By Jenn Watt
Published May 9 2017
Fire alarms emptied of their bells adorn an empty room. A computer programmed by Ken Gregory spins tiny brushes attached to little motors making the emptied metal shells ring.
The installation is described on Gregory’s website with audio you can play on demand. The sound is tinny and haunting.
As visitors arrive in the room the website says infrared sensors begin to alter the rhythm of the brushes and with it the sounds the fire alarms produce.
The art with the assistance of a human programmer responds to the human presence; it senses warm bodies and interacts with them.
The installation called 12 Motor Bells was purchased by the National Gallery of Canada.
It’s a career highlight but also a clearly perplexing situation for Gregory 57 who just completed an intensive blacksmithing course at Haliburton School of Art and Design.
While he has been a professional artist since 1986 Gregory did not come up through formal artistic training. He doesn’t create work for commercial purposes and seems uninterested in the flashier parts of the art world.
That said he’s now in the National Gallery of Canada his work preserved for posterity.
“They now treat it [12 Motor Bells] like any artwork in the gallery: white gloves custom crates for shipment – the same treatment as a Rodin or Dali” says Gregory at the end-of-semester student art show and sale at HSAD.
“What they collect is for history.”
While he’s older than most of the students around him the Winnipeg-based artist still fits in on a college campus.
A tattoo on his neck peeks out from under the collar of his button-down shirt.
He seems genuinely interested in the opportunities to learn all around him.
“I can navigate a variety of communities even though I’m not an academic” he says. “The focus is on me [because of the National Gallery piece] but there are thousands of others who deserve it too.”
But having his work selected shines a light on the underground art community of which Gregory is a part.
He’s standing across from a small display of his blacksmithing work at the I Made It! Show. Among this semester’s creations is a small metal table serpentine legs pointing their sharp feet into the floor. There are more rustic wall hooks and at the end of his display toilet paper holders mounted on rocks.
Without as much as a smirk Gregory talks about the bathroom furniture in terms of their artistic value: fusing together materials teaching him something new about blacksmithing.
The bulk of his work so far has been multimedia in nature soundscapes and computer creations – things experiential and fleeting – but he decided he’d like to expand his oeuvre and come to HSAD.
The 15-week intensive allowed Gregory to focus on developing the skills of blacksmithing and included art history and drawing components.
“These things all feed me in an intellectual way” he says “and an inspiring way.”