ETHNIC LIMBS
September 2000
London, Ontario, Canada

Transcription has a peculiar and distinctive status in the visual arts. It is an exercise that is predicated on sequence. It requires a certain degree of patience and commitment by the transcriber to more or less faithfully reproduce a subsequent rendition. This strategy for making a visual representation holds a myriad of intentions. For some it is solely a technical exercise; while others are driven by an admiration for a particular work. In terms of my own production, I am interested in transcription as a means of invoking a generational continuity - a continuum which is both familial and broadly ancestral. I am interested in repeatability, the sense of a return which is conjured.

The pictures that hung on the walls at our home depicted an "elsewhere". Those pictures offered a vision of what one could not otherwise see; a besides, an instead of. I personally could never recognise anything I knew of firsthand in the works. I didn't know the people in those paintings. The flora and fauna looked unlike anything in the southern Ontario neighbourhood.

In my latest installation I have chosen to work with one of the images I was familiar with as a child. The particular painting, copied by my father, was an evocative and inspirational centrepiece in our house. It had the illusion of deep atmospheric perspective landscape rolling into a Siberian ravine. In the foreground, a mother bear watches over three cubs playing in a morass of logs and vegetation. I view my own installation existing as an amorphous organism. The installation is comprised of three generations which rotate about on a common fulcrum. This pivot point is merely alluded to, but not present. Instead the three offspring infer the original, historic painting, entitled "Early Morning in the Pine Forest" by Ivan Shishkin. My installation is composed of a triad that contains the following: a mechanical reproduction of Shishkin's painting, my father's copy of the lithograph painted in oils, and my own rendition of the painting literalized in three-dimensions. With my sculptural models, I want to disrupt the seamless surface that is inherent in all the pictures. This total illusion was considered to be paramount by Western artists. In her discussion of the Albertian model, Svetlana Alpers points out that "It was the basis of that tradition that painters felt they had to equal (or to dispute) well into the ninteenth century." (Alpers, 1982, xx). As an academic painter, Shishkin employed this accepted cultural model of pictorial depiction. My maquettes of Shishkin's work reside in the fissure between factual transcription and fictional interpretation. These atomised segments of Shishkin's masterwork are both ironic templates and devotional imitations. The models simultaneously correspond to the content of the original painting, and are radically divorced from it in their materiality. Because I was working in a sculptural mode, I was not bounded by a fixed viewpoint. Similarly, by installing the models in a disparate and fragmented order on the gallery wall, the positioning of a viewing subject is not bounded by "a framed surface or pane situated at a certain distance from a viewer who looks through it at a second or substitute world." (Alpers, 1983, xix). With my maquettes, I offer an equally artificial world.