Eerie Environments: Lorène Bourgeois

Now that the university schedule is back in session, the VISA Gallery is offering exhibitions of work by both students and instructors, and sometimes outside that dynamic. The exhibition currently on display in the first floor gallery of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts (by an instructor at the school) offers a continuing look at visual artists in this community.

There is something unsettling, but enticing about this exhibition, Large Drawings, by Lorène Bourgeois. The white rectangle of the gallery space is filled with monochromatic drawings that are monumental in scale (especially in the “portrait” works, as the majority of these figures are on either empty white blankness or emerging from voids) and that also, upon closer examination, display a crosshatched, grid-like texture within Bourgeois’ marks and forms.

There are no titles on the wall, so the images act in a more cinematic manner, interrelating with each other. Blitz Child II seems to have been sent to the corner for misbehaving, and We All Breeze The Same Air is interpolated as a diptych, as the tubing of the gas masks is connected by the viewer in our minds, as the literal drawings run off the paper itself. La Perruque (translated as the Wig) is surely as performative as the elaborate clothing in Closed Eyes (which could be said to greet you, as you enter the space, in the small alcove at the front, but the man’s head, wreathed, nearly strangled, in an elaborate Elizabethan collar of ruffles and folds, seems asleep, or exhausted at our presence). The massive white blow that rests atop the head of girl-child a little further into the space (she meets our gaze with amused defiance, a petulance that is as sharp as her nose) is echoed in the older woman, at the end of the left gallery wall, whose elaborate wig and costume seem as absurd as her gaze is unflinching (appropriately titled Forteresse – fortress, in English).

Bourgeois’ words: “I am interested in the social and utilitarian functions of clothes, but also in the way garments frame or envelop the body, and the way they disclose or conceal the human form. I find clothing can endow its wearer with a social identity, but also contain the body and head in ways that may be restraining, demeaning, or even absurd.”

When visiting the show, the idea of the uncanny came up in conversation: that which is strange or mysterious, especially in an unsettling way. Several works presented by Bourgeois possess an eerie quality. The eyes and brow of Perruque seem too close together, as he glares angrily at us; other eyes, such as is in Swim Cap, seem to slip the hyper realism Bourgeois has employed elsewhere, appearing vacant and almost inhuman. The martial, military references (the WW II blitz of London, the gas masks, the helmet in Tin Hat – though blitz invokes the Nazi bombing of London, the gas masks of Breeze and the nature of the “hat” in Tin Hat alternately evoke WW I garb and paraphernalia…the war to end all wars, hmmm? I’d rather cite Orwell’s idea of the never ending war, with subsequent chapters…) amid images of children, like Infant or Cocked Hat (though the latter stretches between, with the baby wearing a “hat” that plays at Napoleon, and war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As well, the only non-humans depicted here by Bourgeois, in Chain of Pigs, could be assumed to be a number of docile, sleeping piglets, cuddled together: Pigs is also unique in that it has a spot in the middle of a long wall, giving it a prime spot in the tableaux the artist has arranged. But the military symbolism that Bourgeois employs seems to affront such a “peaceful” reading: so whether the pigs are dead, or only sleeping, and whether they have commonality with the Blitz children, as survivors, or are an allusion to the slaughter of the innocent (as though “sleeping” as if gassed), is a question that hangs in the room.

Returning to the words of the artist: “The garments I observe are inanimate and yet they also allude to the vulnerability of humans. And animals — a group we define as other and yet belong to — remind us of the immediacy of life and its fleeting nature. I am interested in creating drawings reflecting not only the unique physical appearances of my subjects (human or animal), but also their dignity and the singular gravity they seem to project.”

“There are connections between clothing and animals, and between states of dress and nakedness, which to my mind extend beyond the formal.”

Lorène Bourgeois teaches drawing at Brock (the discipline and strength of her Large Drawings, all black conté  on paper, attests to her skill in this medium) , and lives and works in Toronto: this exhibition is on display until November 18th.

Images are courtesy the artist’s site, and are Blitz Child II, and Forteresse, respectively.

