The giraffe is still kicking
Avatar is celebrating its 20th anniversary. For the occasion, “The Giraffe” is offering you this collective digital publication, which brings together—like an instant snapshot taken at a precise moment in its trajectory—the contributions of forty-nine artists, authors, collaborators and friends. The collection comprises a wide range of initiatives, testimony to the multiple disciplinary crossovers that characterize the organization. In this sense, sound art and electronic art can be seen not so much as disciplines, but as ways of constructing and reflecting upon the world, of seeing it, hearing it, desiring and engaging with it.
Ideas, projects and collaborations are what fuel Avatar, and it is therefore the artists themselves who are being celebrated here, for it is they who set everything in motion. They were asked to contribute to this publication with no pre-established theme in mind: the project was intended to be as exploratory and free in its content as in its form—that of the electronic book.
This publication is symbolic for Avatar, similar to the Golden Records carried aboard the Voyager spacecraft, for humanity. It sends out a signal. Although it is impossible to summarize a human or artistic adventure with a few key artefacts, we can say that in the case of both interstellar travel and Avatar, it is improbable circumstances, bold actions and productive collaborations that have allowed the most incredible dreams to be realized.
We have learned that Voyager I will be within 1.7 light years of another star in about 40,000 years. Between 20 and 40,000 years, past and future merge. Is there a real difference? More amazing still, this first star outside the solar system, at the limits of the sun’s magnetic field, is part of the Camelopardus constellation, commonly known as… the Giraffe!
For the Avatar team, this special 20th anniversary publication is also a group of objects that sparkle within a constellation. Together, the 49 contributions reflect a measureless universe: art. 40,000 years and the giraffe is still kicking! We wish you many beautiful surprises and discoveries during your explorations of this infinite world of possibilities!
Our heartfelt thanks to all our contributors for the remarkable enthusiasm they showed in formulating their projects.
ON THE TRAIL OF AVABOOM
At the beginning—at the very beginning, before any idea of incorporation began to germinate—Avatar was called Belle Bruit. Oh, not for very long: in those early days there were plenty of discussions.
Avatar was born of two intersecting forces: first, the need for an organization devoted to sound art in Quebec City. From the heyday of CKRL to the festivals organized by Obscure and the sound performances at Le Lieu, Quebec City was always a hotbed for new sound creations. Strangely, however, no structure was devoted to this field: everyone helped as best they could, but in reality they had their sights set elsewhere. The birth of the Coopérative Méduse, however, demonstrated the timeliness for such an organization. The opportunity was too good to pass up…
So… Belle Bruit. Already, announced in these two words was quite a program for the years ahead. Belle had a double meaning: first, a direct reference to Bell Labs. This American laboratory is a mythical source of inventions of all kinds, particularly those related to electronic communications. With its inevitable telephone connotation, the association seemed promising indeed. Belle, with a feminine e. It should be remembered that in the early 1990s the media arts appeared to be the stronghold of little boys, who reigned over their realm with their electronic toys. This added “e” suggested a feminization of the word bruit (“noise”), thereby taking a certain social stance vis-à-vis the media arts, with a bit of theatrics thrown in. As for Bruit itself, the word seemed self-explanatory. Not at all!
Bruit had the unfortunate quality of being part of the name of the experimental musical group BRUIT TTV, closely linked with the artist-run centre Obscure. Since Obscure was already a part of Méduse, eyebrows were duly raised, allegations of collusion made, and the name went under review. Pierre-André Arcand convened a meeting on the question. By means of a gumball machine transformed into a random dictionary, he tempted fate: Fracas!
Fracas (“crash”) lasted a while, until this same Pierre-André authoritatively imposed the name of Avatar. His logic was solid: Avatar is a centre whose field of exploration is sound art, a domain for which there are no academic foundations. Those who have come to it, therefore, cannot have done so under the banner of their first field of expertise: they had to have been trained in some other field and joined Avatar for reasons that could not be officially recognized. Avatar cannot be composed of musicians, authors, composers, electronic engineers or computer specialists: it can be composed only of people who are offering their secondary skills, their hidden attributes. Amateur-professionals whose official qualifications have no value: they will have to present themselves under an avatar of some kind. Q.E.D.
