Le Centre int’l d’art contemporain de Montréal

North-South-East-West reviewed by Xavier Marbeil of the Magazine électronique du CIAC – The Centre international d’art contemporain de Montréal


Graham Thompson’s North-South-East-West Net.art guide to the Annishinabe Medicine was reviewed by Xavier Marbeil in issue #25, Summer 2006 Theme : Paysages (Landscapes) of the Magazine électronique du CIAC – The Centre international d’art contemporain de Montréal

North-South-East-West Net.art

It is not surprising that the creative process at the origin of many contemporary artworks takes place, in whole or in part, on the Net : interaction, collaboration, collage, remix… The Net constitutes for these modes of creation a natural habitat, in which the limits of space, time and matter are abolished. The works of netart, designed for, on and with the web, have gone one step further in taking the network itself as an object of their art. These works refer to the initial ideals of the Net, cooperation, free-trade, emphasis on the collective rather than the individual, but also underline the fact that navigation creates a visual trace which becomes an information, itself immediately transformed into a spectacle. Check out North-South-East-West Online.

North-South-East-West by Xavier Mabreil (Screen Captures)







North-South-East-West by Xavier Mabreil (Google Translation)

North-South-East-West, of Graham Thomson (Canada), 2003 COSMOGONY ALGONKINE CACHÉE/MONTRÉE? About the well-known work of Graham Thompson, North-South-East-West, we will recall his operating mode first of all, like its organization. With the opening of the URL an interface of reception informs us of the format of the work, carried out under Flash.


If the hyperlector chooses not to have any action, it will discover a sequence of four distinct sequences:

  1. a very fast succession of images lets to us guess a plan of country, or city. It is necessary to make use of several captures of screens, then to increase them, to realize that the plan in question is that of the Contracting State of Minnesota (or of the state), the USA. Area bordering, should it be pointed out, of the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario, ancestral grounds of Algonkins;

  2. an anthropomorphic figure, that one will be able to associate a totemic representation, becomes animated on a bottom of horizontal screens. A cube drawn in three D also rolls on the space representation which this screen constitutes;

  3. in tone bluish, dark, a heavenly object occupies the bottom of a scene which seems left an space-opera. A hinged jib (Canadian technology?) approaches a unit which could be a space base;

  4. finally, of the parabolas, fixed on pylons, roofs, seem to receive waves coming from the sky. Once the hyperlector will have shelled dissolve-connected these four sequences, it will have to click on one or the other of the bonds hypertexts to discover a new interface – which will give him access to the contents of work itself.


In a very simple way, and as many works born on the Web could show it to us, the interface of work is appeared as a space metaphor. In top north, bellow the south, on the left the west and is on the right.

Under each of the four cardinal points, a list from five to eight names proposes to us, thanks to the hypertext link, to discover an animated sequence. Before returning on their contents, we stop a few moments on another element of the interface, which will be always present at the screen, méta-bars it navigation. The choices suggested by this méta-bar are as follows, rather similar to those which one can find on considerable sites: exit, home, contact, information.

The subparagraph “information” will teach us that work is inspired by the symbolic system of the cardinal points traditional of the people algonkin. One will not be thus surprised to have discovered only the plan which ravelled at any speed in introduction was that of a state in the past (and also in a contemporary way) populated algonkins.

All work then, can be included/understood starting from this aspect of the introduction. The history of the American settlement being supposed known of all, one could only be sensitive to the fact that the people algonkin, like all the indigenous people of two Americas, have a report/ratio with the eminently problematic territory, conflict, even painful.

This territory, that the Amerindian people had by force to divide with Europeans, it is represented here in extreme cases of the visible one. So much so that one is forced to fix the image by capture of screen, to discover that it was about a plan of Minnesota.

The territory, literally, is hidden, virtual. It is in addition the territory of the other, since the place names are for the majority resulting from the Anglo-Saxon space representation: Cambridge, Turkey Not, Normandale, etc… It is a case emblematic of the use of information technologies and communication – where the appearance and disappearance as well as the tape speed of the images make direction.

