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Terence Dick
VSVSVS at Mercer Union, Toronto
June 02, 2015

If I was the type of critic who identified generational shifts, I might call the present moment “New Materialism.” After perusing the cluster of galleries at Bloor and Lansdowne, I was sorely tempted to make the claim. Every exhibition was obsessed with things. Like conceptualism never happened and content was old hat, these artists aren’t interested in creating meaning; instead, they discover it in the world of consumer goods á la Duchamp’s readymades. Art is, after all, just an object that has no function. Edson Chagas over at Scrap Metal Gallery finds it in junk left on the street: chairs, coat racks, and a speaker stack that no longer do their jobs, so they’ve become inert and useless things. Jimmy Limit at Clint Roenisch Gallery finds it in the commercial display of products before they are put to use, when their aesthetic potential is maximized as eye candy. And over at Mercer Union, VSVSVS converts the interior into a funhouse of alienation where the objects that occupy our living space are displayed in all their formal glory.

VSVSVS, Not together, but alongside, 2015, installation detail

The warren created by the Torontonian collective has surprises at every turn, which serve to heighten the visitor’s awareness of the aesthetic potential in bowls, plants, dishes, and artfully designed containers. The architecture doesn’t escape this sense of play with hidden nooks, bi-level lofts, and adaptable projection screens to explore. There’s even a sensorium that converts visual stimulus into vibrations (or maybe it’s the other way round).

It’s all very fun and engaging, but I left feeling somewhat empty, which is, I supposed appropriate given that it’s not really about anything except itself. Sure, there is a slight undercurrent concerned with the social and active artifying of life, but the ultimate end is always delight in the materiality of things. It strikes me as symptomatic of a generation (meaning everyone who exists now) that spends a large portion of their lives in mediated experience. Just as words and images are habitually cut and pasted, so now the objects around us are reconfigured – as if Photoshop was applied to reality (whatever that is). The thing about this obsession with things as things apart from purposes, narratives, economies, politics, religion, etc. is that it requires an audience apart from purposes, narratives, economies, politics, religion, etc. A fuddy-duddy like me needs to know where he’s coming from to know where he's at, but that’s old news and this is the new thing.

Mercer Union:
VSVSVS: Not together, but alongside continues until July 25.

Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.



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