Mind Map

Mind Map

© 2005, The Robert
McLaughlin Gallery

Mind Map is the fourth summer exhibition of young contemporaries held at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery since 2001: the inaugural Energy Implosions: The ( 905 ) Imagination was followed by Random Cities in 2003 and 2nd Site opened in 2004.   All of these group shows survey the creative efforts of early-career artists who share a geographic, as well as experiential affinity that overlaps in the Region of Durham.   Apart from having been born or raised in the same area, the artists also share an active studio practice that endures beyond their post-secondary art training.   In many cases, they have already developed an exhibition record that extends outside provincial and national boundaries.   As a programming event at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, these exhibitions of young contemporaries celebrate a rendezvous--a homecoming of sorts.

Year by year, as the life-paths of these emerging artists intersect along with their studio offerings, each exhibition develops a distinct flavour or thematic vector.   Some prevalent veins in past exhibitions were themes of architectonic space, "nomadism", ecological and environmental issues.   Indeed, some of these considerations surface in the works of this year's exhibition.   But what proves most engaging with these non-themed, materially diverse exhibitions is how a distinct motif emerges ex post facto.   Mind Map is no exception.   In a word, the idea of estrangement recurs in varying degrees and forms through the works in this exhibition.   As observed by Svetlana Boym: "The practice of creative estrangement and meditation goes back to the Stoic philosophers... Estrangement is what makes art artistic; but by the same token, it makes life lively, and worth living.   Everyday life can be redeemed only if it imitates art, not the other way around."   1 The works of Myles Ross Bartlett, Holly de Bourbon, Sarah McDougall and Melissa Pauw interpret disconnection in all its shades, from solitude to anxiety, from the meditative to the neurotic.

The suburban experience informs Sarah McDougall's work.   Her subject-matter is inspired by derelict structures in Claremont, Newcastle, Oshawa and Whitby, all sites in the Durham Region.   The artist ventures into the regional fringes with a camera, used to document the abandoned structures.   McDougall infiltrates a variety of structures: commercial ( Furnace ), domestic ( Trailer Fire, Claremont ) and institutional ( Whitby Psych, Front Entrance ).   This activity is associated with a growing sub-culture in contemporary archeology known as infiltration, urban exploration or simply urbex.   This kind of foray into abandoned sites comes with its inherent dangers including trespassing charges, guard dogs, structurally unsound floors and roofs, exposure to chemicals and other harmful substances, such as asbestos.   The risks are often worth the fascinating finds these adventures yield.   McDougall's images offer us a privileged glimpse into the normally unseen or off-limit margins of this region.   Her monochromatic paintings are second-generation images based on the black and white snapshots she takes on site.   The artist skillfully transcribes her photo-based imagery into paint.   This painstaking process is complicated by the turbid density and rectilinear complexity of each composition.   As a series, these interiors show shells of human activity; structures still haunted by the clutter of lived experience.   The most haunting is a small painting of a now defunct section of the Whitby Psychiatric Hospital.   A wall mural shows Winnie the Pooh knocked to the ground, almost echoing the overturned chair at the foreground of the picture.   McDougall's works show us what happens in our built environments once we leave.

Holly de Bourbon's paintings elicit an almost aural sensation.   Her densely patterned, fluid compositions stir up the warm sounds that emanate from vinyl recordings.   The painter's undulating, stream-of-consciousness designs evoke an ethos reminiscent of free-form jazz or the experimentation of the psychedelic era.   Here too, one is reminded of the bold floral and tribal prints worn in the 60s and 70s.   Formally and stylistically, however, the paintings stretch back to even earlier currents in twentieth century visual culture.   An eclectic range of art historical antecedents comes to mind, from Gustav Klimt and the Vienna Secessionists to the Art Deco canvases of Tamara de Lempicka.   De Bourbon's figure / ground relationships reveal the internal states of her female subjects.   In Shadow Self and Playing the Meridian, diaphanous fabrics, filigree and striated patterns envelop the figures as outward manifestations of interior emotional states.   This is taken further in another panel from this triptych, Photosynthesis.   In this painting we witness a pair of lungs of a woman who calmly holds her mouth open in a state of spiritual ecstasy, indicated by the halation emanating around her head.   A similar euphoric mood resonates in the sinuous sea of poppy bulbs that flow through Opiate.

