Opaque and Obtuse: more light than heat

The exhibition more light than heat (Teresa Carlesimo with Michael DiRisio, curated by Carina Magazzeni) is an opaque exhibition. On numerous visits, a sentiment has become more formed in my mind. Essentially, that the necessary context for a full appreciation of this exhibition is unavailable to the visitor, and that even upon numerous visits, has not become more transparent or accessible.

Anyone who’s suffered through my writings on art over the past few years knows I’m a fan of a phrase by Alice Gregory, as it so perfectly encapsulates what is so often a problem in contemporary art – especially Canadian, with its intense academic flavour. Or perhaps taint, if you will, is a better phrase. Gregory asserts that “…contemporary art…for the past century has often been the product of speech acts. I am an artist because I say I am an artist. This is art because I say it is.” This is dually appropriate for more light than heat as the statement on the wall for the show is evocatively well written and erudite: the artworks in the gallery, though sometimes well executed, are not.

Allow me to invoke the curator’s aforementioned words: more light than heat invokes an uneasiness with space. The exhibition features common construction materials manipulated into sculptural forms, participatory installations and fictional spaces, and video works that push recognizable forms to their formless limits. [The] Hamilton-based artists…present an exhibition that exposes their behind-the-scenes inquiries into the built environment through a series of works that play with the authenticity of building materials and inexpensive “fast construction.” Through this, the exhibition gestures towards the ways by which our everyday spaces cannot be separated from capitalism, nor our world’s current environmental shift. more light than heat is a discussion that doesn’t necessarily provide the answers or illuminate a solidified thesis—rather, the exhibition exists as an agitation with materiality, the built environment, and natural resources to pose questions about our everyday spaces.

Acting as an extension of their recent presentation of a form of formlessness presented at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, this exhibition at Rodman Hall Art Centre can be understood as an elongated exposure of artistic process and labour.

It’s an amusing slur to assume that most art writers will use the term ‘derivative’ to slag off art works: here, however, with uninspired appropriations of ideas and formal tenets from artists like Dan Flavin (with his use of fluorescent lighting) or Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors, it is true. Frankly, Marinko Jareb’s mirror installation in the washroom at NAC does more to destabilize the visitor than the ‘mirror’ work in more light than heat, named Untitled (clouds). This is not to say that the exhibition fails completely in terms of visual seduction. A video loop by Carlesimo, Montebello 01, which sits on the landing before you enter the larger back gallery space is somewhat engaging, and the fragmented video projection of the depth we wanted, needed, so we compressed it all has its moments of success. But the proliferation of ‘marble’ makes no clear or accessible correlation to the ‘history’ of Rodman Hall (with its marble fireplaces), and the random objects in a form of assembly are mute as to any relevance or interaction with the visitor. There is an unfinished, and unresolved, quality to this show: in speaking of it as a ‘gesture’, it is an incomplete one, and in doing so falters more so than suggest contested possibilities. It’s like incomplete student work; no offence to some of the fine student work I’ve experienced lately, especially in the photo show Translations at the MIWSFPA.

Years ago, when I interacted with a series of works by Jane Ash Poitras, her paintings were accompanied by several page statements: the viewer had no interest to read these, as the artworks themselves seemed almost to be afterthoughts – an inconvenience – to the words. Similar to the situation at Rodman Hall, Danny Custodio’s exhibition Flower Carpets/Tapetes Floridos on display concurrent to more light than heat is very beautiful, and offers a great deal to the viewer that invites you to mine the larger ideas behind the photographs. Returning to the Poitras show, Rebecca Belmore’s blood on the snow was also on display, and with almost no accompanying statement or didactic, the sculpture was far more evocative and interesting.

I’m also reminded of a curatorial venture from Corrina Ghaznavi which I visited nearly a decade ago, where the positioning of the artists, and their interrelation, was so specific to her yet was not communicated to anyone else. In that respect, the gallery goer was left cold.

The text on the wall for more light than heat is well written. The artworks are not well executed, nor achieve what art must be: a well made, and meaningful – to the visitors, not just the artists – object. I offer this having experienced more light than heat on nearly a dozen occasions, and despite my ‘reputation’, I don’t enjoy having to point out that a show fails. This is doubly problematic as the artists are alumni of Brock, and could have offered an interesting rejoinder to some of the facile dismissal of Rodman’s relevance to the MIWSFPA coming from Brock administration. If this is the last exhibition to experience at Rodman, before its closure, it is a disappointing one.

This is neither a strong show visually, nor alluring conceptually: it mimics what might be the forms of art without the self criticality and consideration of the viewer necessary to speak more strongly, and more clearly. I wanted more – require more, bluntly – and that was not on display here.

more light than heat, an exhibition by Teresa Carlesimo with Michael DiRisio an curated by Carina Magazzeni, is on display at Rodman Hall Art Centre until the 15th of March, 2020. All images are courtesy Rodman Hall.