You make a devil's bargain on becoming an art critic. By dedicating yourself to the delights of all that artists can provide, you risk becoming inured to those very delights the longer you engage in the pursuit. The hoped for trade off is that what you lose in frequency, you make up for in depth and intensity. Which is not to say I wander through galleries with a seen-it-all air (though that does happen), but I more often experience a slow simmer than a raging boil. However, when I am jolted to attention, as I was this past weekend at the Art Gallery of Mississauga, I am pleasantly reminded why I started doing this in the first place.
Pansee Atta, Afterglow, 2015, GIF animation
Perhaps I don't spend enough time looking at Post-Internet Art, but Pansee Atta's animated GIFs in the entranceway of the Canadian Belonging(s) group exhibition struck me like a breath of fresh air. Her combination of Pre-Raphaelite painting and digital processing turned an already evocative combination of text and image into a hypnotic loop of claims and denials, objectification and abjection, representation and abstraction, etc. and so on. The closest comparison I can think of is Jeremy Blake’s video paintings, which also combined history with the ineffable to unforgettable ends. There is a series of Atta’s moving images on display and they, on their own, make the exhibition worthwhile by compressing the struggle of identity, bound as it is by history – both imposed and discovered, disavowed and reclaimed – and present circumstances, into brief episodes of transformation.
Meryl McMaster, Ancestral, 2008, C print
On the opposite wall is another series of transformations where Meryl McMaster has 19th Century portraits of Indigenous people who were being documented because they were expected to “disappear” projected onto her face and that of her father. The mapping of past onto present combined with the agency of the artist taking control of the previous narrative weds the atrocity of colonialism with a critique of decolonization in work that is created from nothing more than light and paper.
The impact of that paper – be it a photograph, a passport, or a postcard – is the running theme through this exhibition, but what makes the work engaging are the stories behind the documents. Some, like Cindy Blažević’s Muslim Girl Guides photographs and Abdi Osman’s intimate images of contemporary black queer bodies, simply demonstrate that the homogeneous account of being Canadian no longer holds sway. Other, like Basil AlZeri and Kristie MacDonald, question the official status of official materials by introducing ambiguity and forgery into the equation. The result is a pleasing disorientation that reminds at least one critic that there’s still a lot more to see out there.
Art Gallery of Mississauga: http://www.artgalleryofmississauga.com/index.html
Canadian Belonging(s) continues until July 3.
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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