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Falling Planes, video diptych

FALLING: THE PAST IS ALWAYS PRESENT | August 24 - September 2 2017

Presented with the University of Ottawa, Studio Sixty Six is pleased to present Falling: The Past is Always Present, the thesis exhibition of MFA Candidate and new media artist Michael Ashley. This exhibition is a site-specific immersive installation of Michael's thesis artwork, including audio-video projections, use of virtual reality and the incorporation of organic elements such as live grass.


In this body of work, I ponder the mechanisms of memory and study the power of images by appropriating and re-presenting historical media related to the First World War. Stimulated by the centenary of what was originally called “The Great War”, this work considers the conflict as a crisis of modernity, and suggests that its echoes reverberate into the present.

The products of modern industry, such as rapid-fire artillery, the machine gun, armoured vehicles, and chemical weapons, made World War One the first large-scale industrialized conflict and caused destruction on an unprecedented scale. Innovations like the use of airplanes literally moved armed conflict into a new dimension. Aviation technology advanced rapidly during the war years and individual pilots were presented to the public as knights of the air, the heroes of a new era. This was essential to the propagandists because the meat grinder of trench warfare offered few opportunities for individual distinction. But ultimately, the invention of the airplane also implied the invention of the crash, an especially devastating development at a time when parachutes were unavailable.

Many pilots’ memoirs attest to the fear of a fiery crash. Many wondered whether it was better to stay in a burning plane or airship and risk being incinerated or jump and ensure a cleaner demise. This dilemma is illustrated in a painting called “The Fall” from the collection of the Canadian War Museum. In it, a German aviator has chosen to jump free of his burning aircraft. The imagery of falling touches on the casualties of war, referred to as the fallen, as well as biblical imagery of the fall, the fallen angels, and the fall from grace. The materialist religion of modernity is based on faith in science and technology, which can contribute to the pride that leads to such a fall. The myth of Icarus is a tidy encapsulation of this motif.

I use audio-video installation in this work. These time-based media are most appropriate because they allow me to re-use still images, film, and songs from the 1914 to 1918 era and re-present them in an evocative way. Historical images and sounds help recreate the ambiance of the era and their presentation using temporal media emphasizes the passage of time and the fading of memory. Using audio-visual material in an installation provides the audience with a multi-sensory experience that implicates them physically and enhances the artwork’s affective quality.

I would like the viewers of my work to consider the precarity of human life; to reflect on the hubris that leads to destructive conflict; to question the role of technology in culture; and to feel the passing of time while understanding the immanence of the past.

My work can be interpreted as a condemnation of the glorification of war and a critique of blind-faith in progress.

Tags: past