EPIC-Tom: Exploring Interspecies Art
Words by Brit Bachmann + Photos by Harley Spade
In a dark, wood panel room I am sitting at the end of a row of white chairs, the style of chairs typically used during garden weddings. There is an oscillating fan in the corner giving a low hum. In front of me is a projection screen showing twirling leaves against a black backdrop. A floating green tennis ball enters the screen. There are four theremins set up around the room, a pair of computers, and an elaborate bundle of wires. Five people approach their ‘instruments,’ and the orchestra begins with a recording of a singing dog named Tom.
EPIC-Tom is an interdisciplinary, interspecies performance created by Julie Andreyev (Animal Lover) in collaboration with digital artist, Simon Overstall, and the Vancouver Experimental Theremin Orchestra. This performance of EPIC-Tom was held on July 17th at Aberthau, the Tudorbethan-styled West Point Grey Community Centre. It was hosted by LocoMotoArt and curated by LMA resident artist, Wynne Palmer.
I deliberately refrained from researching EPIC-Tom ahead of time, choosing instead to savour the awe of such an experimental art piece. From what I could tell, many spectators did the same. The performance started late, heightening the anticipation in the room. We were an eclectic mix. Of the fashion styles represented in the audience, there were people dressed for a wedding, a rock concert, a discotheque, a corporate meeting, crossfit and a backyard bbq. While we all speculated, nobody really knew what EPIC-Tom was going to be.
During the performance, the projection transformed from very basic imagery of leaves and a ball, to include a floating image of Tom against a blue sky, encased by abstract light forms. The projection represented Tom, the dog, trapped in a moment of euphoric ball-fetching. The floating image of Tom was based on motion capture technology, while the leaves and ball were rendered animations. Although the projection felt like a loop, it actually contained algorithms to mimic complex, organized behaviour. The audience was witnessing an entirely unique digital generation.
The sound accompaniment was a combination of four theremins (played by Andreyev, Erin Brown-John, Ricarda McDonald and Palmer), and pre-recorded vocalizations of Andreyev’s canine collaborator, Tom. Over the course of the performance, Tom’s song was gradually slowed down and manipulated by Overstall. Despite the sensitivity and seemingly unpredictable nature of theremins, the orchestra was synchronized during the entire set. The performers adjusted to each other intuitively.
The concept of this piece is transparent, although not entirely unprecedented. EPIC-Tom is a preview of a future where ‘other-animals’ are given new methods of communicating with humans. We employ rhythm and harmonics most frequently when trying to decipher animal calls. However, increasingly innovative interspecies artworks and research will help us develop a clearer understanding of how to relate to animals on an intellectual level. EPIC-Tom, and Andreyev’s entire Animal Lover series, explores themes that have been gaining traction in the science community– the notion that animals can understand human emotion, and that they may have the capacity for compassion. It seems that cross-species communication may be the next great frontier.
A video of EPIC-Tom is accessible on Vimeo. More information on LocoMotoArt and residency program can be found on their website. Julie Andreyev is also the Artistic Director of Interactive Futures, an annual symposium hosted by Emily Carr University of Art + Design.
Photo Gallery by Harley Spade
Brit is Editor-In-Chief at Discorder Magazine, Community Engagement Coordinator at VIVO Media Arts Centre, and frequent contributor to Vandocument. When she isn't writing or sneaking into studios, Brit draws.