Clive Holden: Mediated Algorithms


Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism, Vol. 40, No. 6, (2013). PDF, 5.4 MB.

By Matthew Ryan Smith

Clive Holden: Media, Mediated. Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto. March 2 – March 30, 2013.


An approach to art making that is driven by the prospect of chance, by the accidental, is reliant upon the inherent rationale of the natural world. There, chaos constitutes change (or vice versa) and reveals new forms that displace and/or update the old. Toronto-based multi-disciplinary artist Clive Holden’s recent practice has manipulated the properties of the natural world into an aesthetic strategy. Utilizing the randomization and dynamism found in nature serves to unsettle and reconfigure his installations, transforming them into ever-evolving media.


Wind At Lake Manitoba (2013).

Holden’s installations at his recent exhibition “Media, Mediated” at Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto engages ephemerality through carefully composed algorithms and computer programming languages such as HTML5, javascript, and GIFs, reshuffling his selected images ad infinitum. For instance, Wind at Lake Manitoba (2013) features sixty-four small frames of stripped tree branches in a state of flux. Each frame captures the tree in close-up, its few shrivelled leaves are at times barely visible and at other times so near that they remain out-of-focus. The rampant energy, flickering and spatial orientation of the images may impel some viewers towards discomfort because they are at once here, there and everywhere—multi-dimensionality as material. Interjected into these frames at random points in time are the words “WIND AT LAKE MANITOBA” against a stark black background. The incorporation of descriptive text with montaged Super 8 film images makes reference to a semblance of narrative and correspondingly to the qualities of traditional cinema. For Jacques Rancière, “the image is never a simple reality. Cinematic images are primarily operations, relations between the sayable and the visible, ways of playing with the before and the after, cause and effect.”[1.] Though he engages traditional cinema media, Holden’s work is stimulating precisely because the before and after, the cause and effect have been made wholly unpredictable.

In a compelling formal juxtaposition, Wind at Lake Manitoba is (re)created by Holden as a large-scale 4 x 6 foot chromogenic print. Here, the movement and instability that characterizes the media wall installation with the same name has been rendered static, captured and immobilized in both space and time. Though it features a slightly different spatial orientation—seven horizontal frames and eight vertical frames—the print stands and declares itself as an autonomous object. What this does is open up a space where the viewer can dictate their responses rather than have their responses, rather schizophrenically, mediated to them.


Countdown, 8s (2013).

Holden’s Countdown 8s (2013) further reconciles his interest in cinematic forms and static images. In the work, the picture plane is evenly divided into forty frames displaying the number “8” as it would appear in a conventional film leader. Each frame is tinted or shaded differently from the others in browns, greys, greens, reds and oranges. The motionlessness of the number eight and its visual repetition contrasts brusquely to the film leader’s original intent and meaning: temporality. In Countdown 8s time has been channelled into visual space and is presented against its intrinsic structure, almost against its will, which is why it stands as a charged image and statement. Ultimately, the work is an assault against the rationality of the medium by disrupting its sequential nature.

However it is the single-channel media wall installation Bear Gun Love Hate (2013) that best exemplifies Holden’s complex use of randomization, static images and temporality, specifically through 35mm film leader, pictograms, text, GIFs, HTML5 and javascript. This time his frames—ten across, five down—are constructed as circles within squares. The film leader motif appears again in different frames as a rapidly flickering black-and-white picture. Images of hand guns, bears, houses, trees and mountain climbers appear at various intervals along with text reading “LOVE,” “HATE” and RAGE.” Considering the seemingly arbitrary selection of images and texts, this work like some others, is a semiotic exercise based on the potential of random visual, written and digital languages to produce meaning.

Perhaps the most fascinating element of Holden’s practice lies in media installations such as Wind at Lake Manitoba and Bear Gun Love Hate. The exhibition brochure to his Stephen Bulger Gallery show highlights that these works are organized through randomization algorithms that can “never be viewed the same way twice;” thus, through the prowess of their creative potential and their drive towards renewal, they approach that which he know as self-determinization. According to Marshall McLuhan, “the new media are not bridges between man and nature; they are nature,”[2.] which may be why Holden’s data-driven new media work has formed an aesthetic relationship with the fundamental processes of the natural world.

Works Cited

  1. Jacques Rancière, The Future of the Image, trans. Gregory Elliott (London/New York: Verso, 2007), pg. 6.
  2. Marshall McLuhan, Essential McLuhan (London: Routledge, 1997), pg. 272.

Who’s your favourite unfamous un-American?


For the inaugural exhibition of UNAMERICAN UNFAMOUS, a random composition installed on Ryerson Image Centre's media wall in 2013, ten community-nominated snap shots and 100 photographs from RIC's Black Star Collection were incorporated into the work.

Future iterations will be made with raw materials from other filmic and media archives in the on-going evolution of the work, until its final version in 2020. These public collection materials will be combined with personal and found media such as Super 8 and 16mm family movies, and social media-nominated photos from the communities wherever the work is shown.