RANDOM CITIES


Random Cities

© 2003, The Robert
McLaughlin Gallery

In June 1986 a massive tornado tore across the Haliburton Highlands. At the beginning of that sultry summer, three hundred students from Durham schools were bussed to Camp White Pine, near Haliburton. It was there on the shores surrounding Lake Placid that the Durham Board of Education hosted its annual art and music camp. My memories of the twister remain impressionistic: an unearthed tree sprawled across one of the girls’ cabins, flotsam, the camp siren. All those who attended the camp that season would remember and wonder how, miraculously, no one was harmed by the force that swept through the area. The Board-sponsored camp continues to run to this day, leaving impressions (perhaps not as tumultuous as those from ‘86) with successive generations of arts-minded students. Indeed, White Pine was an integral and formative experience for so many from this region who have gone on to be cultural producers. The programming at the camp proved to be a model for community-intensive arts education: a model which would be experienced time again in post-secondary training, workshops, residencies, and so on. This is one common ground shared by all those involved in this exhibition.

An exhibition that defines itself on regional terms often proves to be engaging; in many cases the dynamic play between globalization and localization are foregrounded. Indeed Random Cities charts these shifting landscapes. The premise of this exhibition extends from a similar exhibition titled Energy Implosions: The (905) Imagination which was held in 2001. Both exhibitions survey the creative efforts of early-career artists who share a geographic affinity with 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 exhibition record that is provincial, national and international. As an event, Random Cities celebrates a rendevous–a homecoming of sorts.

In researching her current version of Parlour Pieces, Sarah Beveridge turned to local historical repositories. Perusing the Thomas Bouckley Collection of Historical Photographs yielded a document related to a local family. The contrasty image portrays one of Oshawa’s foremost pioneers, the Guy family, who established their homestead on an elevated part of Oshawa’s lakefront. The scenic promontory upon which they settled (now called Bonniebrae Point) took the name of its inhabitants up in to the 1910s.1 This geographic locus seems conjured by a sculptural element in Beveridge’s set-up: the sloped, cylindrical structure is at once bluff-like and stump-like, echoing the elevated topography cleared of its indigenous trees. These associations relate to the pioneer family, while simultaneously resisting any definition.

The predominant element in Beveridge’s installation is portraiture, alluded to in an anthropomorphic rug and a fragment of the Guy photograph. Through genealogical research, the artist conjectures that the woman memorialized in a daguerreotype within the photograph is Eliza Jane Henry (1831-1867). This was Thomas Guy’s second wife. Beveridge infuses a sympathetic counterpoint in the piece by including her familial lineage. The silhouette outlined in the pink carpet is Winnifred Ada Baxter, the artist’s great aunt. Having recently read an essay that grapples with the epistemological problems of anthropological fieldwork and modernity’s inadequacies in researching socio-cultural transformation, I found some affinity with Nadia Seremetakis’s recollections and Beveridge’s work. The writer emphasises the importance of certain family members who bridge rural and urban cultures and economies in Greece. Through a series of what she calls “montages,” the author reconstructs intimate and “sensory” moments of acculturation and reciprocal exchanges between herself and her grandmother. She invokes the ancient practice of colportage, which has deep traditions in many cultures. Colportage, in all its shades, is exchange. The medium of interchange of the colporteur ranges from old books to narratives and wisdom.
Colportage has nothing to do with completed appearances and geometric
closures; rather, in ornamenting the everyday with the sensibility of the different it
cuts up the edifice of the routine and prosaic, it forms fragments and animates
broken up pieces of multiple realities in transit. This is the migration of sensory forms via material artifacts and the memory they leave behind. ...Therefore colportage and its engagement with what can be shifted and altered is neither nostalgic or realist. In colportage, moments of the past and the different are glued onto the experience of the present.2

Just as Beveridge’s work signals exchanges which take place in the domestic realm, Angela Hajdu’s project connotes lived-in space and its inherent responsibilities. Elements in Hajdu’s installation seem located in the pictorial traditions of Western art. In his analysis of historical representation, Norman Bryson observes two vectors which divided painting in the seventeenth century, namely megalography and rhopography. The former centered on the drama and greatness of human achievement. Megalography was privileged vis-a-vis rhopography–the latter chose to concentrate on “the routines of daily living, the domestic round, the absence of personal uniqueness and distinction.”3 As a genre, still life organizes itself in accordance with rhopography and “finds the truth of human life in those things which greatness overlooks, the ordinariness of daily routine and the anonymous....”4 The long cultural span of the still life sprawls back to pre-antiquity and culminates in seventeenth century Flemish painting. Operating as a transcriptive art, still life describes the quotidian and its products. Angela Hajdu’s work, particularly in this exhibition, inserts itself in the analytic potentials of still life. Currently living and working in Japan, Hajdu concentrates on her immediate surroundings. Her production poetically narrates the human impulse of housekeeping and domestic duties.

