Canada’s Arsenal Art Space Debuts on the Bowery With Ed Fornieles Show
Canada's largest private arts center opens a New York outpost with an Ed Fornieles exhibition.
Ed Fornieles’s latest art project could just as easily be the next hot craze among tweens. It’s called “Finiliar,” and it’s a new species of cute, Tamogotchi-like digital creatures who have invaded the Bowery’s newest art center, the first American outpost of Canada’s Arsenal Contemporary.
There, three LED screens display adorable, blobby cartoon creatures, each reflecting the rise and fall of a particular currency through their expressions. When the British pound rises in value, its corresponding Finiliar, named Dunop, is happy: the avatar is shown celebrating, triumphantly raising a flute of champagne. Given the state of the pound since the Brexit vote, however, the little fellow spends most of his time shaking nervously, constantly on the verge of tears.
It’s an arresting image, the once-mighty British pound reduced to a cowering cartoon, and a promising start for the New York location of Canada’s largest private art center.
Founded in 2012 in Montreal by collectors Pierre and Anne-Marie Trahan, Arsenal serves as a showcase for the couple’s private collection. In addition to running a commercial gallery and an artist residency program, the couple opened a Toronto location in 2014, and now the Bowery space in February 2017. Isabelle Kowal and Loreta Lamargese are co-directors of the New York space.
“Arsenal is not a gallery, so it gets to be a bit more experimental,” Lamargese told artnet News, expressing a desire to collaborate with curators and local galleries on future programming. “We really want it to be an arts center where there’s always something happening.” Next on deck is a show with Hannah Perry, and Arsenal is also in talks with New York’s Performa to host something during the upcoming biennial this fall.
Fornieles, a British artist based in Montreal, has created Finiliars as somewhat of an experiment: to see if it is possible to get people to respond emphatically to large financial systems. If a currency crashes, its Finiliar will get sick and eventually die.
By giving this financial concept a face in the form of a cute, egg-shaped creature—Japanese anime and cute-obsessed kawaii culture is a major inspiration for the project—the artist aims to create an added incentive for the world to ensure the continued health of things like currencies or companies.
The result is that forces that are traditionally invisible are now adorable, “tiny bundle[s] of joy,” according to the narrator in Tulip Fever, a single channel video included in the exhibition. (The title refers, of course, to the sudden skyrocketing and subsequent fall of the tulip market during the Dutch Golden Age, which would have made for a very dramatic Finiliar life cycle.)
The film loops three times through an animation of Finiliars frolicking though a celestial land, offering three different backstories for the creatures. One audio track apes a nature documentary about a newly discovered species, while another is an infomercial encouraging companies to adopt a Finiliar to help promote their product.
The artist has worked with a programmer and an animator to make this idea a reality—the project is as much a math and computer problem as it is an artwork—allowing each Finiliar to reflect the real-time, short- and long-term, projections of the value of its currency. The videos run on a ten-minute loop, showing the general trend of the currency for eight minutes before showing the most recent market activity.
“They each emote differently,” explained Lamargese, noting that were you to own a Finiliar, you’d become intimately familiar with its various moods, whether it flexes its muscles with pride or breaks into dance.
In the current show, the Finiliars are tied to the pound, the Canadian dollar, and a cryptocurrency called Ethereum—of which Fornieles is an early adopter—but the concept would work with stocks and sports teams.
The show features Fiberglass polystyrene foam sculptures of the three currency Finiliars. The Inkjet prints at the entrance to the space hint at a full cast of other Finiliar characters waiting in the wings.
For Fornieles, the Finiliar is also the next step in what he sees as the “gamification” of everyday life. With all that modern technology has to offer, why not play along?
“Ed Fornieles: The Finiliar” is on view at Arsenal Contemporary, New York, February 22–April 23, 2017.
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