This territory hidden, evoked perhaps by this totemic dance of the introduction, then moved in the space, and finally reinvested on ground through the waves received by parabolas, the body of work then proposes to us to discover it.

It while clicking on different the items is contained under the headings North South – East – West that we will be able to open the sequences having for name: winter, snow, elder, courage, ice, endurance (North), summer, spirit, quest, secrets, bloom, vision, adolescence, youth (South), birth, dawn, spring, flower, sun (East), autumn, adult, thunder, sunset, renewal, (West).

With the choice, one will stop on the sequence “Vision”, in the North heading, to hear the message whereby “Vision C not reveal”; or one will hear, in “Dawn” this thought animist “All that belongs to the earth belongs to me”. But there is not the essence of our reading: the quality of animations, of the spoken or sung sequences, all that is left with the appreciation of each visitor, according to his sensitivity. It will be noticed only that none the many rewards received by this work is usurped.

What must hold our attention, it is connect it simplicity of the device, behind which semiotics questions differently more complex hide.

The list of the items reproduced above informs us indeed that certain sequences are called in reference to the season (winter…) and in connection with such or such cardinal point; other sequences indicate natural phenomena (snow, ice, flower, sun, thunder); others milked in the human condition (elder, adolescence, youth, birth, adult); others still refer to human or animal qualities (courage, endurance…); and others finally with phenomena of calendarity (dawn, sunset, renewal).

What it is necessary to point of the finger, it is the extreme diversity of the items and the extremely different registers which they indicate: natural seasons (long calendarity), phenomena, age group, human and/or animal quality, short calendarity.

Consequently, the action to click on one or the other of these items, and the surprise to each time discover a different sequence by its setting in image, the absence or the presence of a said text, etc… puts the hyperlector in a situation of imbalance with the project openly announced by the work – which is, let us recall it, inspired of the symbolic system of the cardinal points of the nation algonkine. How indeed to build a knowledge of this cosmogony if no methodology is proposed by the author – and whereas we are in a new mode of expression?

Moreover, one will notice the readily enigmatic character of certain sequences – which seem to function according to a logic well more oneiric rational.

In short, none known in the past cognitive maps seems respected here: we find the linearity of the written text and its paratextuelle organization, neither the syntax of the cinematographic writing (fictional or documentary), nor the methodology of the museographic modes of exposure, etc…

It however remains that the work of Graham Thomson transmits a message well to us, and more still that a message the feeling to have shared a significant experiment.

The logic which seems to prevail is well more that of the dream – a dream directly connected to psyché of Amerindian people – a logic which one will be able to say transverse, for want of anything better for the moment.

It is perhaps the greatest quality of this work, which all at the same time enchants us in the most naive way, and reserves questions differently more difficult to us, having milked with semiotics, and the development of a specific critical language.

Xavier Malbreil


The Centre international d’art contemporain de Montréal Backgrounder

1983 The CIAC is founded. 1984 Claude Gosselin, founder of the CIAC, curates the visual arts, photography, video and cinema section for Québec ‘84, an event marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of Québec City. 1985 The exhibition Aurora Borealis opens the first edition of Les Cent jours d’art contemporain de Montréal, curated by René Blouin, Claude Gosselin and Normand Thériault. 1986 Traces, an exhibition of drawings by Canadian artists, is curated for the Department of External Affairs of Canada to be toured internationally. 1996 The final edition of Les Cent jours d’art contemporain de Montréal is held. 1997 The first bilingual on-line electronic arts magazine in Canada, the Magazine électronique, is launched. It is devoted to promoting electronic art and to the discussion of new technologies in visual art. 1998 The first edition of La Biennale de Montréal (BNL MTL), an international biennal. Subsequent editions have been held in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2007,2009. 2009 The CIAC celebrates 25 years of active involvement on the cultural scene. The CIAC has thrice won the Grand Prix of the Conseil des arts de Montréal. The prize in the visual arts category was awarded to it in 1985, 1992 and 2000.

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