A work of digital genius
November 3, 2011


NSCAD professor David Clark was awarded the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia's Masterworks Arts Award for the web-based work 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein (to be played with the left hand).


 It’s been called “dazzling,” (The Coast); a “rapturous virtuosic sprawling labyrinth” (Digital Poetry Review); and it topped the list of the Ten Most Fascinating Websites.

And now David Clark’s web-based work 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein (to be played with the left hand) has captured the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia’s Masterworks Arts Award. The jury for the award had its own adjectives for the intriguing creation. Noting its accessibility and playfulness, the jury wrote, “It sucks you in and you spend hours exploring this delightful labyrinth of ideas, images, poetry and music.”

NSCAD professor David Clark is happy to win the $25,000 prize, because he hopes more people will discover the Internet art piece, created to explore the life and philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. (Take a look: http://www.88constellations.net/)

“The beauty of web-based art is that you don’t have to go to a gallery, you don’t have to arrange an appointment,” says Prof. Clark, head of the media arts division. “This piece is still up: you can actually see it.”

In 88 animations—“88 constellations”—Prof. Clark pieces the life and times of Wittgenstein together. No two viewers are apt to approach the piece in the same way; they can interact with each collage animation and move from one vignette to another via the left hand side of the screen—a wink to Wittgenstein’s concert pianist brother Paul, who lost his right arm during the Second World War but continued his career performing piano works composed for the left hand.

Prof. Clark says he’s always been intrigued by Wittgenstein and the philosophies he espoused. Although not “exceptionally well known,” he lived during the pressure points of the 20th century: he went to school with Adolf Hitler; he served on the front lines during the First World War; his sister was psychoanalyzed by Freud and had her wedding portrait painted by Gustav Klimt. Born into one of Austria-Hungary’s most aristocratic families, Wittgenstein at one point was deemed to be Europe’s richest man—and worked as an orderly in a London hospital. Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University, he is best known for having inspired two of the century's principal philosophical movements, logical positivism and ordinary language philosophy. 

“He’s such a fascinating seminal figure, who I believe was ripe for biographical treatment,” says Prof. Clark.

Not just any biographical treatment, however, but one in which the viewer can control as they follow the thread of their own curiosity from one story to the next. Taken together, the experience is an immersion, not unlike reading a novel or watching a feature film. “Most people think the Internet is trivial, but I actually think you tell complex stories and make work that says something profound. Plus, you can view it on your own computer on your own time; it’s an incredible way to interact with art.”

88 Constellations for Wittgenstein (to be played with the left hand) took five years to complete. (And, if you’re wondering why the narrator’s sonorous voice is so familiar, it’s because it belong to Neil Thompson at the NSCAD Bookstore.)

There were four finalists for the Masterworks Award: Equine Studies, a series of large-scale colour photographs by Susan McEachern, professor of media arts; Investigation 1, an interdisciplinary project for the Artifact Institute by Tim Dallett (MFA 2001) and Adam Kelly (BFA 2004), who teaches electronics, mechanics, and programming, also in the media arts division; The Warming Hut, a shelter for skaters at the Halifax Oval created by Robin Muller, NSCAD textiles professor, and Sarah Bonnemaison, professor at Dalhousie’s School of Architecture; and See Below, an immersive experience of the oceans by Susan Feindel. Each of the finalists received $3,000.

Other awards given out at the October 30th gala dinner at the Cunard Centre were:

  • The Portia White Prize given to James MacSwain, a photographer, visual artist and filmmaker. A portion of the $25,000 prize--$7,000--went in support of Visual Arts Nova Scotia’s mentorship program.
  • Established Artist Recognition Awards ($5,000) went to pianist Simon Docking, dancer-choreographer Sheilagh Hunt (BFA 1995), printmaker Daniel O’Neill (BFA 1994, MA 1999) and composer and conductor Dinuk Wijeratne.


 Still from 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein (to be played with the left hand).