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Exploring the selfie and beyond

Submitted on Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Using technology as both his medium and his topic, the McLuhan Centre’s inaugural artist-in-residence has created a mini-museum in its famous seminar room

The McLuhan Centre for Technology and Culture is kicking off this academic year’s programming, reflected in its annual theme of “Our Selfies, Our Selves,” with an exhibition by its inaugural artist-in-residence, Francisco González-Rosas. In the Coach House space, where media theorist Marshall McLuhan held his famous Monday Night Seminars, González-Rosas has installed several video animations and a series of prints related to self-representation and self-image.

A performance and new media artist who uses himself as model, González-Rosas is especially interested in the interconnections happening in a single selfie and the context of the images. In the works he has created for this new exhibition, entitled The Museum of Copy/Pasted Identities, he uses 3D modeling software to create animations and 3D sculptures, which are then displayed as video animations both on screens and a wall.

“I think that I am post-selfie, because the images that I’m doing, they’re not selfies, they are body scans so it’s like a one step further,” says González-Rosas. “You have to understand that the body is the most difficult thing to replicate in 3d, because we are breathing entities, we’re not objects. A human body unless it’s maybe asleep or dead is very, very hard to scale.”

Museum of the Copy Pasted Identities

As the McLuhan Centre’s inaugural artist-in-residence, Francisco González-Rosas will hold workshops and talk to classes as well as putting on this exhibit in the old coach house where Marshall McLuhan used to hold forth.

While González-Rosas’ art uses the latest technology as a medium, it also treats technology, which the artist describes as “a macrostructure of society,” as a topic to be questioned and reflected upon. And as high tech as the artworks on display are, they contain some very traditional elements. Christian iconography is prominent and, González-Rosas points out a ring of feathers, a symbol often used by the Indigenous people of Chile, where he was born and lived before immigrating to Montreal to pursue graduate studies in fine arts at Concordia University.

Under its new director, Scott Richmond, who is an Associate Professor at UofT’s Cinema Studies Institute, the McLuhan Centre has shifted its programming to focus on art and aesthetics with a special emphasis on interactive media art. Naming an artist-in-residence, with whose works students and faculty members could engage, was a key part of Richmond’s plan. Along with putting on the exhibit, which opens on September 14, González-Rosas will also talk to classes and hold workshops.

“I take the question of aesthetics to be absolutely at the core of what McLuhan taught. He collaborated with media and people making media at the time,” says Richmond, whose areas of interest include avant-garde and experimental cinema as well as digital media art.

“Francisco is using 3D models as a new medium for a new kind of self-portraiture. His work really pushes the limits of how we can think of computers as modelling, gendering and elaborating the self.”

Richmond is also interested in how González-Rosas addresses colonialism, in one case in the exhibition, by inserting himself pinup style and front and centre in the painting, The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger. “In a fascinating and provocative way, he is using contemporary 3D technology to push against the legacies of colonialism,” he says.

Throughout the 2022–23 academic year, the McLuhan Centre’s programming will continue to investigate contemporary technologies of the self. Along with the classic selfie, its website lists other examples that have seemed salient in recent years including the “the endless online avatars we create, from dating profiles to VR avatars to the advertising profiles platforms collect; the intimate biometric technologies of the ‘quantified self’; or, simply, the endlessly irritating rectangle in the Brady Bunch grid of a video call that shows us back to ourselves.”

Pandemic permitting, the popular Monday Night Seminars, revitalized by Richmond’s predecessor Sarah Sharma — who has taken on a new role as Director of UTM’s Institute for Communication, Culture and Technology — will return starting later this fall.

The Museum of Copy/Pasted Identities opens September 14 and runs until October 15. Opening hours are Wednesdays noon to 4, Thursdays noon to 8, Fridays and Saturdays noon to 6. The McLuhan Centre is located at 39A Queen’s Park Crescent East.

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