Uncanny Looking: Gunilla Josephson

The Last Goodbye is surprisingly intimate for a wall-sized video projection in a darkened room: the figures on the wall, seemingly below “you” on the ground, look up and wave; “you’re” gazing down into people’s balconies and there is a voyeurism, a rapport between the viewer and the work (like a farewell, a leave taking, where you cut to the quick unpretentiously as you know you’ll soon be gone). Goodbye is a lingering piece: “you” seem to float above the ground in a manner that suggests a balloon more than a plane: less abrupt, more laconic – very dreamlike. Gunilla Josephson spoke of how dreams influence her work, and the surrealism of many of her pieces — she describes one work as a “pantomime about nothing” — is clear.

And that’s what’s unusual about Josephson’s (not quite retrospective, though encompassing the last five years, in preparation and production) exhibition at Rodman Hall Arts Centre; despite being very dependent on “new media”, it isn’t a cold or remote show. Houses and Whispers has some works that are more successful than others, but works like Goodbye or I Love You offer environments that enfold.

The respective “characters” engage and entice. Sometimes you get resolution, to Josephson’s “anti -narrative” vignettes. More often it’s a visceral experience that fits within stories that Josephson alludes to, or ones that we construct around her pieces. When I spoke with Amy Friend, about her exhibition that explored family myths and memories (Now and Then), she and Marcie Bronson (Rodman Hall’s acting Director and the curator whom shepherded Whispers to completion) spoke of how female members of a family are often the “keepers” of memory. But that’s more complicated in the works of Josephson: in the accompanying talk/tour of the show, Josephson spoke of the dissonance between family members “remembering” the same events and histories. The words of Margaret Atwood have relevance here: “It’s a memento, and memento means something that helps you remember. She’d rather have a forgetto.”

The Last Dinner is one such work that has this contradiction: a projection of a table (onto an actual table), filled with food and dishes and other “family dinner” detritus, but the physical table is tilted forward and the projection is violent, with objects slamming and sliding of their own accord, and the scene loud and grating and a bit unpleasant – like some family gatherings, at that locus of the dinner table, ground zero. The reddish tablecloth, the caustic green of the many objects on the table, that the table in the gallery space lurches up toward us, as though the violence is about to break, all make this the dominating piece in the lower gallery at Rodman Hall.

Josephson fills nearly the entire first floor, from the front room with chandeliers and fireplaces (Mother Tongue both affirms and breaks this domestic space) to the darkened alcoves where The Last Goodbye, and what may be the “best” work in the show, I Love You, calls to gallery goers.

 

The looped ambiance of I Love You (2013-15) is engrossing and distancing. There are two figures, or perhaps one, with two heads and mouths (a metaphor for love, perhaps, overtly poetic in romantic words, grotesque when literal, as here), with seamlessly melded “busts” where the shoulders smoothly flow into their “partner’s” and the rosy flushness of their skin(s) make patterns and sigils on the bit of torso they share stand out even more. There are rough whitish heart shapes and others that look as much like scarification as anything else; love leaves these kinds of marks on everyone, whether visible to the eye or not.  The two heads (but one being?) hold eye contact unwaveringly, as they speak soothingly and invitingly, floating in the far upper corner of the room. They — it — can be observed without entering the space itself, as the darkness engulfs you, demanding an act of faith in penetrating this void. They are — it is  — the only illumination in the room, and you must trust that you won’t bang into a bench or that there is nothing in the void as you move closer to the warm faces, that rotate and repeat ceaselessly.

The voices are overlain by another that sings delicately and invitingly, and the half smiles and warmth of the disembodied heads call like sirens. I Love You enamours as it disturbs, but on every visit to Houses, this is the work that monopolizes my time. I am almost afraid to enter as it’s so flatly dark: but you walk towards the faces, the figure(s), making eye contact as they whisper their love to you. Though the figure(s) voice(s) is (are) hushed, the singing by Marian Lundin can be heard in spots throughout the outer gallery, calling you back.

Houses and Whispers is on display until December 31: this show is worth repeated visits, due to the sheer breadth of work (I’ve barely mentioned half the works on display), and how these stories interlock, both with each other and our own shared experiences of memory and “misremembrance.”

