still from video
    “Watching (Blade Runner)” (2016), Still from video
  • “Watching (Blade Runner)” (2016), Still from video
    “Watching (Blade Runner)” (2016), Still from video
  • “Watching (2001: A Space Odyssey)” (2018), Still from video
    “Watching (2001: A Space Odyssey)” (2018), Still from video
  • “Watching (2001: A Space Odyssey)” (2018), Still from video
    “Watching (2001: A Space Odyssey)” (2018), Still from video
  • “Watching (2001: A Space Odyssey)” (2018), Still from video
    “Watching (2001: A Space Odyssey)” (2018), Still from video
  • “Percepts from Watching (2001: A Space Odyssey; Blade Runner; TRON)” (2018)
    “Percepts from Watching (2001: A Space Odyssey; Blade Runner; TRON)” (2018)

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