Function Keys took place in a historic building downtown Hamilton called “the Spice Factory”. it is worth spending a few words about it, since its story, as I heard it from its new owners and attendees, is quite interesting. At more than a century old, the building hosted quite a diverse crowd, from a British Nationalist society, a sign of the colonial power luring upon Canada, to a S&M dungeon, apparently its more recent tenant, before it was shut down for several years and then re-appropriated and restored by Colina Maxwell, a truly energetic artist with lots of ideas that aim at maintaining a strong connection with the community, known for her work at Centre3, and her partner.
This is a dream venue, with lots of space and three floors all for ourselves. On the first day, we occupied three spaces on the main floor and on the second floor. On Day two we had presentations in the spacious basement and then moved upstairs for two fabulous performances.
For me this three days conference in Hamilton was a refreshing experience. Toronto is full of events that engage with art and technology, which tend to be a bit conservative whenever people start to mix things up or try to be a bit more interdisciplinary. The focus is always on innovation, entrepreneurship and design while one often has the sensation that critical reflection is welcomed as a bit of a waste of time. Also, having to compete with a lot of other events makes things more complicated. Finally, since space is at a premium, there is always a lot of pressure to squeeze in as much programming as possible. Function Keys on the other hand, was much slower paced, producing a less neurotic, more friendly atmosphere.
I attended two of the three days event and utterly enjoyed them. All presentations and performances proposed hybrid ways to interact with the technological: in all cases, technologies were interpreted as potentials, not as given; something that talks back to us, rather than just tools. Representations spanned friendly robots that induce reflection on the nature of human beings (HitchBot), a choral performance/presentation where multimedia interactions occurred between rock formations, humans and other creatures (Choral Interventions by Harold Sikkema ), the intersection of affect and games, and Afrofuturist landscapes and individuals. These were accompanied by performances featuring moose antlers and toilet seats, records shaped as flying saucers and sound/magnetic fields interactions.