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Sue Carter Flinn
Halifax
July 09, 2008
Sometimes a banana is just a banana… and sometimes a banana can be contemporary art, as Gallery Page and Strange and artist Michael Fernandes tried to explain recently to confused art collectors, media and the general public (I stumbled across one news blog where readers were invited to post their own fruit photos in response).
 
 
Michael Fernandes at Gallery Page and Strange, Day 1
 
Each day from June 13 to July 4, Fernandes placed a banana in the front window sill of the gallery, carefully monitoring its ripeness and then replacing it with another banana that was close in condition to the one from the day before, but slightly greener. It gave the impression of time in reverse - as if the banana was slowly retreating back into a fruity womb. While repetition and public-space intervention have long been a big part of Fernandes’ practice, this particular project received national attention, especially after “The Patrick Swayze Collective” - no doubt NSCAD students, born around the time Dirty Dancing first hit the theatres - stole one banana (which they referred to on a napkin as “the most radioactive fruit on earth”), replacing it with an apple. Sadly, I think it was the $2,500 price tag on the concept (not the bananas) that had those people who are generally suspicious about contemporary art talking and laughing.
 
 
Donigan Cumming, Epilogue, mixed media on wood panel
 
Emotionally, Donigan Cumming’s exhibition Ex Votos at MSVU Gallery is probably the toughest I’ve witnessed in a long time. Cumming’s subjects are a community of the disenfranchised - the outsiders, the physically and mentally disabled, the elderly and the forgotten - depicted through photos, video and mixed media. They have bodies that have been ravaged by years of hard living, alcoholism and illness. There is drool and blood and cracked skin, the physical representation of life’s harshest experiences. Cumming plays with truth, fiction and social documentary, so I’m never sure what to believe, although I don’t think it matters. In the video Fountain, we get a chance to peek into his process as an “actor” practices his lines and Cumming appears on camera as director. This is a relief. Cut the Parrot could have been a comedic sketch, except that Albert, one of Cumming’s participants, passed away, and the piece essentially becomes his wake.
 
If there was any concern that Cumming is exploiting his subjects, his compassion for them becomes clear in a stunning mountainous encaustic and photo-collage diptych, made from thousands of cut-out photos of their faces and limbs. I begin to recognize people from other photos and videos. These large pieces are almost topographical with waxy layers and there’s a religious reverence to them (apparently Pieter Breughel's The Suicide of Saul and James Ensor's Entry of Christ into Brussels in 1889 were starting points). Some of the men and women have gold-leaf halos around their heads, as if they are modern saints with karaoke mics and polyester pants.
 
 
Kyla Mallett, Montreal Massacre (detail), 2004
 
Upstairs, Kyla Mallett’s photographs in Marginalia document anonymous handwritten notes found in books from the Vancouver public library. They address subjects as diverse as art history, teenage suicide, and feminism in the wake of the Montreal Massacre. Although critical of authority and occasionally sarcastic, the notes are actually pretty tame and, for the most part, feel more like study guides than penciled-in rebellion. I was much more fascinated by the communication system taking place on the bus home amongst a group of teenager girls, their fingers flying as they texted each other across the aisle.
 
 
Andrew Forster, Moat, 2005, live event and installation
 
Paranoia looms large throughout Andrew Forster’s Duet/Trio/Quartet at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery. Forster incorporates wonderful dance-like choreography in his videos to depict modern fears of surveillance, isolation and “terror.” For the split-screen Moat, he merges live camera feed taken from various areas in the gallery with edited footage recorded near the moat surrounding Canada House in Trafalgar Square (according to stats, anyone living or working in London will be recorded over three hundred times a day). Performers in various locations recreate the physical gestures of a young suicide bomber who was captured by Israeli soldiers then forced to remove the bomb and his clothing.
 
Perhaps it’s because I’m a news junkie and desensitized to surveillance footage, but I found Forster’s Trio (dedicated to you) more upsetting. It feels personal and intimate, exactly the opposite of a system designed to monitor millions of people. A tall chair stands alone in a small side room with a pair of headphones above it. I climbed up on the chair and put on the headphones. As I listened to the artist sing an old jazz tune about love, I realized that my shadow appeared in front of me as if I was about to hang myself - the headphones cord becoming a rope. Chilling, like a classic Twilight Zone episode; I started to doubt how I got there in the first place.
 
 
Sue Carter Flinn is a Halifax-based writer, editor and artist. She is Arts Editor at The Coast, Halifax's alternative newspaper; editor of Visual Arts News, the only publication dedicated to visual arts in Atlantic Canada; and winner of a 2007 Atlantic Journalism Award for her profile of photographer George Steeves.
 
 
Gallery Page and Strange: http://www.pageandstrange.com/
See website for current exhibitions.
 
MSVU Art Gallery: http://msvuart.ca/
Donigan Cumming: Ex Votos continues until August 10.
Kyla Mallett: Marginalia continues until August 10.
 
Andrew Forster: Duet/Trio/Quartet continues until August 3
 

 

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