INTERVIEW: Gallerist Jamie Angell Champions the Digital Generation

Stephanie Wu

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One of Toronto’s most enduring contemporary art venues, Angell Gallery, has established a recurring theme, in recent years, championing the digital art world and its Post-Internet offshoot in both its roster and programming. Indeed, after leveraging two exhibitions in as many years on the subject, Angell has established himself at the fore of a traditionally elusive genre in the commercial realm. But obviously undaunted, director Jamie Angell followed his 2012 exhibition “Simulators” (featuring emerging stars like Alex McLeodJon Rafman, and Phillip Blanchard) with the fittingly titled “Simulators II,” showcasing a new set of artists and a visibly progresses set of aesthetic agendas. BLOUIN ARTINFO Canada caught-up with Angell to discuss his attention to the digital, and the characteristics that are beginning to emerge from the artworld’s youngest genre.

This exhibition forms a second iteration after “Simulators” (2012). Did you know at that time that you would be following up with a second exhibition by the same name? 

Yes, we definitely knew from the first “Simulators” that we wanted a second edition to the digital-art focused show. With the success of both “Simulators” and “Simulators II,” it’s been our ambition to continue an examination of the marriage between contemporary art and digital technology.  

Where did the initial impulse to produce an exhibition featuring artists influenced by, or employing digital technology stem from? Were you seeing a thread emerge in your stable, or did the idea come from an observation regarding Post-internet aesthetics being practiced in the larger artworld?

There is a thread that emerges from our stable. Angell Gallery has always shown artists working in the digital realm, one of the first artists being Napo Brousseau in 1999, where a series of oil paintings were produced from pixelated images rendered from computer software. Another digital artist we've shown is Geoffrey Pugen, who opened his 2005 exhibition at Angell with a series of videos that straddles film and digital video genre. Both artists continue to work in the digital medium and are very successful at their examination of the ever-growing and ever-changing digital technology that is becoming more accessible to them.

It’s also an observational choice to mount an exhibition that is digital art-focused, as many of the artists we love and work with are working with the Post-Internet aesthetics. We are looking at a generation of artists born, raised, and educated in the digital age. It becomes our job to document this important period in art. 

Where does Toronto  or Canada  fit into this developing genre? Are we at the forefront or following?

We hope that Toronto is at the forefront of this. The effort that our artists put into their digital art practices calls for recognition, which is why we've mounted these exhibitions.

From Mitchell Chan referencing Sol LeWitt to Rafael Ochoa recalling the porcelain-skin portraiture of Botticelli; from Geoffrey Pugen mimicking Grand Manner representations and Napo Brousseau evoking lustrous Northern Renaissance self-portraiture, this exhibition frames the contemporary while mining the historical. Do you see the digital genre anchoring itself in the canon in an effort to legitimize itself?

I think art history is a part of the digital genre (or at the very least, a part of “Simulators II”), not a determining factor in the artworks you've referenced. While Chan, Ochoa, Pugen, and Brousseau may refer to various periods in art history, Alex Fischer, for instance, examines digital appropriation in the Post-Internet world; Aamna Muzaffar attempts at combining digital conceptualization with labor production in her digital paintings.   

It's interesting that so much of this work takes its starting point or its exegesis from limitation. Chan is an obvious example of this with his reference to LeWitt and the conceptual directions bestowed on his viewer-participants; but similarly Aamna Muzaffar, who grounds her work in self-determined exercises (jogging, stopping to draw) and media (3D printers). Do you think this predominance of limiting frameworks is the result of a still-developing media, or is a certain 1960s existential conceptualism working its way into this particular generation of artists?

It may be limiting in itself, to view the exhibiting works with a limiting element. Concepts are bound to have their limitations, as many conceptual artists work within a framework to ensure they approach a subject or idea with conviction. I would like to think that on the contrary, a developing genre would have less room for limitation but more for exploration, and that's what our curating is aiming to do, to examine various themes in the digital art world, whether they be art history, appropriation, digital aesthetics, or media.

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