There are some works of art that trigger – much to the consternation, I imagine, of the creator – only a sliver of the possible interpretations. The artist’s intention could encompass history, philosophy, and physics, but all you see is a something that reminds you of your grandparents or a metaphor for neoliberalism or a picture of a galaxy exploding. And then that's all you see because it's sufficient, because it means something to you. Responding to art in this highly personal way does a disservice to the work because it locks the reading down to a singular perception, but it’s also a tribute to the degree to which art can pierce through the noise of all that surrounds us and mark a moment of unambiguous connection. Great literature, according to David Foster Wallace, makes you feel unalone. He was talking intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, but any art has the potential to take you out of yourself, however momentarily, when you recognize something you’ve known or felt or sensed hanging there on the wall in front of you.
Gunilla Josephson, Mommy’s Crystal Tears, 2011, HD video
Gunilla Josephson’s mini-survey exhibition at Prefix ICA, titled Houses and Whispers and curated by Stuart Reid, contains a couple such moments for me and it is difficult to think of it otherwise – in part because the impressions are so strong, but also because I want to savour those impressions and not dilute them with an impersonal (that is, professional) account of what the exhibition has to offer. The Big Goodbye is a wall-sized video projection shot from a hot air balloon as it travels over Stockholm. Nestled within the half-hour ride are a couple brief angel sightings and a few gentle explosions. It might be the artist’s hometown and the voiceover hints at some kind of reverie, but all I see is the characteristic urban planning of Northern Europe and I’m transported back to the summers I spent with family in Germany when I was a kid. Perhaps it’s the bike paths or the low-rise apartments. Either way, it’s enough to send me down memory lane. Which, serendipitously, is not too far from what the artist wanted to evoke.
There’s more to remember in the expression and skin tone of the crystal-eyed matriarch in Mommy’s Crystal Tears. Something about her cheekbones resembles my own mother and so the die is cast. Once again I’m bound to one vision and it is memory combined with intimacy that compels me. I usually divorce myself from such exclusive readings, but for this show I’ll indulge myself if only to prove a point. I pass over the other works with a cursory glance and return to these two for further reminiscence and reflection.
Gabriela Jolowicz, Houseboat, 2016, woodcut
After leaving Prefix behind, I wander over to Open Studio only to be reminded again of those summers in Europe. Gabriela Jolowicz’s masterful woodcuts are comprised of dense imagery sourced from the consumer culture and city life of her home in Berlin. Maybe other places around the world are like this and I am missing the universality of it, but Germany is the only country I’ve visited without being a tourist and that’s all I can think of here. Stuffed in amongst her busy black and white lines are cellphones and cigarette packages, buildings and people, Deutschmarks and newspapers. There’s so much to be found that my memories are pushed out and I get lost in tracing all the details woven into the whole. Dimensions are distorted, scenes overlap, and layers impinge upon each other. Whereas Josephson isolated moments of clarity, Jolowicz’s introduces an all-over barrage of stimulation. Both evoke something familiar and bring up parts of my past that were long forgotten. Once I’ve refreshed my memory, I’ll have to go back and see what I see with clean eyes.
Prefix ICA: http://www.prefix.ca/exhibitions/
Gunilla Josephson: Houses and Whispers continues until April 22.
Open Studio: http://openstudio.ca/exhibitions/current/
Gabriela Jolowicz: Church Playground continues April 22.
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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