Did You See This?

A Hypnotic Collision of Clouds

Just like online bickering between strangers.

In a clean, white gallery, two clouds spout from holes in the walls and speed toward each other lazily, before they dissolve in a soft collision above a luminous ring set in the floor. After a brief pause, the process repeats itself.

There is something hypnotic about this cycle of clouds, the repeated transition of discrete objects into air and light. The apparent substance soon becomes literally vaporous.

According to artist Mitchell Chan, that’s the point. “As pithily as possible: This is what political Twitter looks like,” Chan wrote in an email to Slate.

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Chan’s installation, “Something Something National Conversation (In 2 Characters Or Less) / Infinite Newsfeed,” is currently operating at the Angell Gallery in Toronto. It’s “kind of an opera about scrolling through the news,” he said. While the clouds joust, minimalist music plays while a synthetic voice reads headlines from the New York Times in real time. The idea, Chan said, is to contemplate conversation as spectacle.

If the installation’s display and effects are fleeting, the technology behind it is quite hefty. Chan uses two 1,500-liter tanks filled by industrial-strength humidifiers and pneumatic actuators to create the cloud puffs. The soundtrack Chan coded himself using Java, the headlines converted to speech using Microsoft’s Cognitive Services API. “It’s always online, and so if you visit the gallery, you can bring up the Times site on your phone and read along with what you’re hearing,” he said.

The in-person experience runs through Jan. 7 in Toronto.

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