Interview with the artist Nicolas Bernier

The Canadian artist Nicolas Bernier has been selected to develop a production residency at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial during summer. In an interview to tell us his life, his philosophy and the work that he will carry out in the Asturian centre.

Published: Aug 12, 2014
Interview with the artist Nicolas Bernier

Nicolás Bernier. Photo: Annie Zielinski, 2010

By Naiara Valdano, Art Gossips, @art_gossips.

An increasing number of artists are interested in sound as means of expression and intend to “explore all dimensions of listening”, as Román Torre wrote several months ago in this same blog (1).

Many museums, art centres and other institutions are starting to take notice of this phenomenon and have decided to support sound research through the creation of many platforms and initiatives over the last years. We just need to name a few projects to show this boom, like the show “ARTe SONoro” celebrated at La Casa Encendida in 2010 (2) or the programme of activities “Situación sonora: la deriva aural” created by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in 2012 (3). We should not forget, of course, the Master Programme on Sound Art developed by the Universidad de Barcelona jointly with Arts Santa Mónica and Hangar (4).

LABoral did not want to lag behind and opened some months ago its own Sound Lab. Despite the fact that chis centre from Gijón decided from the beginning to develop a programme focused on sound, it is obvious that this lab is another step in the defence of sound art. It is coordinated by the musician and composer Daniel Romero and its main goal is “to promote and support artistic practices related with sound following three lines of action: Production, exhibition, research and education” (5).

Among all the activities so far developed by this lab, I would single out a production residency launched this year and awarded by the artist Nicolas Bernier. Born in Ottawa (Canadá) in 1977, this artist has created during his career many pieces like sound performances, installations, concrete music, live electronics, post-rock, acoustic improvisation and video art. At the same time he has worked with dance, drama, moving images and interdisciplinary contexts (6). Thanks to the residency he has recently been awarded, he would be working from August 18 to August 28 at the workshops of LABoral where he will be developing frequencies (light quanta), a new adaptation of his previous work frequences (a) (7). The selection of the artist in residence and the exhibition of the work produced is a proposal joint by the Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial and L.E.V. Festival.

We have interviewed Bernier to learn more about him. I hope you enjoy it and it encourages you to discover his work more deeply. Give it a try, keep on reading.

Where do you come from and when did you start to develop an interest in art?

That’s a long story, but let’s say it all began as a teenager with indie rock music. At that moment I also started to develop an interest in visual design, doing the artworks for releases, posters and websites. But I come from a piece of land where art is not part of the everyday culture, so I grew up with lots of curiosity that couldn’t be satisfied due to the lack of stimuli.

Then I moved to Montréal and everything changed. I first started to dig the music field and I quickly turned to my ever expanding fields of interest: drawing, film, video, architecture, literature, design, photography, science, etc.

What did you study and how has this education influenced your art?

Convinced that art was not an option, probably because of the (non-)culture of the place I grew up, I tried really really hard to weigh down my artistic passions. So I first studied radio broadcasting and then marketing, mainly interested in graphic design and photography which lead me to work quite early in my life as a web programmer/designer. These studies have actually brought me a lot as art and communication are not so far away.

After a couple of years working in the web, I got bored and I decided to study electroacoustic composition at Université de Montréal. Totally naïve, I managed to make it even though I had no music diploma, totally autodidactic at that time. But then I took a master’s programme, and then a PhD at University of Huddersfield and I got hired as a teacher in the digital music department of the Université de Montréal. Even though I never saw myself as a pure academic, academia had a strong influence on my life and work. This field is where I met most of my collaborators, mentors and friends with whom the intense discussions and divergent/convergent opinions helped to shape my mind. Some of his names were Martin Messier, Jacques Poulin-Denis, Delphine Measroch, Jean Piché, Robert Normandeau, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay or Olivier Girouard.

You are a multidisciplinary artist who has made different kinds of artworks such as performances, installations, music pieces, videos, etc. But is there any artistic concern or line of thoughts that connects all your pieces?

I guess I could repeat a line that has been in my curriculum since the first version, stating that my aim is to find « the balance between the cerebral and the sensual ».