In Hajdu’s multi-media installation, the clothesline becomes a vehicle for the aesthetic experience, offering a means for display and disclosure. Drying laundry, or rather the shadowed traces of hung clothing is the subject of a group of photo-based works. The title, a good day is expected to begin, hints at the matutinal time-frame. The miniature photographs are slice-of-life moments simply depicting clothes drying in (the land of) the rising sun. Documented with a digital camera cum cell phone, the discrete series remarks on the poetic import of digital communications. The laundry motif is once again echoed in her installation. The artist presents a tableau of a domestic yard. Above a patch of artificial flora (or what the artist calls a “transportable garden”) hang three pieces of clothes,5 each depicting an item related to household chores. The scrub brush, spray and detergent bottle were embroidered using an old sewing machine. Devoid of pictorial context, the stitching stand on their own as icons, upholding the sanctity of the profane.

In this exhibition we find an array of material investigations into the nature of place, particularly domestic 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 considered in a recent article in Fuse magazine, written by Craig Buckley. He points out:
One of the most exciting developments of the last decade has been the blossoming and sometimes dysfunctional infatuation between the worlds of art and architecture. ...Some of the most visible forms have been architecture-vehicle hybrids, a field that has produced a tremendous range of experimentation. Such structures-on-wheels have become platforms capable of supporting anything from new systems for living/working to venues for exhibition and social interaction to new forms of public sculpture.6

Steven Laurie’s Camper Kit Model #112 travels on this trajectory. The kit embodies the “do-it-yourself” ideals of post-industrial, consumer society while simultaneously pointing to pre-industrial nomadism. Here, Laurie’s custom-crafted vehicle refers to the portent of fluidity and interchangeability available in a contemporary society increasingly immobilized by sub-divisions and “the grid.” The philosophical implications of this socio-political reality are concisely outlined in Rosi Braidotti’s influential work, Nomadic Subjects. The author contends that: “Nomadism refers to the kind of critical consciousness that resists settling into socially coded modes of thought and behavior. ...As an intellectual style, nomadism consists not so much in being homeless, as in being capable of recreating your home everywhere.”7

All of Laurie’s recent projects seem to explore the world of kits and industrial collage. They often begin as schematic notations, generated by computer software programmes such as AutoCAD. In their very nature as kits, all the projects are provisional; however, those equipped with wheels such as Camper Kit Model #112 up the provisional ante. As a collapsible outfit, the camper is only temporarily embedded in site.

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.” Indeed, the inquiry into spatial concerns is a prevalent vein in the exhibition. The boundaries of domestic 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 through a gamut of material production. As such this showing is offered to all those similarly occupied or interested in making visual art relevant to today’s world. In Random Cities we find all that is variable and synchronous, complimentary and diverse in the field of contemporary visual culture.


Olexander Wlasenko

Exhibition Curator

NOTES

1. Margaret Flynn, “The Guy Family,” in Historical Oshawa (Oshawa: The Oshawa Historical Society, 1997) 5.

2. C. Nadia Seremetakis, “The Memory of the Senses: Historical Perception, Commensal Exchange, and Modernity” Lucien Taylor, ed., in Visualizing Theory: Selected Essays from V.A.R. 1990-1994 (London: Routledge Inc., 1994) 220.

3. Norman Bryson, Looking at the Overlooked: Four Essays on Still Life Painting (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990) 15.

4. Ibid., 178.

5. Angela Hajdu, “A Clean Green ABC” in “It’s a Small World.” Exhibition Tokyo/Toronto catalogue (Toronto, 2002) np.

6. Craig Buckley, “Portable initiatives, collapsible forms.” Fuse Magazine 26:1 (2003) 22.

7. Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994) 5-16.

8. 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 2003
ISBN: 0-921500-76-9