Cluster XI Digital Edition – Online Festival

Review by Mariana Muñoz Gomez

Winnipeg’s Cluster: New Media + Integrated Arts Festival is one of many arts programs affected by the current pandemic. However, the cancellation of the original program allowed for this year’s iteration to be reimagined as a digital project, with a call for submissions for Cluster’s Digital Edition open for a single week in March. Many of the artists who were added onto the program offer timely visual, audio, and performative works, and what I think are some of the most exciting projects of the festival.

Anna Friz and Emmanuel Madan’s fifty-minute-long piece The Joy Channel is a speculative audio work that envisions a world one hundred years from now in which “business as usual” – including government corruption, resource extraction, and natural disasters – causes North America’s borders to collapse and new societies of nomads to arise. At first, radio is used as a technology to connect, until the radio waves become dominated by corporatized transmissions of emotion. The Joy Channel is one such company, monopolizing air waves throughout the continent and blocking out opportunities for nomadic individuals to connect with each other. Airspace becomes a resource, exploited to “control migrant or unruly populations.” Throughout this piece, Friz and Madan combine aspects of narrative radio plays, science fiction, and experimental sound art to comment on the history of communication and commodification of resources, questioning the roles of technology, emotion, affect, and empathy in human connection.

Hiba Ali, Abra, video

Hiba Ali’s performative video piece Abra offers relevant socio-political commentary on harmful labour practices. The artist focuses on negligence, violence, and surveillance within major corporations, which often disproportionately harm the racialized bodies whose labour they depend on. In her performance, she uses orange as a symbol of labour, painting it onto her face to transform herself from a human into an object of capitalism to be exploited. Yet even as she embodies this symbol of labour, she confronts a personification of the online retailer Amazon about this exploitation. Meanwhile, Juro Kim Feliz’s A Study in Exile, No. 4: Paagos is a complex and layered audio work that engages with themes of home, migration, displacement, surveillance, national militarization, and the imposition of borders. Abstract soundscapes meld together with interviews and poetry as the listener controls their overlapping by pushing “play” and “pause” on the individual audio tracks.

Other interesting pieces to spend time with include Omid Moterassed’s Sunrise, which takes advantage of the web browser as a creative medium; Naona, a 360 video piece by Chroma Mixed Media; Mutable Body’s crepuscular composition 256 Steps; and Shamik’s dynamic 33-minute-long DJ set.

Although the curators Ashley Au, Luke Nickel, Eliot Britton, and Heidi Ouelette’s move to adjust the festival to a digital project this year resulted in a very different program than originally planned, the Digital Edition offers a variety of stimulating contemporary sound and art works on a playful online platform.

Cluster XI Digital Edition continues until May 31.

Mariana Muñoz Gomez is an emerging artist, writer, and curator. She is a settler of colour based in Winnipeg on Treaty 1 territory. She works collaboratively with a number of artist collectives including Carnation Zine and window winnipeg. She is currently a graduate student in the MA in Cultural Studies program at the University of Winnipeg.