Born in Solothurn, Switzerland, Thomas Kneubühler has been living in Canada since 2000. In 2003, he completed a Master's degree in Studio Arts at Concordia University, Montréal. His work often deals with social issues and how technology is affecting people's lives. It also questions the blurry borders between private and public spaces, control and surveillance stakes or even the stunning beauty, yet dehumanizing, of urban landscapes. His work has been presented in many exhibitions in both Europe (Canadian cultural centre in Paris, or the Kunstmuseum in Solothurn, Switzerland) and North America, most recently at the Québec Triennial 2011 at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal. In 2011, he was awarded the Pratt & Whitney Canada Prize of the Conseil des arts de Montréal. Kneubühler’s works can be found in the heart of many collections such as the Kunstkredit from Basel, the Canada Council Art Bank and the the Canada International Commerce ones.
"Whether it is the ambiguous boundaries of public and private space, the all-pervasive spectre of security surveillance or even the radiant, if dehumanizing, beauty of cityscapes, Kneubühler's practice tellingly identifies the co-existing insecurities, uncertainties and subtle pleasures embedded in the structures of modern life."
- Bryne McLaughlin, Canadian Art Magazine
Under Currents looks at the hydroelectric installations in Northern Quebec. There are two intersecting axes in this project: first the rivers that flow from east to west, interrupted by hydroelectric power stations; then there is the stream of electricity, flowing from north to south. One transmission line goes all the way to a converter station outside Boston.
These installations are also where the native Cree population and the state-owned energy company Hydro Quebec intersect. If Northern Quebec is traditionally a nomad's land, ironically, in the course of its development, it is the workers from the south that become nomadic: they are flown in for their work shifts and housed in temporary work camps, whereas the native populations displaced by the installation's progress are settled in subdivisions.
"Kneubühler’s Electric Mountain series commanded attention by capturing the eerie nighttime illuminations of Quebec ski resorts in photos that were both ironically picturesque and seriously documentary. Like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, his photos show a strange, abandoned recreational universe where the lit slopes seem like sign code directed to the stars. Kneubühler’s nocturnes of cold, white artificial illumination tell the tale of a unique kind of landscape that waits for dark to come into its own—both land art for the sports-minded and a meta-image of photography’s indebtedness to light." (Richard Rhodes, Canadian Art Magazine)
When I first came to Canada, I remember driving on the highway passing a mountain full of lights. It looked to me like a surreal landscape, almost like an installation or a land-art project. Later I found out that this mountain was illuminated by 500 000 watts of lights and was used for night skiing. I was stunned. Growing up within a two-hour drive of the Swiss Alps, mountains were for me always a synonym for wilderness – a place hard to access, without the usual amenities.
Years later, I went out on a winter journey in search of these illuminated mountains by traveling all over Québec, equipped with topographic maps, snowshoes and a large format camera. I decided to use the lights of the ski hills for my own purpose: to capture a landscape, which would be otherwise hidden in the dark.
For this project, I invited two artists to collaborate and respond to my work. Steve Bates composed the soundtrack for the video "Switch", where we witness the shut down of a mountain. Geoffrey Jones’ LED panels are part of the installation "Brise Soleil meets Mt. Hortons", an artificial mountain which can’t be found on any map.
With "Electric Mountains", I am interested to see how society deals with technology, and how it affects our lives. It is the first time that I am using the genre of landscape photography - yet the questions I am concerned with remain the same.
Office buildings are only accessible to the people who work in them. They are places of power, and therefore protected by security guards and surveillance cameras. Yet, at night, the inside becomes visible; in many places lights stay turned on overnight, even when no one is working. The buildings start to reveal their secrets and they become vulnerable: the innocuous presence of unmanned computers, the blurred image of a worker who cannot be identified, the inconclusiveness of surveillance.
I photographed these buildings from above in order to transform the ordinary perception from the street and gain entry into the recesses of the building. By printing them in large scale, I invite the viewer to wander through the image and peek into the windows.
Historically photography has been understood as a window to the world. In my photographs there are many windows with multiple narratives. Since they contain no people, the computers become the focal point – machines providing a window to global information.
Site specific installation, presented during «Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal» in 2007, and in downtown Edmonton in 2009. The portraits of security guards cast an anonymous gaze on closely watched and controlled areas, usually off-limits to the public.
At the base of all these images is the unseen presence of those who watch - the security personnel whose job it is to monitor this emptiness, the artist who transgresses the codes of private property, and the gallery visitor who acts as witness. Foucault's theories of surveillance have a resonance here; order, visuality and power fall into a natural equation. (Lynn Beavis)
In this pixellated zone, the traveller is defined, practically, by a 'smart' luggage trolley hired with a credit card; graphically, by barcodes attached to luggage; vocally, by computer-generated flight announcements; and numerically, by the four-digit PIN which, as the moment of flight approaches, is overlaid by smaller ones, often attached to a letter. So finally, as the hub spins passengers deeper into airspace, the only version they have of themselves is a seat number in an aluminum tube. (David Pascoe)
Today there is nothing to distinguish - in appearance, at least - the multimedia designer, the medical secretary, and the archivist when they are working at their computers. In «Absence», we encounter the absorbed faces of people whose gaze is lost beyond the frame of the image. With no distinctive signs other than similar poses and attitudes, the bodies of these young workers seem emptied out, completely swallowed up in their activity. (Élène Tremblay)
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