Surrey Urban Screen changes the landscape of arts

Liane Davison, manager of visual community and arts in Surrey, explains how digital technology has changed how we share and experience images.

By Kristi Alexandra
[culture editor]

Looking east between the Gateway and Surrey Central SkyTrain stations stands the Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre, a venue for activities, culture and art.

Its innovative, modern design reflects the daily spirit of the Surrey arts community, but its most emphatic feature won’t even be noticed until sundown. That’s when the Surrey Urban Screen — Canada’s largest, non-commercial art projection screen — lights up on the east side of the building, showcasing exhibitions from interactive installations to moving images, in conjunction with the Surrey Art Gallery.

Flicker Art Media (Aleksandra Dulic & Kenneth Newby), Transience (2010), installation image. Courtesy of the artists, photographed by Sharon Doucette.

Liane Davison, manager of visual and community arts and director of the Surrey Art Gallery, says that presenting digital images in a public setting is just part of the dialogue in how digital technology is changing how we experience art.

“What kind of space do we experience art in?” Davison muses. “In 2008, when we started on the [Surrey Urban Screen] project, that was around the time when we were saying ‘let’s envision not presenting the photographs we might create using digital technology in the old way — like printing them out, framing them and putting them on a wall — let’s think about the idea of presenting them on a screen, outside. Let’s talk about screening them outside in the public realm.’”

Davison likens the idea of taking photography outside of the gallery, from its traditional venue to an urban screen, to the phenomena of online photo sharing.

“Artists were looking at photography now, and the idea of what photographs are, because they’re not just single images. They’re also these phenomena of the databases, like Flickr.  The idea of hundred of thousands of photographs being posted and shared on a daily basis — on an hourly basis even. So what is that? What are we doing? What are we learning? How are we changing our awareness of the world? How is that connecting us, when I think of the sunrise in Surrey versus the experience of a sunrise in Borneo? Artists are really interested in how they communicate those ideas and experiences, they do it through making art but they’re also really interested in the actual venue,” she says.

That’s why she and the artists made the proposal that the east wall of the Chuck Bailey Centre be considered a projection venue.

Since its inception, the venue has been host to exhibitions like Fiction Façade, a tribute to the phenomena of arcade games and online gaming, which responds to a person’s presence by triggering artwork and creating on-the-fly compositions from stock sounds of vintage arcade games. It also hosted the Rewrite The Year project, an interactive installation that allowed participants to change headlines from the past year’s news that were projected on the screen to fit with an ideal concept of news. The screen’s most recent exhibition, Electric Speed, is a comment on media critic Marshall McLuhan’s legacy.

The Surrey Urban Screen continues to push the envelope in how we experience art and media, and Davison is adamant that the space should be kept commercial-free.

“Surrey Urban Screen is generally recognized as the largest, and it might be completely the only non-commercial, urban screen in Canada — maybe even North America. That’s a big deal. The negotiation of that public space and what that space is for — you know, who owns that space? We are so inundated with advertising that have an agenda for a particular kind of consumption, and this offers an alternative to that,” she says.

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