Published on Brock University (http://brocku.ca)
Brock University Department of Visual Arts Honours Exhibition
April 21 to May 6, 2012.
Rodman Hall Arts Centre
109 St. Paul Crescent
St. Catharines, ON L2S 1M3
The Department of Visual Arts, part of Brock University’s School of Fine and Performing Arts, has a long tradition of presenting the work of graduating students mentored in its Honours studio program. The Department’s partnership with Rodman Hall has made the Honours Studio an especially fruitful undertaking. Students accepted into this course, develop a cohesive body of work that that will support their entry into graduate school MFA programs and professional practice as artists. The exhibition at Rodman Hall is the capstone of their visual arts education at Brock and an opportunity to publicly present the results of their exploration and hard work. Such exhibits from the Department of Visual Arts are a key part of the School of Fine and Performing Arts' mandate to connect the community with the breadth of talent and creativity at Brock University.
Perceptionists: Three Responses to the Contemporary Challenges of Representation
Framing perceptual responses to the literal 'deck of cards' that we know as our contemporary lives requires the use of skill, humour and the ability to take risks. Sarah Beattie, Danny Fast, and Carrie Perrault maneuver through social and spatial architectures bound by themes of visual perspective, obsolescence, and neurodiversity . These 'ways of seeing' may appear incongruent but are, in fact, not dissimilar. Their work contributes unique and perceptive responses to dominant social and spatial configurations of our time.
Sarah Beattie's Untitled work elicits an immediate, visceral response, as it requires the viewer stand at a forty-five degree angle in relation to the painting, thus placing spectators in the same position the artist took to create the work. In this skillful guidance of the viewer's experience, the artist encourages extended consideration of a painting that functions as a perspectival puzzle, and is, therefore, neither quickly absorbed nor easily dismissed. The alternate side of the corrugated canvas holds a reciprocal image, viewed from the opposite perspective in the form of a reflection. This work, which the artist refers to as the '2-in-1 painting' exemplifies her fascination with mirrored images and places her piece within an historical lineage that includes the puzzling, reflected room in Édouard Manet's A Bar at the Folies Bergére and the mirrored reflection/refraction of Jeff Wall's Picture for Women .
Beattie employs multiple strategies by which the viewer is asked to contemplate the relationship of surface and depth to the created image. We are further encouraged to consider the surface and ephemerality of representation produced by Beattie's “still life paintings” based upon motion-blurred photographs. Created on irregularly-shaped, geometric boards and running counter to the tradition of the still life, these works refuse such tropes as literal representation and perspectival depth, the sublime renderings of light and shadow, and the implicit gravity of objects. In Study of a Painting, the artist reverses the tradition of painting from a photograph by creating a series of photographs of a painting, taken through the lens of a kaleidoscope. These photographs, in turn, are viewed through the additional lens of a telescope. Viewing these images through the distortion of multiple lenses upon a circular surface recalls the scientific investigation of the contents of a Petri dish via a microscope, further reinforcing the inventive synergies between art and science. Twelve kaleidoscopes stacked in a small chest on a shelf suggest exploratory viewing through another similarly shaped tool – the monocular or 'spyglass'. The spectator is invited to use this tool as an additional instrument that frustrates representational viewing and draws attention back to the mediating lens and the viewer's body. Here again, the visitor is enfolded within a private, interior experience of viewing, which, by contrast, takes place within the public venue of the gallery. The conflation of multiple layers within the photographic print conveys the jumbled surface of the kaleidoscope, doubled with the microscopic reference, filtered through the telescopic viewing, resulting in a kind of symbiotic and perspectival confusion that must be sorted out by the viewer. Beattie attempts to introduce a new dimension of abstraction within Surrealist-inspired painting that “is about viewing and making you question your own state of being” .
Certainly, observations about contemporary youth and popular culture are most pointed when delivered from the perspective of the insider. I imagine Danny Fast generating ideas for his projects while working as a manager at St. Catharines’ That's Entertainment. Employed at the last existing video rental store in the city, the artist often thinks about “video, movies, distribution and circulation” in relation to culture and economics. Fast's childhood ambition to work at this once cutting edge media distribution outlet morphed into a kind of ironic attempt to subsidize his university education on DVD's rented to low income customers lacking access to Netflix or the internet. The humour of Fast's work resists late capitalism's tragic view of its borderline participants, whose conditions Fast observes and who provide a counterpoint to the dominant monoculture as well as to the utopian desires pinned upon urban renewal. In the current economic climate, emerging artists strategize their practice, gravitating to peripheral urban centres. They hang out in their parents' basements, occupy low rent buildings, and reflect upon what they see around them. Fast uses contemporary means – YouTube and twitter – as a kind of notebook of ideas, and the hand-painted sign common to both small business and the Occupy movement, in order to communicate his insights.
