The Phi Foundation in Montreal has just celebrated the opening of two concurrent exhibits, consisting of the works of Phil Collins and Eva & Franco Mattes. Two vastly different collections housed in adjacent buildings, both present to us visions of our relationship with two of the most prevalent media we interact with daily: music and the internet. There is a great deal to be gathered on the intimate relationship we have with these forms, so let’s jump into the reflective offerings presented by Phil Collins and Eva & Franco Mattes.
First off, the deep internet delving of Eva & Franco Mattes entitled What Has Been Seen. From the moment you step through the doors to the New York artists’ exhibition, you are enveloped with piercing, metallic screams that fill the entrance. There is no distinction between gallery formalities and the cutting sounds of enraged tantrums echoing out of computer speakers. You quickly discover it is their piece My Generation: a tastefully placed smashed computer system looping videos of young gamers screeching in outrage while playing. An all too familiar sight from the fledgeling days of YouTube, this intimate look at the less than desirable aspects of humanity, through and with the internet, set the tone for much of the exhibit.
There’s humour to the pair’s approach, but in a more jarring and off-kilter way than a curious chuckle. Multiple instances of taxidermized cats in odd locations, seemingly evoking the staple of cats as entertaining internet culture; enormous folded screens for BEFNOED requiring oneself to crawl underneath to see the media playing beneath- a blown-up version of laying in with your phone in bed that is equally uncomfortable and familiar; a collection of reaction videos, Emily’s Video, without the context of the video being reacted to, and only their emotions of disgust to go off of.
But the Mattes also dive into the deep, dark end of the web. Abuse Standards Violations displays beneath plexiglass the rules and regulations to follow for what is deemed acceptable content and what must be censored, and exudes a mind-numbing authority to it. But it is Dark Content that clings the strongest to those unsettling feelings available online- videos of realistic human faces paired with text-to-speech audio of individual experiences of moderation and interaction with disturbing online content. This mismatch of dark content conveyed by inhuman means puts you in a strange clinical barrier with some of the horrors of humanity, a warped intimacy with the original informants that isn’t unlike scrolling mindlessly through shadowy forum posts. The exploration of these polar opposites found within the internet experience has a strong resemblance to when one was first testing the waters of what was online, tiptoeing in the shallows of memes and trending videos, only to fall in the depths of violent, morbid, and psychologically horrible content.
Phil Collins (not that Phil Collins) has music at the core of his collection (seriously, not that Phil Collins), and our deep and unwavering relationship to it. Easily the most striking piece in this collection is visible once you step into the space- My heart’s in my hand, and my hand is pierced, and my hand’s in the bag, and the bag is shut, and my heart is caught is comprised of six specially crafted wooden listening booths, outfitted with record players, lights, seats, pieces of German writing, and a collection 0f 7” singles inspired by phone conversations of homeless individuals recorded anonymously. There is room for a few people in each booth, and once inside, you feel yourself in a cozy space away from the rest of the exhibit, able to simply sit and exist with your choice of the music available. The construction of the booth itself, the all too sensual process of putting on a record in a comfortable space, it all evokes an ideal interaction alone with music. Yet the glass windows of the booths allow you to always look out at the passersby, and for them to watch your experience. It is togetherness and separation in a strangely warming way.
The other pieces Collins has here give other angles of our lifelong love affair with music. The World Won’t Listen screens three videos of individuals singing the same karaoke song side by side, noise treated walls giving some separation. There’s a shyness and an earnestness to each, in a beautifully genuine way, with the actual performances being far from the point. the meaning of style is a short film following a group of Malayan anti-fascist skinheads, the joyous music accompanying it and the eruption of colourful butterflies to gently rest upon them highlighting the interesting twist on a group repurposing a subculture so steeped in right-wing nationalist hate to lend to something inspiring.
The one part of Collins’ collection that seemed a bit cut off in execution from the others at first was Bring Down The Walls, a screening of the titular movie about the titular group whose purpose was to educate and rally about the dangers and damage of the U.S. prison-industrial complex. An extremely impactful and important film, revolving around the group’s goal to reaffirm and aid former prisoners coming back into the “free world”, the obvious connection to Collins’ work here is the use of club music as an important tool for motivating and helping the disenfranchised, that connection being a lifeline for them. It seems at first glance that the only contribution Collins has to this media and narrative is replicating the physical scenery Bringing Down The Walls used for their clubbing space, but upon further investigating, it seems Collins and Phi Foundation will also be implementing and replicating the groups forums and talks around the issues of incarceration with a Canadian and Montreal specific lens.
Phil Collins and Eva & Franco Mattes present to us our own relationships with the media we consume without even thinking. Music and the internet are near-omnipresent in our lives, and the impact that our experiences with them can have on our lives and our world cannot be understated. These artists present an intimate connection with these forms: both an empowering, comforting intimacy and a captivating, uncomfortable intimacy. And through both exhibitions that the Phi Foundation is presenting, we are able to reflect on what is it that media means to us, and how we feel about our own consumption.