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"Bill Seaman: Red Dice"
2000-07-15 until 2000-10-09
National Gallery of Canada
Red Dice is Bill Seaman's homage to the innovative 19th
French poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-98) and his poem Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le
hasard (Dice Thrown Never Will Annul Chance). Commissioned by the National Gallery of
Canada and shown for the first time, Red Dice is an interactive installation of poetry, musical
compositions and moving images.
The videotape upon which the Red Dice installation is built was shot in June 1997 at several
natural and industrial sites in the Ottawa area. The mechanical loom, the mill, the player piano,
these recurrent images belong to another century yet persist into our own time, as
technologies still in use or in radically transformed states. Their relatively simple mechanics or
punched paper controls are the ancestors of today's computers. Bill Seaman layered French
and English spoken text and music over the images, tightly editing the hours of original footage
into a fifteen-minute production, a work of art in its own right.
Approaching Red Dice, the viewer will find an electronic tablet and pen. On the tablet,
Mallarmé's poem will appear, arranged to faithfully match the original layout of his words.
Mallarmé revolutionized poetry when he wrote Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard in
1897 since the poem challenges the reader's sense of order. By spilling the lines of his poem
over the centrefold of the pages, separating them by irregular spacing or breaking them up
over a number of pages, Mallarmé was ahead of his time. The reading experience bears a
distinct resemblance to today's non-linear way of reading on the World Wide Web. Viewers of
Red Dice can digitally page through the entirety of the poem on the tablet or they can touch the
poem with the pen and activate Seaman's images, words and music. Other viewers in the
room will be able to watch the actions of the person navigating the work via a second
projection that will show what is on the tablet. Seaman describes the experience of navigation
in Red Dice as floating, skating over or flying between images, words and sound, in a choice
of two languages.