A collaged group exhibition inspires a mishmash of questions
It takes a tight curatorial concept to warrant a three-gallery, month-long thematic exhibition. Language of Intercession: Native Media and New Media Artists, a travelling show from the Art Gallery of Hamilton that has taken over Articule, Dazibao and Oboro until March 19, comes close to measuring up.
Curated by Steve Loft, the exhibition is centred on one simple concept: Native artists work with technology too. Or, as the press material states it, "use a range of technological and digital mediums to construct sites of meaning and perception." Why should this be a surprising fact?
The curatorial texts published by all three galleries make it explicit that there is no correlation between the subject matter explored in the respective oeuvres of participating artists KC Adams, Dana Claxton, Stephen Foster, Skawennati Tricia Fragnito, Archer Pechawis and Ahasiw Maskegon-Iskwew. Thankfully – because to seek relevance between Fragnito’s already recently exhibited work-in-progress 80 Minutes, 80 Movies, 80s Music (at the Saidye Gallery last year), which considers the artificiality of contemporary media and the music industry’s foibles, and Claxton’s video work up at Dazibao, for example, would be quite the challenge. The prevailing feeling after visits to the three galleries, in fact, is dissonance.
The quality of the works is very varied. While Claxton’s four-channel projection work Rattle is sensually mesmerizing and succeeds in beautifully reflecting ritualistic tradition in new technologies, Maskegon-Iskwew’s digital contribution of Drum Beats to Drum Bytes at Oboro is frustrating and tiresome for the viewer to explore in a gallery setting. Not without its intrinsic value – the same goes for Pechawis’s interactive web piece BigRed/Dice, which explores living with HIV in the form of a web game – the work is crippled by its format. Web art as exhibited in galleries is a fad I saw come and was glad to see go in the mid-’90s because of the very nature of the medium being a solitary one: Web surfing is appealing because of it being a private, one-on-none interface. To do it in a public area where people are watching over your shoulder and waiting for their turn is not conducive to reflection.
The other works, Forster’s digital photo light-boxes titled Lost Agendas and Adams’ amazing all-white installation room Cyborg Living Space II, where you get a different reaction from the "cyborg sculptures" depending on where you sit, are both powerful works, but would benefit immensely from more space to breathe than the exhibition’s theme allows. Is digital photography really still considered new media?
The sour taste left in my mouth is twofold: that there remain restrictions in the art world to anyone who isn’t white and male that force these sort of defensive pigeonholes is obviously continually frustrating; but secondly, I can’t help but wonder what stereotypes of native-hood the Art Gallery of Hamilton is resting on that would conceptually justify this exhibition. Are viewers expected to gasp at the contrast between first people’s "graduation" from being people of the earth to people of the cyber world? Is that really how we’re writing our art history now?
And now for something completely different If you’re at all into dance, absolutely don’t miss the Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal’s newest show, Of Weddings and Stage, only on until this weekend. It’s a two-choreography double-bill: Stijn Celis’ Noces and TooT by Didy Veldman, which is the funniest, most charming piece of ballet I’ve seen since Crystal Pite’s choreographies with the Ballets Jazz. Treat your baby to a classy night.
Language of Intercession
At Articule, Dazibao and Oboro
Until March 19