ENERGY IMPLOSION: The (905) Imagination


Energy Implosion

© 2001, The Robert
McLaughlin Gallery

Durham region’s industrial legacy is widely known; the area has long-established itself as a technological and manufacturing powerhouse at the eastern crest of the Golden Horseshoe. But what can be said of the region’s cultural production? What threads has Durham contributed to the late- to post- modern cultural fabric? A brief foray into this matter reveals a surprising (and, at times little known) and diverse history.

In 1953, English Canada’s response to modernist abstraction, the Painters Eleven, established themselves on Durham’s shores. Furthering the list, the region’s character inspired Hollywood productions such a Fly Away Home and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Supermodel and MTV host Shalom Harlow, Soap opera star Tanya Lee Williams and born-to-be-wild rockers Steppenwolf, all hail from the Motor City. To add to all this effervescence, chemist John J. McLaughlin,of the region’s industrialist dynasty, concocted the formula for Canada Dry ginger ale. His brother, Robert “Sam” McLaughlin built an estate in Oshawa, which in its day was the most opulent and expensive residence in the Dominion. A few years ago, the Parkwood estate was featured on an American television documentary. Another local landmark worthy of an hour-long TV special was Camp X. At one time, this top-secret complex was home to lgor Gouzenko and Ian Fleming. Gouzenko would later settle anonymously in the suburbs as Mr. Brown, while Fleming went on to create his world-famous agent, 007. This list could be expanded further still, revealing a colourful cultural composite.

The artists in this exhibition participate in this same cultural dialogue. The impetus behind Energy Implosion: The (905) Imagination began with several common links. All participants are early-career cultural producers. All the artists hold degrees from post-secondary institutions. All share a common geographic affinity, having been either born, raised or continue to reside in Durham. Another link between the artists is their commitment and active involvement in the field of visual culture. All have exhibited extensively in Toronto, nationally and internationally. As an event, this exhibition marks a kind of rendezvous -- a home-coming of sorts.

In the works of this exhibition, several salient motifs emerge. The themes in this show reflect the specific generational and geographical conditions of the five artists, as much as they are informed by a broad fluency in contemporary practice. It is interesting to find that all the artists deal with notions of space. These spaces are conflicted. One can sense the tension between what is familiar and what is generic in these works. Indeed, they infer the contradictions of a region that has become many things at once. As an example, growing-up in Durham in our post-Chernobyl age, one develops a heightened sense of place, considering the region is flanked at its eastern and western parameters by nuclear stations. Simultaneously, the region is generically suburban. Often the spaces in the show are dislocated, provisional and in many ways typify the ready-made, pre-fabricated atmosphere of suburbia. Thus, the places depicted by the artists become the residue of human production, but are replete with figurative elements.

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.

The photographs of Claire Falkenberg can be seen as membranes shed in passing -- in transience. The artist records what she describes as “the corridors joining city and country; the in-between places are part of a ‘new landscape’, one that is regularly traversed yet largely ignored.” (EN 1) Originally taken as snapshots, the photos are later amplified to a scale that remind us of easel-sized paintings. Further to this, the series’ title, canada, points to the painted landscape in our national consciousness. Scott Watson observes the urgent tempo with which the Group of Seven recorded the Canadian wilderness, “always one step ahead of the timber licence: they portrayed a nature they knew was disappearing.” (EN 2) Similarly, Falkenberg clicks the shutter just before the mega-stores and sub-divisions move in. Her landscapes are liminal in both time and place -- lands arrested in development. These documents depict properties across Canada with both a history of cultivation and the looming potential of future human encroachment. The feral locations of overgrown orchards await urban sprawl; a possible golf course is delayed by lush groves. These future developments are prophetically alluded to by the artist’s mark-making. Hand-generated power lines, vapour trails and smog add a second layer to the photographs, producing an almost tromp l’oeil effect behind the low-reflective pane. Falkenberg’s production gives us a sense of what is, and what might be.

In travel, the opportunity for reflection exists between any two points. We find this meditative pause in Jessica Thompson’s work. For Thompson, movement becomes the means of gathering and recording visual data. Shot from moving vehicles, her perspective is that of the passenger. This “passive” positioning shifts in the post-production of her work; for it is here that she begins the “active” task of editing and choice. Once, while video-taping a plane in flight, the car in which Thompson was traveling hit a bump, unsteadying her hand-held recorder. This event was later isolated, looped and repeated, giving us the video, planetrick 1. The plot is simple: the jet repeatedly hops across the sky. It is both cute and spastic. This visual hiccup is somewhat akin to a skipping record; a distant technological cousin. For the artist, separating and reiterating a single frame allows material “to hover within a state of visual hesitation”(EN 3) -- an idea carried-over in untitled (trees). Somewhere between Union Station and Oshawa, grows the copse that Thompson photographed from the GO Train. The moment is not resolutely condensed to a single image, but rather is duplicated as an enormous, stereoscopic panorama. The gap, which cleaves the identical images, relates to the edit cut in planetrick 1. The fissures and glitches in Thompson’s works portend that a regenerative spirit is hidden in all fleeting moments.

