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77 million and counting

Brian Eno will appear in Calgary for debut of his digital art exhibit

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From his electronically-charged beginnings with rock band Roxy Music, to his experimental solo albums, collaborations with David Bowie, Robert Fripp and David Byrne (to name a few) and his production work with U2 and Coldplay, Brian Eno has an extensive musical background. Now, he's keeping busy with his pioneering visual experiments.

His latest video work, 77 Million Paintings, will be shown at the Glenbow Museum from Jan. 6 to Mar. 20. In conjunction with the exhibit, Eno will speak at the Jack Singer concert hall on Jan. 6. Entitled An Illustrated Talk, the evening kicks off the exhibition at the Glenbow.

Initially, the Glenbow talked to One Yellow Rabbit's High Performance Rodeo about bringing Eno to town to talk about his work.

"When Eno travels, he's really interested in doing a number of things at once," says Glenbow CEO and president Kirstin Evenden. "He said, 'The thing I'm really working on right now and would like to talk about is 77 Million Paintings.' We put up our hands and said, 'We'd love to host that exhibition.' "

The 77 Million Paintings exhibit was inspired by all the dark screens in our lives, be they TV screens, flat panel TVs or monitors that often sit dark and under-utilized. Eno decided to combine visuals and sound to illuminate these devices. The constantly evolving visuals and sound are created using "generative" software that arranges the elements to which the artist has pre-assigned specific parameters.

"The piece of software he actually created generates new images and new sounds over the course of the life of the piece," explains Evenden. "In total there are 77 million paintings that actually are imaged within this installation which is made up of a series of monitors. Sound is piped into this space. The paintings are made by manipulating computer imagery. He's created a number of paintings by hand and reworked them digitally so the software comes up in all these different combinations. When you see the work, you never experience the same thing twice so it's really intriguing."

Eno exhibited 77 Million Paintings internationally at a number of different festivals, even projecting it onto the sails of the Sydney Opera House. A version of the work was seen at a festival in London, Ontario in 2007, but the Glenbow exhibit is the western Canadian premiere and will be the biggest museum presentation of the work that the country's seen.

The installation is designed and constructed differently for each space it inhabits, so it will never be the same show twice. Eno has stated that it would take 400 years to witness all the different combinations. As for the Glenbow, a dozen flat panel TVs are being purchased specifically for this project because they have to be a particular size.

"We may not have all the appropriate sized screens in stock and they all have to look the same," says Evenden. "From what the designer has said, we're actually building case work to put the flat panel TVs in."

From a purely technical perspective, the Eno exhibit is an in-depth project for the Glenbow, but nothing they haven't done in the past. The set up must be precise as the images often connect one screen to another. It's a very exacting, interesting work in terms of the technical way it's going to be produced.

"We've done technical and digital installations before so a lot of it is pretty straight forward and it's all being delivered digitally," she says. "What we're doing is making sure the context, the space, is comfortable for people just because what we've learned from other installations is people do want to spend time with the work or find themselves lingering. It's not something where they just kind of come in and a minute later they leave. It does draw you in. The other thing is to make sure it's an inviting and comfortable space for viewers."

77 Million Paintings is a good fit for the Glenbow's fairly recent New Direction strategy aimed at re-invigorating the institution. The Eno project should appeal to a younger demographic than some of the museum's other programming.

"We're definitively looking at a 25- to 45-year-old audience to be engaged by this kind of work," says Evenden. "The audiences out there who know his work know it from a number of different perspectives. It engages the world of popular culture, music and high culture all at the same time. Broadening our audience base and moving forward is something we're interested in doing."

77 Million Paintings will bring a broader awareness to Eno's work and his practice to people who don't know about him. Eno's been doing similar projects like this for a while and this installation seems to be the next logical step.

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