Elliott Ramsey. Ghosts of the Machine

i. My name: Elliott Ramsey

ii. My art-related career: Curator, The Polygon Gallery

iii. The name of our upcoming exhibit is: Ghosts of the Machine

iv. Its location: The Polygon Gallery at 101 Carrie Cates Ct, North Vancouver

v. The exhibit runs from: Now through August 14, 2022

vi. My role in the exhibit is: Curator


Ho Tzu Nyen, ‘No Man II’, 2017, Single Channel projection on mirror, 5 channel sound, 360 minutes, Courtesy of Artist, Galerie Michael Janssen, Edouard Malingue Gallery


vii. 3 words to describe how I feel about the exhibit: beguiled, transported, surrounded

viii. In describing the exhibit in 3 sentences or so, I’d say: global contemporary artists are using digital images – particularly the avatar – not to escape into virtual worlds, but rather to capture how complex our present reality has become. Technology, ecology, and society are all part of a single, integrated reality in which we live. Ghosts of the Machine brings together work that depicts how all these spheres have blurred together, and the boundary between “online” and “offline” is easily traversed.

ix. In the exhibit, you’ll see: an avatar thanking the natural world for enabling her to exist; an avatar dancing across six realms of karmic reincarnation that in fact reflect our anxieties about the Anthropocene; nine avatars confronting their ultimate destiny at the end of the world; fifty ghostly avatars who, over six hours, sing a haunting chorus about the connection between all things; and a film about the sex lives of sea creatures. Also, a garden of local wild plants, populated with augmented-reality figures viewable via Instagram.


Ghost of the Machine. Installation Photos By Denis Ha


x. The inspiration for this show comes from: growing up queer, and finding in my avatar a safe way to express my gender. Far from retreating into virtual worlds, I realised that my avatar was, in fact, my way of negotiating the realities of discrimination. Years later, it’s interesting to see artists using avatars, and other digital image capture, to talk about our social and environmental conditions, rather than buying into the myth that we can upload our minds and leave the material world behind. It’s all continuous and contiguous, and always has been.

xi. One challenge in developing this show was: showing multiple installation works together. Our production team has done a bafflingly good job at balancing sound levels and creating discrete experiences within the exhibition, where you can really spend a lot of time just watching and wondering.


Skawennati, ‘Birth of an Avatar (Homage to Mariko Mori)’, 2017, Machinimagraph, inkjet print, 70” x 45”


xii. One particularly rewarding thing in developing the exhibit was: having my definition of “technology” radically expanded. Skwxwú7mesh Matriarch and Elder T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss, who’s developed an original installation for the show, shared with me how in her teaching, nature and technology are not the opposites we imagine them to be. Nature is, in fact, the most advanced technology we have. Knowing this, and acknowledging that our tech doesn’t descend from the sky but is in fact mined and manufactured from the earth, is important to remember as we decide how to progress as a society in a sustainable way.

xiii. By attending the exhibit, we hope that you feel: like our bodies, our data, our environment, our technologies, and our fellow species are all physically coexisting, because they are. As the walls that once divided the “online” from the “offline,” the “real” from the “virtual,” the “natural” from the “technological” unravel spectacularly around us, I hope that visitors – at the very least ­– feel puzzled. It’s a puzzling world out there; we can try to make sense of it without simplifying it.


Ghosts of the Machine @ The Polygon


Header Art:
Lu Yang, ‘Heaven Realm #1’, 2021, Aluminum, LED Lights, Backlit Fabric, 39” x 55” x 4”


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