The Insidious Computer

There’s no such thing as getting away from it all. Not when it comes to computer technology.

Leslie Leong’s latest exhibit, Insidious, reiterates this in beautiful, if at times unsettling, ways.

Known for her use of computer circuit boards in jewellery, Leong offers a broader, more provocative look at the pervasive nature of technology in her latest show, on display at Arts Underground until April 26.

The works in this show are diverse and tactile. Among the most striking is a set of photographs printed on sheets of aluminum, which bring out their luminosity. At first glance, they look like ordinary photos. Closer, one sees that images of circuit boards have been embedded almost imperceptibly into them — in the green eye of a crocodile, the leaf of a lotus flower, a splash of Northern Lights.

The show is largely an exercise in contrasts between the textured imperfection of organic materials such as driftwood, clay and paper, and the rigidity of the computer parts.

The seed for the show came when Leong was working alongside an artist using muskox antler, “mixing the organic with the computer parts: it’s so reflective of the way we have to try to combine those things in our lives.”

Among the works is a series of small vessels 2-3 inches in height called “Golden Scipods”. They resemble small nests and are constructed of sewing pattern tissue. Each is accessorized with shiny, decorative technological shrapnel.

Sewing patterns, for those who don’t partake, are made of a distinctive brown tissue. Despite their flimsy nature, they can be used many times before they wear out. Unlike technology, a minor modification to the pattern can keep it current for many years; but alas, the entire activity of home sewing seems destined to obsolescence.

As Leong sees it, sewing patterns are unsung feats of design.

“We give so little credit to the people that develop sewing patterns. It’s basically engineering, but it’s associated with women’s work. It’s not really acknowledged as valuable as the work that goes into industrial objects.”

Less whimsical is an unsettling series of small clay human figures, framed by computer parts. “Lucid Dreaming” and “Lucid Nightmare” depict bodies curled up in the fetal position atop circuit boards, seemingly helpless against technology.

Leong’s most labour-intensive piece is from this series. “Entrapment” is a sculpture of a figure pushing with futility against a glass box.

“The plexiglass was a piece of a laptop computer screen. It’s a type of plastic that distorts light that goes through it, so from one end you can see a double image of the woman.”

Entrapment reflects an idea that is disquieting to Leong — how to get the upper hand with technology.

“It sort of creeps into our lives, and then it’s there. And then we can’t get rid of it. We question it as individuals, but how do we do that as a society?”

“Even if we get consensus, how do we control it? We haven’t been very good at controlling anything.”

For Leong, the ideas are as endless as the questions. Luckily, the supply of materials is also endless, thanks to Yukon Computers for Schools, which salvages computer parts and passes along the rest to be trucked south.

But even though she has to draw the line, for the sake of a deadline, technology goes marching on and requires us to do the same.

“Technology is fantastic and we have so much to be grateful for, but at the same time it’s overwhelming, and I’m not able to keep up with the pace of life that results from the use of technology. It’s supposed to make our lives easier but there’s the expectation that we’re going to keep doing more.”

Insidious is on exhibit at Arts Underground until April 26. Tuesday to Friday 10-6, Saturday 10-5.

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