Humour and paradox figure prominently in Fast's work, where acerbic commentary can be cutting, but where social interaction and engagement with the viewer are also primary. A will to offend and/or please is coupled with a distancing effect in Fast's terse, interactive and ironic observations. The last strategy available to the artist in the aftermath of the loss of individual attainment (the 'unique work') is to “not be boring, to entertain” . A kind of pathos is made apparent in the works Why Would Anyone Buy This? DVD Selection. If, in the hierarchy of high vs. low media and culture, drawing exists at a lower register than painting, Fast takes the ultimate 'value' of the work down a notch by drawing text, spending time reworking and solidifying phrases derivative of the Facebook update in works such as Neighbourhood Portraits. In Protest Posters, handmade phrases are mounted on sticks and lean against the wall, calling out for engagement through a “Protest of the Absurd”. Whether the viewer decides to accept this implicit invitation to collective action is yet to be seen. Ephemeral and disposable, the lifespans of these cultural memes are short. Their impact, however, is striking and immediate.
In works that are equally interpolating, Carrie Perrault re-inscribes psychiatric reports of her hospitalization on the gallery wall as simulacra of the written reports of her progress, as construed by medical professionals. Strange inconsistencies can be noted in the text, such as "Medication changes are noticed by the patient" (rather than having the changes communicated to her). The patient is referred to throughout the reports by the abbreviation “Pt.”, whereas the doctor's full name is recorded. In Things I Probably Shouldn't Share, the largest vertical body of text was intuitively formed by the artist to match her height , and is broken at mid-point by a horizontal video screen where a series of images begin and end with her body in a fetal position. The video loop portrays the artist's rehabilitation from a psychiatric ward bed. A forgotten video camera installed by the artist records the mundane and lethargic aspects inherent in recovery such as sleeping, eating chips, reading a book, talking to the cleaning person, etc. amidst the everyday background noises of the hospital, all of which run counter to the dramatic portrayals of women and illness popularized by contemporary film and reality television. The video camera serves as a substitute for a human witness, as psychiatric treatment is made private and thus rendered invisible by normative social structures. The handwritten medical text is presented in tandem with the video surveillance of the body, but Beattie's practice confounds a purely medical or personal discourse so that the subjective and the clinical each retain reciprocal traces of the other. Medical objectivity is called into question as the 'patient' assumes the authored methodology of her own assessment narrative, at times as mundane as the process of recovery itself, albeit punctuated by several 'notable' incidents. The act of placing this work within the gallery is itself transgressive, and the handwritten text in the white cube recalls parallel artistic interventions upon walls of confinement by institutionalized artists such as New Zealand poet Janet Frame or Irish artist and political prisoner Grace Gifford Plunkett.
In the work Progress Note, strategies of resistance give way to a tactical positioning of the viewer, producing an experience of the confusion encountered by the artist. A video projection draws the viewer into a disoriented walk through a cornfield with no apparent periphery. The frenetic pace, and the lack of focus and direction allows the viewer to perceive the anxiety and mental disorientation of the artist. In the wall text accompanying Progress Note, the doctor's report carries the distant quality of an auditory Dictaphone transcription as filtered through an assistant. The auditory influence is retained through the detached rhetoric and quick cycling through of past and present verb tenses, where the brief observation made in one paragraph is concluded by an immediate 'diagnosis'. Sound is also an essential element of Untitled #38 - #48 where appropriated audio and television is softly emitted through sculptural teeth molds mounted on microphone stands. The artist describes the work as reflecting the "society that created me" . By challenging viewers to question and participate in the cultural processes that articulate contemporary identities, this piece provides a “point of departure” for the entire body of work in the exhibition.
The works in this exhibition engage both the artist and the viewer, underscoring the complex relationships between illusion and representation, obsolescence and contemporaneity, technology and biology, difference and normativity. Each in their own way, these three artists give concrete form to some of the outstanding contradictions inherent in our contemporary lives, challenging established perceptions while opening a space that might allow for the emergence of new subjectivities.