2nd Site

2nd Site

© 2004, The Robert
McLaughlin Gallery

...We are drifting into the arena of the unwell. What we need is harmony...fresh air and stuff like that...[1]

The premise of 2nd Site builds upon the success of earlier exhibitions: Energy Implosions: The (905) Imagination was inaugurated in 2001 and Random Cities opened in the Summer of 2003. All three exhibitions survey the creative efforts of early-career artists who share a geographic and experiential affinity that overlaps in the Durham Region. Aside from having been born or raised in the region, the artists also share a commitment to visual culture that endures beyond their post-secondary art training. This involvement is marked by an active exhibition record that is provincial, national and international. As an event, these exhibitions of young contemporaries celebrates a rendevous–a homecoming of sorts. Year by year, as each group of young artists bring forth their studio offerings, a distinct and unique theme flavours each exhibition. Thematic considerations develop ex post facto. In many cases the dynamic play between globalization and localization is foregrounded. 2nd Site is no exception. The three artists in this exhibition chart these shifting landscapes. It is interesting to observe the purlieu thrust in this year’s exhibition. The works are situated on the margins of day-to-day urban experience. The exhibition artists Jennifer Murphy, Tony Romano and Colin Stark interpret these outlying regions taking stock of its vagabonds and structures, its flora and fauna.

The regional environs and topography are settings for Tony Romano’s piece, The Lost Rose. This 35mm film was shot on location in Durham Forest. Today, deciduous plantations and scrublands cover a rolling terrain that was virgin pine forest prior to the 1920s. Post-war conservation efforts, however, have turned Durham and neighbouring Ganaraska Forests into the largest Carolinian life zones in Southern Ontario. Filming took place last autumn when the changing sumac, hawthorn and buckthorn leaves scintillated against the azure sky. This film footage elicits a discrete melancholy. Simply put, the film depicts a young woman set in pastoral surroundings; clad in a rose-coloured gown, the enigmatic figure rests in the forest glade, or is pictured walking through the meadows and woods. She is the harbinger of narrative–an archetype found often in the nineteenth-century Romantic prose or Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

The Lost Rose is episodically based on Georg Büchner’s 1838-37 play, Woyzeck. Heralded as the first tragedy to culminate in the death of a commoner woman, Büchner’s unfinished manuscript lends itself to many interpretations. Karl Emil Franzos discovered the work decades after its author’s death, titling his opera Wozzeck. Most recently, Werner Herzog’s 1979 adaptation starred Klaus Kinski as the misused soldier after whom the play is named. In fact, Romano’s film shares the unusual simplicity of sustained, languid tracking shots of Herzog’s production.

In the post-production phase of his project, Romano bifurcates his project into two separate projections. These twinned parts take the form of opening and closing sequences found in the film industry. Production credits are superimposed over the stock footage, and the image/text is further embellished with a ponderous musical score. These subsequent layers typify the syntax of cinematic conventions. Credit sequences contain and bracket the diegetic “innards” of a movie.[2] As such Romano’s work remains the parenthetical cipher of narrative cinema and we, as viewers, experience The Lost Rose as a story told simultaneously in the future and past tense.

Southern Ontario is among the most densely populated areas in the country, yet the images that its artists produce are often hauntingly vacant. Here the stage becomes set. A multiplicity of actions seem poised to unfold. At times these imaginings are fantastic, at other moments they are ambivalent, mundane, slipping into all that is unnerving. One thing is certain, the patterns and motifs that one discovers in this show are as compelling as they are elusive. As soon as they form, they deliquesce and re-shape anew.

Just as Romano’s work incorporates the local terrain, Colin Stark’s project originates in the nearby landscape. The Rouge Valley conservation area becomes the locus of enigmatic, vernacular monuments built by the artist. These make-shift structures were arranged using indigenous materials found on site. The physical act of constructing the structures/sculptures is documented by both camera and brush. Stark’s imagery is a pictorial double-take. The painted works provide a window to the multi-level creative process. Foregrounded is the sophisticated interplay between materiality and perception, and the residue it leaves behind. Just as the desicate lumber is residual to the Rouge Valley site, the loosely painted photographic qualities evidence the efficacy of snap-shot photography. Both the action of building the structures and photographing them fold into the act of painting. The series of paintings disclose numerous details about their subject-matter: how they are built, their proxemics to one another and how they are situated in the site. These reticulated viewpoints destabilize notions of fixity, effectively challenging the Cartesian underpinnings of a stationary perspective center. Both Structures for a Field and Forest Contruct contribute to the enterprise of seeing.

Jennifer Murphy’s collage works instill a hopeless love with distant things. Her subjects inhabit an ecosystem just the other side of daily, lived experience. Having mentioned this, however, it is difficult to speak to the artist’s imagery in this exhibition in any essential, deductive manner. Any statement addressing Murphy’s choice of subject matter must be qualified with the statement “but not as a rule.” As groupings these pictures resist a taxonomic ordering. Selections of Murphy’s work for this exhibition include a dragonfly, a flower, an iris, a moth, a raven, two skulls, a snake and a sun. Patterns and binary associations emerge: botanical/zoological, pennate/wingless, nocturnal/diurnal, inanimate/living. Anomalies invariably come to the fore.

Formally speaking the works are tightly consistent. The subject/ground relationship is always the same: centrally placed, the singular iconic image floats on the paper. Murphy’s technique remains unified and cogent throughout the series. Each picture originates as a line drawing. The positive space is later fraught with pieces of paper, plastic or fabric. This layered accumulation of particulate material functions as an interesting trope. Writing on fragmentation as it related to aesthetics, Guy Sircello asks us to:

Imagine the entire universe of beauty, both that which is accessible to you and that which may be unknown to you and inaccessible to you–as a massive site of pieces, chips, shards and fragments stretching as far as the eye can see in all directions. Imagine that, although here and there might be identified some recognizably “whole” thing, for the most part there are nothing but fragments of a great many things.[3]

The tactile materiality of collage (particularly when applied to Murphy’s symbolic imagery) approximates the way in which perception and phenomenological meaning is constructed.

In this exhibition we find an array of material investigations into the nature of place, particularly an expanded notion of liminal space. One of the major themes running through contemporary art proposes the re-evaluation of geographical positioning to the body/subject. The potentials of this tensile relationship are outlined by the French thinker, Michel Foucault. He writes, “The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of far and near, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed.” [4] Indeed, in this exhibition we can feel the elastic tension between the nature of place and how we relate to it. The participants of 2nd Site contribute an articulate voice to this lively discourse through a gamut of material production. In this exhibition we find all that is variable and synchronous, complimentary and diverse, in the field of contemporary visual culture.

Olexander Wlasenko
Exhibition Curator


1 Bruce Robinson, Withnail and I (London: Bloomsbury Publishing Limited, 1989) 13.

2 David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art (McGraw Hill Inc., 1993) 67.

3 Guy Sircello, “Beauty in Shards and Fragments,” in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 48:1 (Winter, 1990) 23.

4 Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” trans. J. Miskowiec, in Diacritics (Spring, 1986) 22.


Exhibition at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
Exhibition Dates: Summer 2004
ISBN: 0-921500-47-5