Read Between the Lines

Muttart Art Gallery, Calgary - June 11 to July 6, 1991

exhibition text by curator Franklyn Heisler

Tim Westbury presents in this exhibition a series of sculpture, poetry, found object assemblage and painting. The works are set up in the gallery to be read in sequence. Westbury sees this work as an installation in which each fragment is integral to the whole. However, Westbury also treats each component as a work complete unto itself - like individual words in a sentence.

Westbury bases this exhibition on his interest in the "progression" of humanity from an oral culture to a highly literate one. In particular, this varied collection of work evaluates the relationship of technology to the culture that creates or uses it. Since the development of the first phonetic alphabet, people have continued to move away from oral communication. Information which was once passed down through human interaction by story tellers is now communicated through mediated technologies.

Westbury alerts the viewer to the potential of mass manipulation through new language technologies. In the work Cipher, constructed of a metal rack, a printer's type box, plastic letters and a printed circuit board, Westbury brings together historically disparate technologies to remind us of the arbitrary nature of the printed word and its changing form.

One section of the exhibition is a series of “found” poems. These further illustrate the arbitrary nature of our written language. Each poem was constructed on a Macintosh computer with the assistance of an interactive computer-generated program called McPoet. The program was developed by Chris Westbury, a psychologist and computer programmer from Montréal.

McPoet enables anyone to participate in the production of computer generated poetry. By following a number of established rules, the computer brings together words at random to form a poem. Because of the growing flexibility and complexity of our language, we are able to extract from this random selection of words possible significant meaning.

Today's sophisticated language, both written and verbal, has facilitated a greater understanding of the world in which we live. Through highly mediated events like political elections, the war in Iraq and the need to promote and sell things, we are aware of political jargon, military double-speak and the language of hype. However, through this technological advancement language has also become a powerful tool in manipulating how and what we think. Language is pluralistic and through skillful manipulation can be relevant one minute and unintelligible the next.

Westbury's exhibition Read Between the Lines, uses language in many forms to alert the audience to the ways in which language can become a tool. He wants the viewer to be aware of the complexities of language and the affects it has on what and how we think. Westbury's work questions our ability to readily accept new technologies without questioning the motive, purpose or direction it might lead us. Through the use of language, he addresses its complexity and ambiguity by examining its use in communication and mass manipulation.

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