In this exhibition we find an array of investigations into the nature of space. In particular, the miniature and small-scale works in the show explore the interface between space and narrative. This relationship is clarified in the writings of Susan Stewart: “the miniature becomes a stage on which we project, by means of association or intertextuality, a deliberately framed series of actions.”(EN 4) She further acknowledges that “The miniature, linked to nostalgic versions of childhood and history, presents a diminutive, and thereby manipulable, version of experience, a version which is domesticated and protected from contamination.”(EN 5) The author mentions several components integral to Todd Tremeer’s production. His series, Magnificent Worlds, is a painted inventory of a multicoloured wooden play set he acquired while living in Italy. The set contains the block-shaped ingredients of an idealized village: buildings, walls, trees, campaniles, gates. Tremeer underscores Susan Stewart’s observation on the miniature as a protected entity. The diminutive artefacts are distanced. We access them second-hand, pictorially -- through Tremeer’s observational painting. The painted image of the wooden playthings settle on the artist’s wooden support. However, the “manipulable” qualities of tactility survive. We as viewers are free to participate in Tremeer’s project by arranging his pictures into free-formed puzzles.

While Tremeer delineates his subjects from direct observation, Graham Hall extracts from the imagination. Fortresses is a series of discreet gouache, pen and ink drawings that Hall completed while living in Italy. Both Tremeer and Hall explore the architectonic dimensions of civic space. Each artist offers a vision of utopia, one that is not locatable in geographic reality. For this occasion, Hall’s production focuses solely on autonomous, insular structures. For the most part, they are elevated views revealing abandoned shells. This is a curious aspect. Castles and citadels have historically been condensed sites of activity; they conjure great sieges, bustling courtyards and tourist traps. Never nostalgic, Hall’s illustrations are, however, imbedded in history. The structures are rendered weatherworn and deteriorated by his free-handed line work. This too translates as the imprecision of memory.

As a companion to the Fortresses drawings, Hall produced an edition of fifteen zines (self-produced publications). His illustrated text sketches a tale of a couple surveying the parameters of a fortress, looking for its entrance. At its climax they realize: “We weren’t outside the walls any longer, but still we hadn’t moved. The wall we sat at was wholly unchanged. Everything was as it had been, except, however, that we had been inside the fortress for an indeterminate period of time.”(EN 6) Interiority and exteriority become ambiguous and interchangable states in Hall’s text. The same permutation is invoked by the drawings’ negative space. Hall’s central imagery is resolute and acute. Sharply defined turrets and crenelated brick walls seem to rise from his hand-made and commercially manufactured paper. The white ground proves to be as important as what is drawn on it. Here, the negative space both surrounds (encases) and suspends the subject-matter. The blank void is simultaneous to both inside and outside the castle parameters. Indeed, this is the site of narrative, reverie and hallucination.

The investigation into the fluidity of parameters is once again taken-up in Janis Demkiw’s piece 48 Phoebe St. (front bsmt) Assembly Kit. Materially, the kit is comprised of Colonial-style MDF (Maximum Density Fibre) moulding and wooden quarter round. Its measurements were determined by the peripheral dimensions of a basement apartment where the artist once lived. As such, Demkiw’s work is an autobiographical, do-it-yourself model; a personalized mnemonic of domestic space. In the gallery, the assemblage functions as a memorial, a kind of vertical cenotaph to lived(-in) experience. The work articulates the intimate and interconnected relationship between human dwellings and memory. A quote from Edward S. Casey illustrates this connection: “The imagined/remembered house may not be physically substantial or even extant, but it is highly structured and knows its own limits.... Imaginary space, far from being arbitrary or chaotic, is consistent, specific, and finely wrought...”(EN7) Through her art, Demkiw speaks a “domestic vernacular”(EN8), a lexicon rich with adjectives and embellishments. From the architectural moulding to gilded plastic models, her work invokes the decorative impulse in our built forms.

The French thinker, Michel Foucault, provides an apropos statement, which in many ways characterizes the spirit of this exhibition. 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.”(EN9) Indeed, the inquiry into spatial concerns is the prevalent vector in the exhibition. The boundaries of pictorial space, interstitial and social space, and the space of lived experience are all tested. Each artist has contributed an articulate voice to this lively discourse. In the process, we witness a radically diverse material scope that runs the gamut from traditional to new media. In Energy Implosion: The (905) Imagination we find all that is variable and synchronous, complimentary and diverse in the field of contemporary visual culture.


Olexander Wlasenko

Exhibition Curator

NOTES

1 Claire Falkenberg, Artist Statement, 2000.

2 Scott Watson, “Disfigured Nature: The Origins of the Modern Canadian Landscape,” in Eye of Nature (Banff: Walter Phillips Gallery, 1991) 104.

3 Jessica Thompson, Artist Statement, 2001.

4 Susan Stewart, “The Miniature,” in On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1984) 54.

5 Ibid., 69.

6 Graham Hall, Fortress: in Words & Pictures (Florence: OCAD Studio #3, 2001) 24.

7 Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997) 292.

8 Janis Demkiw, Artist Statement, 2000.

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

 

Exhibition at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
Exhibition Dates: June 28 - August 19, 2001
ISBN: 0-921500-45-9