404 ERROR: The Object is Not Online

From November 11, 2010 until February 13, 2011, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, (CCA) presents the exhibition 404 ERROR: The Object is Not Online, a show that brings together questionably digitized materials with undoubtedly material digital systems.

Using materials from the extensive CCA collection, the exhibition takes an initial look at some limit cases of translation between materials and digital representation to reflect upon this process, and asks questions about the everyday experience of materials and ideas online.

Many museums, like the CCA, are making their collections accessible online and using the web as a new space for interaction. The poignancy of the show comes at a time when a museum – in contrast to the web – is often defined as a place where the physical presence of objects is the rule; where the copy is identified as the exception.

It was the inversion of this observation that interested Lev Bratishenko, CCA Senior Web Editor and Curator of the exhibition. “The internet is made of rules, in fact, its structure can only be changed by consensus. Online content abides by these rules, which can shape our understanding of it. This project questions some of our online habits and tries to offer new ways of thinking about the web.”

404 ERROR: The Object is Not Online explores some differences between seemingly limitless cyberspace and the museum, where presence and real space are essential. It draws attention to some patterns that emerge when physical and digital forms are placed side by side: for example texture, smell, weight, flavour and time are flattened together for the screen. Computers appear to instantaneously transform objects into images and meaning into information.

Bratishenko continues: “Given these patterns, it seems appropriate to ask whether technology can be considered merely as a tool; as a way of organizing ideas, or as something that redefines and enables activities that may shape new ways of thinking. Considered this way, its exploration and evaluation takes on a new urgency.”

For this exhibition, Bratishenko will be accessible from the gallery space by chat at www.cca.qc.ca/* and by phone between 2:00pm and 5:00pm on Thursdays to discuss the exhibition with visitors and online users. For a short time the curator becomes a tangible reality, rather than a behind-the-scenes programmer.

Commenting on the exhibition, Mirko Zardini, CCA Director and Chief Curator said: “This exhibition, while extending the research-based experimental approach synonymous with the CCA, reflects upon a very engaging issue that is currently emerging within the field of architecture and beyond. At a time when content is being readily curated and thrust online by research institutions like the CCA, this exhibition draws attention to the importance of a certain intrinsic value that is present in both the online and the physical worlds.”

Presented in the CCA’s Octagonal Gallery and the Anteroom, the exhibition presents more than 40 objects from the CCA collection and content from the CCA’s own website. The show includes material from the archives of several architects including Peter Eisenman, John Hejduk, Greg Lynn, Aldo Rossi, Bruno Taut and Larry Richards.

Inside the Octagonal Gallery, visitors encounter a representation of the online world and witness online users interacting with objects on the table. Online users see live video of visitors in the gallery interacting with the same objects. The web and gallery meet on the table. The website is a live video feed from the gallery, it tracks the mouse cursors of online visitors and projects them onto the table where they are seen by real visitors.

In the Anteroom, the exhibition continues by looking at the materials of electronic systems including the building design and wires that carry information, and the conceptual design of data structures. There is a variety of content on display including books, prints drawings and photographs. The show includes both the smallest and largest objects from CCA’s collection and also includes a purpose-built machine for playing with a copy of one of the rarest objects in the collection.

The design of the exhibition and website were developed in collaboration with New York-based interactive and graphic designers, Rumors. www.rumors-studio.com

Lev Bratishenko is a writer, curator, and opera critic. He holds a degree in the History of Art from Yale University, and has written articles in magazines such as Mark and Cabinet. He is Senior Web Editor at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, where he has collaborated on exhibitions and publications including 1973: Sorry, Out of Gas, Actions: What You Can Do with The City, Speed Limits, Intermission: Films From a Heroic Future, and Journeys: How Travelling Fruit, Ideas and Buildings Rearrange our Environment.