And this fact has been proven over and over.
We could mention several projects in this regard: Radio Folie/Culture, a sound piece in which artists from all backgrounds worked on a multi-track tape recorder, many for the first time; Avatar’s participation in the Symposium en arts visuels de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue, during which Christof Migone, Diane Landry and Jocelyn Robert collapsed onto the sidewalk while the act was described on the local radio, after which the chalk outline of the bodies was carefully drawn on the cement by Christof Migone; the posters for Le vent dans les oreilles, in which the sounds of the city served as the backdrop for the text and graphics.
Even clearer proof is the fact that Avatar was supported for two years under the “Visual Arts” program of the Canada Council. Sound perceived by the eyes. Is there better proof of non-conformity? We then had to bow to the requirements of the form writers and register the organization under “Media Arts.” But not without previously informing them that we would continue to publish performance recipe catalogues and records of house doorbells…
When Émile Morin became Avatar’s artistic director in 2001, he changed the name: the organization became the Association de création et diffusion sonores et électroniques Avatar. With “electronics” embracing computer science as much as the do-it-yourself transistors and resistors, the door was wide open to all derivative forms.
But even with this extension of the title, the name still designated the undesignatable. Machines, Supervitesse, Wikimémoire, PifPaf—are these the terms of sound art? Electronic art? Of course not. They are terms used to create imagery: more or less for show. What Avatar designates and designated is the unnameable. In a loop.
Still today, Avatar is not only sound or electronics. Avatar is not what is written on the official forms of the funding organizations or of the centre itself. Avatar is not the sum total of the historical milestones between the first informal gatherings of 1992 and the events celebrating the 20th anniversary in 2013. Nor is Avatar the sum of the skills found there or the equipment it houses. Avatar cannot be reduced to an explanation of its giraffe logo or the Clipart menagerie that preceded it. Still today, Avatar is neither this nor that. As Pierre-André Arcand demonstrated from the very beginning, Avatar cannot be what one thinks it is. Avatar is something else.
On the projects' pages, clicking on the eye at the bottom right will give you access to complementary content.
We would like to express our gratitude to all those involved in this project: artists, contributors and collaborators, the Avatar team, and in particular Mériol Lehmann, who incorporated all the content into this publication.
40,000 Years was made possible by the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts, and in particular its Special Initiatives Program, as well as the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec and the Ville de Québec.
Avatar would like to thank its artistic committee (Catherine Béchard, Boris Dumesnil-Poulin, Mériol Lehmann and Jocelyn Robert), who hatched the idea of celebrating Avatar’s 20th anniversary with an electronic publication.
Artistic Director and Coordinator: Caroline Gagné
Graphic Design: safran.ca
Web programming: Martin Coutu
Programming and incorporation of content: Mériol Lehmann
Proofreading: Suzie Genest
Translation: Jeffrey Moore
Executive Director: Mériol Lehmann
Artistic Director: Caroline Gagné
Administrative Director: Caroline Salaün
Acting Administrative Director: Catherine Baril
Communications Supervisor: Myriam Lambert
Artistic and Technical Support: Frédérique Laliberté
Accounting: Marie-Christine Desbiens
Publishing and Distribution :
Avatar, association de création et de diffusion sonores et électroniques
541, rue de Saint-Vallier Est, suite 562, Quebec City (Quebec) G1K 3P9
Tel.: (418) 522-8918
ISBN: 978-2-920512-09-2 (English edition - iBooks)
ISBN: 978-2-920512-08-5 (French edition - iBooks)
ISBN: 978-2-920512-11-5 (HTML edition)
All rights reserved – printed in Canada © Avatar, the artists and authors, 2013
Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec, 2013
National Library of Canada, 2013
Avatar is an artist-run centre in Quebec City. Since 1993, it has been involved in the creation, production, presentation and dissemination of works by artists in the field of sound and electronic art in Quebec, Canada and around the world.