Part 2. What About Rodman Hall?

This dying October saw Interkom Smart Marketing further the process begun — by fiat, arguably — last February, of “re-evaluating Brock’s relationship to Rodman Hall Arts Centre,” on two seperate occasions; the first at the Niagara Artists Centre on Oct. 26, the second at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts at Brock University on Oct. 27.

Martin Van Zon (of Interkom) answers solely to the Brock Board of Trustees, and his previous report was sequestered therein, and any “consultations” report will suffer a similar fate.
This “evaluation” process has essential flaws (some obvious, like a two-day notice for “public consultations”). I thank Professor Sharilyn Ingram for acerbically demolishing Interkom’s “methodology”, on the second evening. Her gallery / governance experience is significant –unlike Van Zon, who’s not accredited as an arts consultant. This was highlighted by Janis Barlow, whose Barlow Report (Strategic and Business Plan, 2015) regarding Rodman Hall demonstrated significant depth. As she’s a highly respected arts consultant, this terminally fractures many of Interkom’s suppositions.

Perhaps the most disturbing, among many illustrating an intentionally distorted methodology, is the most obvious. Maureen McRae, the “moderator” of the first two sessions claimed “no decisions have been made.” Then Van Zon surmised Rodman’s shuttering, “replaced” by the “Art Gallery of Niagara” [AGN], an unaccountable cabal of “volunteers” (a website’s already online at agniagara.ca). Appropriate anger ensued: no one likes being misled. This seemed less a “consultation” than an ambush to many.

Further: Van Zon claimed the Canada Council and OAC would be defunding Rodman, but when asked whom he’d consulted (that word again) — no one, he confessed — he baldly fell back on “assumptions.”

The presentation Van Zon offered also included the images of Brock educator/artist Shawn Serfas, from his exhibition at Rodman. Serfas expressed concern regarding this, as it implied a support, or that he was privy (consulted, you could say) to this process. Like many, he wasn’t.

Assumptions, again, both loaded and unaccountable… (perhaps unsurprising) for lectures that privileged “developers” for Rodman’s land more than community / heritage, or how the “AGN” seemed eager to “receive the collection,” including works that are significant assets.

This was pervasive: conjecture and a poverty of hard data (or dismissal of valid research, like the Barlow Report), especially where it might interfere with the implicit agenda of the evening left everyone struggling with the idea of the “Art Gallery of Niagara.” Example: Van Zon criticised Rodman for “not fundraising”; until he was corrected that Brock had requested no actions be taken that would dilute Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts funding…

More: John Mann, part of the AGN’s faction, “scolded” the crowd regarding the severity of Brock’s “austerity” regarding Rodman. Yet, he ignored why few with significant experience to offer have been “consulted” since February. Fear mongering is an ugly term: but apt, here.

At the time of writing this, two more “consultations” are upcoming: this is simply a taste of a longer article to follow online at thesound.rocks. Other valuable sources (the experiential wisdom of genuine stakeholders whose motives are more collaborative and less fiscal) will be explored. The Sound invites feedback, at any point. We favour transparency: unlike others, we’re happy to identify all we consult…The definition of “sustainability” will be explored, in ways that don’t just involve boutique hotels.

Elizabeth Chitty gave a significant — appropriately angry — response on the first evening at NAC.

Her words: “The presentation at this ‘consultation’ presented three ‘options’ carrying no comparative data, based in the opinion and preferred option of the consultant. The methodology of this process appears to include largely [of] ‘research’ that has taken the form of in-camera meetings and private chats. A not-for-profit corporation was formed PRIOR to public consultation. The word, ‘sustainability’ is used with seemingly no understanding of standard professional financial structure for public art galleries. The preferred ‘option’ is that a local heritage site and public green space, which thousands of volunteer and professional hours have been poured into for decades, be sold to the private sector and a white cube be built downtown with mysterious sources of revenue somehow unavailable for capital improvements of Rodman Hall.”

Onwards to Part 3 of What About Rodman Hall?