This statement has different meanings. For instance, when starting a project, I think a lot, take lots of notes, read a lot of books, look at loads of images, stare for a long time at the stars… actually, I work quite slowly during the initial stage. But then, when It comes to actually doing the work, to materialising it, it’s like this long phase never happened. I just do the work as fast as I can in a really sensitive/naïve way. All the cerebral activities are somewhere there, but working unconsciously in the background. I don’t want the conceptual aspect to stand as a barricade to the actual artwork cause at the end of the day, this is what is important to me. This is an example of the cerebral/sensual dichotomies.

It’s true that I have approached art in different ways but I think there is some traces of a personal language that always stay. This is a way to articulate the elements of a work, whether it is in space or time.

You have a growing fascination towards the basic sound generation devices and many of your pieces are based on sound experimentation. Why are you so interested in this world?

The interest in the basics of things is another line that connects my works together. Our world is so complex! If I want to understand what I am doing, I need to start at position zero. I am a really slow learner so I always start at the beginning of things. For instance, when I started working with video (about a decade ago), I didn’t want to create complex synthetic and abstract images, but rather work with a limited set of material and composed with that. I felt the same thing with sound: I didn’t wanted to create complexe synthetic textures so I started to work away from the infinite possibilities of the computer to record mechanical sound that I was manipulating with my hands, using montage as the main technique, the most basic medium-based composition technique if there is one.

As sound is the very reason why I am doing art, I am now interested in working with basic sound generation methodologies. This means that I look back and work with the sine wave as fundamental material.

I am also researching the history of acoustic and the sound generation system that was invented a century ago in order to be able to study sound phenomenas. This is what led me to research the possibilities of tuning forks for instance.

During this residency, you are developing frequencies (light quanta), a new work that experiments with particles and sound movements created with an audio-processing application. How would you define this piece?

The work frequencies (light quanta) is based on the idea of particles being the fundamental matter. On the sound level, all the sounds have been made using a granular synthesis tool developed by Italian sound artist Ennio Mazzon for the label Farmacia901.

Granular synthesis is exactly based on this idea of manipulating micro particles of sound. Based on the metaphore of the physics principle which states that it is the electron that is liberating the photon (or light quanta), these sound particles are used to generate luminous elements which consist of 100 independently lighted acrylic sheets. I see those as my sets of photons, my luminous particles. When activated, the audiovisual installation allows multidimensional visualisation of the sound enabling the creation of audio-visual patterns based on micro events organized in time and space.

How do you value the LABoral residency?

I am so honoured to have been invited for this residency at LABoral. It is giving me time and space to fully dedicate to the artistic work which is the rarest situation in my day-to-day hectic life. But I think I would be better to answer that question after the residency more precisely.

What other projects do you have in mind at this moment?

Oh… tons! But this idea of basic sound generation system will still haunt me for years. One thing for sure is that more «frequencies» will proliferate.

One last thing, just to let you know that the piece frequencies (light quanta) will be open to the public at the venue of LABoral from August 28 to October 13, 2014.

 

Notations

(1). Roman Torre: “El sonido emergente. Nuevo LABoratorio de Sonido en LABoral”, LABlog, el 3 de marzo de 2014.

(2) More info on this exhibition at: http://www.elcultural.es/galerias/galeria_de_imagenes/156/LETRAS/Arte_sonoro_en_La_Casa_Encendida

(3) More info on this programme at : http://www.museoreinasofia.es/prensa/nota-de-prensa/programa-actividades-sobre-arte-sonoro-situacion-sonora-deriva-aural

(4) More info on this master’s degree from the Universidad de Barcelona at: http://www.ub.edu/masterartsonor/es

(5) LABoral’s press kit: “LABoral pone en marcha su LABoratorio de Sonido, un espacio para la experimentación con el arte sonoro contemporáneo”, 28 de febrero de 2014.
http://www.laboralcentrodearte.org/en/recursos/prensa/noticias/dossier-sound-lab-1

(6) More info on Nicolas Bernier available at: http://www.laboralcentrodearte.org/en/recursos/personas/nicolas-bernier

(7) More info on frequencies (light quanta) available at: http://www.laboralcentrodearte.org/en/exposiciones/frequencies

 

 

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