Just as Holly de Bourbon conflates inner states with the external reality, Melissa Pauw conjures imagined personae that interact with the material world in imaginary friends.   This short video is comprised of four vignettes, each set in Vancouver's public spaces, such as parks and concourses.   For each segment, Pauw candidly trains her video camera on seated individuals: one woman writes, another waits, a couple converse, a man talks on his cell phone.   The results are four discrete, unscripted and unaffected portraits of people simply enjoying the air and July sun.   But what of their inner worlds, their thoughts?   Here the artist conjectures the imaginary creations of these anonymous individuals.   In the post-production phase of her video, Pauw superimposes hand-drawn animations over the live-action footage.   In the first episode, the seated woman seems to converse with her imaginary friend, a man wearing a business suit.   Again, a suited man appears alongside a couple sitting on a park bench in the second episode.   In the third, a woman waits with her shopping bags as a ballerina dances and twirls on the concourse steps.   The final scene shows a man speaking on a mobile phone, a cowboy performing lasso tricks in the same picture plane.   It is hard to imagine the two layers of Pauw's work, the drawing and the video, existing without one another.   Together they generate a sympathetic and redeeming synergy.   Her animated interventions summon childhood apparitions that offer solace in an otherwise alienating urban environment.

Where Melissa Pauw records and interprets others in her video piece, Myles Ross Bartlett turns his lens-based studio practice onto himself.   Bartlett's recent work examines self-portraiture in a suite of photographs and a short video.   The artist deviates from the art historical representation of self as a fixed and unitary entity.   As the artist puts it: "Through the use of digital technologies, I clone myself to create scenarios in which, amongst other things, I fight, play games, sing and watch TV with myself."   2 Seeing an individual seamlessly repeated in the same pictorial plane is always uncanny.   One is reminded of Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers, Cate Blanchett in Coffee & Cigarettes or Yuri Nazarov in The Passion of Andrei Rublev, all of whom played twinned characters in films.   In Canadian contemporary art, Jeff Wall and Janieta Eyre, to name a few, used photographic stagecraft and double-exposures to duplicate themselves in photos.   Digital means provide Bartlett with the efficacy of achieving similar ends. [ still ] playing with myself is presented in this exhibition as a series of six photo diptychs.   In each pair, the artist depicts himself engaged in an activity with his doppelganger.   The activities range from dining to playing games and competitive sports, actions generally taken up in social pairs.   These social pairings can be those between a friend or relative, but from [ still ] playing with myself ( bed ) we can infer that the relationship is a more intimate one.   It is interesting to point out that each scenario ends in a draw or stalemate, considering clones would have the same skill set, strengths, intelligence, etc.   In an accompanying video, little men hate themselves, the relationship between the Bartlett twins is antagonistic, even hostile.   In the mid-ground of a workshop, the little men are diminutive opponents who beat one another over the head with a metal bar.   At the left edge of the screen, another clone watches in indignation.   In Bartlett's work, the self acts as a cipher for other.

One of the major themes running through contemporary art proposes the re-evaluation of body / subject and how these are positioned in the world that surrounds them.   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."   3 Indeed, in this exhibition we can feel the elastic tension between the nature of place and how we relate to it.   The participants of Mind Map 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, complementary and diverse, in the field of contemporary visual culture.

Olexander Wlasenko
Exhibition Curator


1 Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia ( New York: Basic Books Limited, 2001 ) 290-1.

2 Myles Ross Bartlett, Artist Statement ( 2006 ).

3 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 2005
ISBN: 10: 0-921500-71-8