Photo: Pascal Dufaux, the Christie/CAFKA Artist-in-Residence, talks about his video kinetic machine installation at the Kitchener Studio Project.


When engineers at Christie Digital sat down to design the Roadster HD10K-M projector, it’s a safe bet they didn’t anticipate what Pascal Dufaux would eventually do with it.

Where a typical Christie customer might have seen a tool for displaying videos, teleconferences or PowerPoint presentations, Dufaux, a Montreal-based artist, saw something else entirely: a digital portal between his imagination and his “canvas” of blank walls, ready to be filled with machine-driven imagery.

Thus began a close but decidedly non-traditional relationship between company (Christie), creator (Dufaux) and community (specifically, the Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener and Area, or CAFKA).

The fruits of that relationship are on display, from 4 to 6 p.m. through this Friday, at the Kitchener Studio Project, at 44 Gaukel St. just down the street from the Communitech Hub.

That’s where I went to see what Dufaux calls his “video kinetic machine,” an installation called The Cosmos In Which We Live, Chapter II, last week. The piece consists of three small surveillance cameras that slowly orbit on arms affixed to bronze sculptures, gathering random visual data from the room. The Christie projectors then digitally paint the walls with these images.

The intent, Dufaux told me, is to “remove the ominous aspect of video surveillance and be a tool for meditating on what is the reality.”

The reason the installation is here in our region at all is because of the Christie/CAFKA Artist-in-Residence Program, which started bringing artists to Waterloo Region to create works with Christie technology in October of 2012. Christie provides funds to pay the artists, along with equipment and expertise, while CAFKA recruits the artists and administers the program.

A few hours before Dufaux gave a talk about his installation at the Kitchener Studio Project, I sat down with Charles Fraresso, Christie’s Senior Manager of Research and Innovation, at the Communitech Hub.

Fraresso’s face is familiar around the Hub, as is Christie technology – from its display walls made of MicroTiles, to its meeting-room projectors, to the showpiece HIVE (Hub Interactive Virtual Environment), the highlight of many a Hub tour. His generosity also enabled me and my friend, Darin White, to collaborate on a 2012 photo exhibition that explored surveillance culture and social disconnection.

I sought him out because I wanted to know the reasons behind Christie’s support for the arts.

Most obvious is to promote creation of compelling content, without which, projectors aren’t particularly useful.

The more interesting reason, as Fraresso explained, is that “art is a way of inspiring us; it’s a way of changing the lens that we use to look at the world; it helps us to see things differently.”

And when he says “us,” he doesn’t just mean the audience consuming the art. He means the people who work at Christie, who benefit from the lateral thinking that happens when you bring artists and technologists together.

Both groups are all about innovation, but because they come at it from different directions, they can make surprising discoveries and learn from each other.

“Many people may look at Christie and look at the engineering aspects, the technology aspects,” Fraresso said. “But there’s a greater thing that’s at play, and it really is about the collaboration.”

Christie’s presence in the Communitech Hub, where Fraresso, CAFKA officials and Guelph-based artist Jenn E Norton conceived the Artist-in-Residence Program over coffee after a tour, is all about what Fraresso calls “collaborative innovation.”

When Norton proposed her 3D installation, TESSERACT, for the HIVE, “it kind of stretched us to understand what she was trying to achieve and how we could help her achieve that,” Fraresso said. “But Jenn also taught us about the creative process, what the creative vision was, and so there was an exchange of ideas in that collaboration.”

When the public was invited in to view Norton’s work, another collaboration happened, he explained. “The community saw what was possible, you know? They understood this abstract mathematical concept in an artistic way, using Christie technology to create the experience.”

The Artist-in-Residence Program was thus born, with a goal “to take the idea of collaborative innovation, and instead of that being an abstract experience, making it a real experience both for the results that are produced and for the people producing them,” Fraresso said.

“We want to share that experience with the community at large, and that has tremendous benefit as well,” he continued, “because in a community that is living and breathing this stuff, it changes the reference line on the way people look at things, and that’s very powerful.”

The effect can be just as striking for a tech company willing to collaborate with artists, as Christie has done.

“At the bottom line, we all need to innovate technologically or we need to innovate our businesses, and creativity is an integral part of innovation and advancing an organization,” Fraresso said. “Having somebody external to collaborate with your internal people and reimagine what you’re doing is a tremendous opportunity. It’s a tremendous opportunity for the team that works directly together, but the result also helps to change the way that the rest of the people and the company behold themselves.

“And changing that reference line, taking things that are stoic and static and making them dynamic, engaging and exciting, is good for any organization,” he said. “Whether you’re a tech firm or a financial firm, that dynamism helps propel people forward.”

When I asked similar questions of Dufaux at his exhibition, he expanded on the benefits of artists collaborating with companies like Christie. And he pointed out that those benefits flow both ways.

“What comes into my head is the principle of serendipity,” Dufaux said. While companies typically fixate on processes that ensure flawless products, artists “are always trying to go behind the wall, to the place where it doesn’t really work,” he said.

The collision of these two approaches can lead to unexpected results that might not have been realized if not for the collaboration.

“Most inventions have been discovered because you were expecting one thing and something else happened,” Dufaux said. “There are many, many inventions in the 20th century that were discovered that way, and I think that’s maybe what the advantage is, to learn from artists.”

In turn, artists can learn from industry “this sense of finishing; of really wrapping up a project,” he said.

So, what’s stopping your tech company from engaging with artists?

Hopefully, nothing.

When I finished chatting with Dufaux, I turned to Gordon Hatt, CAFKA’s Executive Director, who drove it all home.

“If we appreciate what artists are doing, if we work with them, it gives us just a little bit of an opportunity to get out of those silos and those narrow pathways to productivity and profitability,” Hatt said. “You’ve got to be there, obviously; I’m not arguing against that. But if you’re looking for creative ideas and creative thinking and new ways of doing some things, it’s really good to look at how artists operate.”

Anthony Reinhart is Communitech’s Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer. View from the ‘Loo is a weekly look at the issues, people and events that shape Waterloo Region’s technology sector.