The current major exhibition at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, David Cronenberg: Evolution is an exercise in how intense and interactive movie watching can be. The exhibition and its tie-in panels and events with Cronenberg and his collaboraters demonstrate how demanding filmmaking is. However, the films themselves also make demands on their audience — forcing us to face the less pleasant aspects of humanity that we all harbour.
The Body/Mind/Change digital tie-in to Evolution is particularly good at blurring this line between merely watching a film and actually engaging with it. The Internet has seen many attempts at interactive, creepy websites, but they are rarely this effective. With the deliciously sinister tagline “POD Wants To Know You,” the website promises to create a “Personal On-Demand” (POD) that will learn from you before being implanted in your body.
When I began the POD process, I expected it to be mildly entertaining, and perhaps more of an amusing gimmick than a deep experience. Instead, it plunged me into all sorts of introspective questions, ranging from what it means to be human, to why I am so willing to share information with faceless digital programs.
The online simulations get right to an intensely personal interrogation — Do you hate anyone? How many people have you slept with? I did not know why I felt compelled to be honest with a fake experiment. This virtual tie-in certainly plays with our current fears about privacy and how much information we share online, and it asks what we will sacrifice for the sake of convenience; it also taps into our strong desire to be understood.
When I began the POD experience, I didn’t realize that there actually is a laboratory set-up representing BMC Labs in the fourth floor of TIFF Bell Lightbox. A fictional laboratory in the realm of the Internet is one thing, but it is an intriguing blend of reality and fiction when that fiction extends to a real, physical space. There are three POD simulations in total, and when you finish the third, you are given a unique access code and told to pick up your POD the week of January 21 from the lab at Lightbox, which is again a surprisingly real, physical element to a digital experiment. I’m not sure how far this blurring of fiction and reality is going to go, but I look forward to picking up my POD, as long as BMC Labs does not actually intend to implant it in my body.
Throughout the many different elements of David Cronenberg: Evolution, I have been impressed by the depth of programming, and continually surprised by the level of detail and care that has been put into this exhibition. A tucked-away photobooth in the lobby of Lightbox, for instance, claims to read DNA from your hand, and then combines an image of your face with Cronenberg’s own. You even get a glossy printout of this strange mash up.
Cronenberg: Evolution closes January 19 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Experience POD at www.bodymindchange.ca.