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These old TVs aren't just relics of the 90s: They're art

From canvas to old TVs to flat-screen computer monitors, GNO exhibit displays portraiture across a variety of mediums
Natalie Rivet of Ottawa and Aurélien Muller of Toronto have teamed up to put on an exhibit called Portraits, which opens at the GNO Feb. 16 and runs until March 29. Rivet will be painting portraits on all of these donated TVs as part of the exhibit. (Heidi Ulrichsen/

With the introduction of flat-screen TVs, the boxy old-style televisions have been piling up in landfills or are collecting dust in people's basements.

Some of these relics of the 1990s or earlier have a second life Feb. 16 to March 29 thanks to a Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario (GNO) exhibit called Portraits. An opening reception takes place Friday, Feb. 16 at 5 p.m.

The exhibit is by two emerging artists, Natalie Rivet of Ottawa and Aurélien Muller of Toronto.

The artists create portraits on everything from the low tech (traditional canvas paintings) to 20th-century technology (televisions) to current technology (flat-screen computer monitors).

Portraits “is a multidisciplinary exhibition that addresses the way we perceive an image depending on the medium that transmits it,” said GNO's press release about the exhibit.

“The image is consumed differently according to the context in which it is presented. This affects the opinion we have of it, and even the value we give it. In Muller and Rivet’s exhibition, handmade albums are set next to paintings, televisions and screens so the visitor can experience a sense of progression as they explore the gallery."

Rivet is painting portraits on the 11 televisions, some of which were donated by Sudburians to the gallery for the exhibit. An image will be brought up on the screen behind the painting, giving them depth.

Working with the old-style TVs is “really nostalgic,” Rivet said. “I just want to put a cassette on and watch 'Mrs. Doubtfire,'” she laughs.

Besides the television-painting project, which she's working on in conjunction with Muller, some of Rivet's acrylic on canvas portraits will be displayed on the walls at GNO.

“They're a continuation of what I've been working on for the past few years,” she said. “I worked from family photographs in old family albums. These ones here are images of my immediate family — my mom and dad and sisters and brother.”

Muller, a portrait photographer, has set up eight computer screens where his portraits will be displayed. Sometimes they'll feature still images, at others videos.

“The real question for us — and I think what will come from the show — is that the people might be the same, the images might be very similar, but you look at them differently because they are on canvas, TV or computer screens,” he said.

“I think that's what's very neat about this show.”

GNO director Danielle Tremblay, who said she actually remembers when coloured TVs first came out, said it's good to give these pieces of technology “a new life.”

“We're giving them a second life but a very short second life,” she said. “They will finish in the cemetery of televisions.”

Rivet and Muller, both recent university graduates, worked with mentors Jinny Yu and Marc Audette on the exhibit.

“I'm very excited about it,” Tremblay said. “I'm happy to see emerging artists have an occasion like that, to work for awhile on a theme and to see what's going to come up. It's a bit of a surprise.”

GNO is located at 174 Elgin St. For more information, visit the gallery's website.


Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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