Tokyo expo showcases
digital art and business


This is Québec (L’Effet Québec, in French) is a series of expos that showcase the work of artists and entrepreneurs from Québec’s vibrant digital creation industry to buyers and investors around the world.

It offers opportunities for creative figures to present their talents and innovations, as well as the current state of technology in Québec, to potential business partners. This is Québec is an initiative of the province that is also sponsored by the Digital Experiences Producers Association (Xn Québec), a group of more than 130 studios that was established with a mission of uniting the voices of artists.

The event was held in Shanghai in 2018, and on December 12 and 13, 2019, This is Québec took place in Tokyo, at Hikarie Hall in the Shibuya Hikarie skyscraper.

The event was co-sponsored by MUTEK Japan, an offshoot of a music festival that got its start in Montréal in 2000. The Japanese organization, launched in 2016, puts on festivals that combine art, technology and electronic music.

This is Québec in Tokyo hosted leading professionals and artists from Japan and the second-most populous province in Canada for moderated panel discussions on themes such as the future of entertainment, immersive virtual reality (VR), interactive environments and even the cities of tomorrow.

Walk the Hall

In addition to attending panel discussions, attendees could walk through an interactive tour that showcased studio projects and artists’ works, which utilized sound, light, cameras and VR in thoroughly innovative ways.

One example was Vast Body 22 by Vincent Morisset and Caroline Robert, which uses cameras to connect the physical body with a digital avatar created by using still images of people in a variety of poses. The people’s faces and shapes fluidly mask over your own as you move.

Another example was Liminal, by Louis-Philippe Rondeau. This is an interactive installation that uses a camera and ring of light to distort time as guests walk through the ring, capturing and stretching their images just as they were a moment earlier.

Roaming the hall floor was a large, baby-faced puppet figure dressed in gothic attire and controlled by an unseen actor. This was part of Gymnasia, a VR project developed by Felix and Paul Studios and presented at This is Québec in Tokyo by the Montréal-based arts and culture venue, Centre Phi. The project premiered at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival last April.

Joint Space

“We are here in Tokyo as part of This is Québec because we’re looking for partners or like-minded people and organizations that could host the exhibition,” said Myriam Achard, chief of new media partnerships and public relations at Centre Phi.

The experience drops users into the pro-jection of a dilapidated school gymnasium while ghostly shadows and the baby-faced figure roaming the floor move around you. There is no dialogue, only surreal visuals and sounds. “It’s easy to show anywhere in the world because there is no language,” said Achard. “It’s universal and everybody can understand.”

Achard says that there is a strong VR presence in Japan, but it’s still focused on gaming. However, she believes, that can change with the right investors. “[Investors] are very interested to see if there is a way to collaborate between Canada and Japan,” said Achard. “We could maybe gather the expertise and material, and deploy them here in museums or art galleries. Great collaborations take time, but I’m hopeful we’ll find museums, art galleries or spaces that will be interested in showing this type of exhibition.”

The event was also a chance for the artists themselves to collaborate. Projects on display — such as the digital moving painting Connections, produced by MTLight — not only united Japanese and Canadian artists, but also different art styles and technologies.

“The concept is about bringing new co-nnections between different artists,” explained MTLight producer Matthieu Mauss. “The emergence of projection mapping matches with the climax of street art. In my opinion, one will replace the other. But nowadays, instead of replacing one with the other, we can let them influence each other. We just need to connect these artists around common projects.

“For interactive media, the art scene is closely linked [in Tokyo and Montreal]. The first two [universities] in the world to offer an interactive media diploma were the International Academy of Media Arts and Sciences in Tokyo and Université du Québec à Montréal, a public university in Montreal. So exchanges between our two countries started at a very early time. MUTEK is a great representation of this link between the two scenes.”

“I hope,” Mauss added, “these kinds of platforms, where bridges between two cultures are celebrated, can grow and become the norm. It’s a real richness to be able to learn from the best locally and internationally.”

Managing partner at MASSIVart Claire Tousignant told The Canadian that her studio was developing a network of galleries, museums and creative agencies in Japan. At This is Québec in Tokyo, MASSIVart worked in partnership with local firms Chromatic Gallery, UltraSuperNew Gallery, FRAMED and MUTEK Japan to produce a digital exhibition of videos by Canadian artist Sabrina Ratté and Japanese artist Yoshi Sodeoka.

“Our network of artists is growing,” said Tousignant, “and through this development, we hope to succeed in promoting Canadian artists here in Japan as well as taking Japanese artists to Canada.”

“Québec being culturally at the crossroads between Europe and America, we feel we are a natural fit to bring a fresh cultural perspective to [Japan].”

Digital Domains

Collaboration and interactive experiences were explored further in a panel discussion titled Creators Case Studies on Immersive & Interactive Environments. This was moderated by General Manager Guillaume Therien of Zú (a non-profit set up by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté), and welcomed guest speakers Tousignant, Audio Z President Serge Laforest and Normal Studio producer Danielle Tremblay.

At This is Québec, Laforest, together with business developer Martin Rouillard of Audio Z — a firm that focuses on musical composition, sound design and interactive sound — showcased augmented reality and interactive audio installations, including paintings by Québec artist Étienne Côté and photographs by the great underwater cameraman and free diver Alex St. Jean.

“Through computer algorithms, people’s analog movements are translated to digital data that can then be used to trigger sounds and music, as well as modify audio parameters such as volume, acoustic environment, equalization and layering,” said Laforest. “We wanted to show that it is possible to create an immersive and deep user experience without encumbering them with freedom-limiting hardware.”

Laforest is excited about introducing interactive sound and music to Japan and believes it can expand perspectives on art by adding interactive layers. Laforest met his wife in Japan, and his 12-year-old son provided the narration for Audio Z’s interactive installation.

“We met several interesting Japanese artists and entrepreneurs that showed interest in our sound approach to audio interactivity,” he said. “The potential in Japan for audio augmented reality is huge, given the vast and deep-rooted culture of the country.”

Some members of the panel had also worked together on a project back in Québec. Planète Énergie is a permanent exhibition located at Shawinigan City’s La Cité de l’Énergie theme park that utilizes immersive lights, sound and projection technology. Audio Z created the music and sound design along with Normal Studio, a developer of multimedia projects.

Normal Studio showcased Planète Énergie at their booth in Tokyo with a scale model. “We concentrate on immersive experiences and interactivity, creating projects that are inspiring and take people out of their daily lives into another magical world,” said Tremblay.

Fresh Perspectives

Tremblay sees strong potential collaborative ties between Japan and Canada. “[Japanese visitors to our booth] are really interested in what we do. They’re authentic. It’s so much fun just to speak with them and have them discover our work — there seems to be a real openness about collaborating with Canadians,” she said. Tremblay also felt that showing at the event afforded her team wider exposure and the potential for international collaboration. “As well as having the immense opportunity to exhibit our work at L’Effet Québec, we also had the pleasure to meet and discover Japanese artists with whom we would like to collaborate and create. It’s the bringing together of the different cultures which makes this so interesting.”

The artistic and technological industries in Québec are particularly rich, and This is Québec in Tokyo offered a chance for Japanese attendees to comprehend this first hand. Laforest said that he felt that Québécois artists, given their particular background, can bring something new to Japanese audiences. “Québec being culturally at the crossroads between Europe and America, we feel we are a natural fit to bring a fresh cultural perspective to [Japan].”

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