Avant-garde exhibitions, like Alex Mayhew’s ReBlink at the Art Gallery of Ontario, aims to mix technology with traditional paintings. Renowned artworks such as the “Mona Lisa” have enraptured generations of art goers. But what if antiquated works like the “Mona Lisa” came to life in a literal sense? In ReBlink, viewers will see art works move and change in real time.

Imagine this: You stand in front of a painting created in the 1600s, and you blink. Suddenly, you hear sounds emitting from the piece, and see objects flying around in the frame. The people in the painting have suddenly gained the power of movement, like in an animation, and start stretching and yawning.

In ReBlink, historical paintings are brought to life through the all too modern skills of digitization. These moving images remind me of a similar conception by J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter world. Through Alex Mayhew’s wizardry in digital artistry, paintings that have been stuck in their time period now have the ability to move. The exhibition includes Canadian and Dutch Classics, pieces from the Baroque Era and more.

When you enter the gallery, there is an open room painted in a rich, dark royal blue. Each painting is hung on its own wall, giving each piece the power to create its own atmosphere, and later, experience. Each piece has its own iPad attached to the wall below it. To digitize the paintings, you can either download an application on your digital device or use the exhibition’s iPad. Once the app has downloaded, or if you use the iPad, all you have to do is point the device at the painting as if you were taking the picture. There are a total of six paintings in the gallery.

Each piece has a different target audience, such as “Drawing Lots,” by George Agnew Reid, which is an oil on canvas painting made from the years 1888 to 1902. In the original piece, three boys dressed in dull farming clothing are huddled on a brick wall in the middle of a field. In the digitized version, they separate to their own little part of the painting, tapping on their phones, with the skyline of Toronto and trucks pass by in the background. Here, I think some of the questions asked surround contemporary society’s fixation on the digital world.

What also makes the exhibition a unique one is the added meaning conveyed through the use of sound. When we view a painting, we never attribute a particular sound to it, unless the painting has brought upon inspiration of some kind onto the individual. However, in this case, Mayhew has added distinct sounds, such as phones tapping, the sound of sipping coffee, the voices and music that abruptly change as you change a channel on TV.

The original paintings often depict a sense of serenity and inflexibility, as if they are stuck in their own time. Through the digitization process, the original meanings are converted to topics that are relevant today, such as environmentalism and pollution. Each painting has the potential to open up a conversation that is completely new, and all together familiar to us today.

ReBlink by Alex Mayhew is on display at Art Gallery of Ontario until April 8.

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