Throughout the ongoing closures of 2020, many galleries and exhibition spaces have pivoted to a digital presentation space. And while there are plenty of successful endeavours in this vein, some have dealt with the changes in a wonderfully smooth fashion. Montreal’s Phi Centre is so entrenched in the realm of virtual reality that it is no surprise the ever-innovative space has executed plans masterfully over the past year. From curating new exhibitions that directly supported local artists, to moving their works online and engaging the public in a new context, to giving you the chance to take the collection home with you (via headset), they have navigated these turbulent waters masterfully and Phi Centre’s Connected by art is the umbrella for these wonderful endeavours.
Emergence and Convergence was Phi’s powerful exhibit that began its run over the summer, the mid-point of the ongoing pandemic. It was a refreshing gust of positivity for a darkened year that reflected on the connection between manmade and natural space, as well as our relationship with these worlds. Entrenched in a rejuvenated perspective, this exhibition was an instant hit with George Fok’s transcendent Seeking Stillness surfing a wave of popularity through TikTok. Recently, Phi Centre has included an online tour of the exhibit as part of Connected by art, as well as a panel discussion between executive director Cheryl Slim and some of the artists on display.
Parallel Lines funded new artistic endeavours through individual grants, and the ten artists chosen now have their works presented online through an interesting randomized navigation tool that gives some semblance to the feeling of wandering through a gallery. Phillipe Collard has shown an inventive way to integrate audience into literature with Interludes, a regular writing practice that he shared through Google Hangouts that connected viewers to his process and discussion thereof. Lexis has created a series of sprawling, eclectic musical tracks that reflect emotions of the human condition in isolation; Sonoramas pour le moment present is intended to be listened to during walks through constructed and natural spaces in an attempt to have the viewer gain a fresh perspective on their environment. Connor Willumsen’s takes a fairly conventional practice and skews the lens with Video Chat Portraits– using video calls as reference over still photographs, he draws individual portraits that incorporate subtle visual oddities that echo the glitches and latency issues of the constant video calls people have endured over the year. These artists and the rest presented through Parallel Lines have shown skill in folding our current context into not just their works, but the process itself.
Perhaps the most intriguing endeavour of Connected by art though is Phi Centre’s rental program. Phi VR To Go is an initiative to share the gallery’s collection of virtual reality experiences with the public from the comfort of their own homes. Individuals can pay to rent an Oculus GO headset for about two days, with which they can enjoy a myriad of the virtual reality experiences Phi Centre has in their collection. While it isn’t one of the controller-based setups and therefore likely limited in its interactive content, Phi Centre has regularly put on astounding audio-visual works, so the freedom to peruse these at your leisure is certainly a novel and worthwhile adventure.
Phi Centre’s Connected by art is a lesson to all galleries and exhibition spaces on how to navigate these uncertain times. Phi shows themselves as a leader in innovation time and again, and with their ability to not only bring fresh efforts to the table but also support its artistic community, it is no wonder they are a favourite of Montreal. With seemingly endless creative pools and a drive to connect the world, it is clear the pandemic has done nothing to slow the spirit of Phi Centre.