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Toronto
Terence Dick
Face Value at Gallery 1313 | Jason Wright at gallerywest
February 25, 2014

Being a child of the seventies and thus an undergrad of the late eighties/early nineties, I spent time in the trenches amongst those who struggle with the politics of identity. While I had yet to explore the art world, the standard retrospective pigeonhole for this era is to associate it with work also concerned with the trifecta of race, class, and gender. A quarter of a century later, my fellow fill-in-the-blank studies majors are slowly acquiring their tenure and the culture wars continue with new wrinkles like sexual identity changing the playing field. Being far from the so-called margins, I always had troubles with how to position myself, and every year, as Black History Month rolls around, I wonder what role, responsibility, and/or response I should have.



Erika DeFreitas, I Am Not Tragically Colored (after Zora Neale Hurston), 2013-2014 (photo: Daniel Ehrenworth)

Face Value, curated by Heidi McKenzie for Gallery 1313, doesn't provide any easy answers but, with its focus on mixed-race identity, "destabilizes racialized stereotypes" to move beyond the binaries of yesteryear into the shifting sands of today. Jordan Clarke's paintings depict the vagaries of perception simply and directly with masked self-portraits. Things get decidedly more complex with Olivia McGilchrist's similarly masked self-negotiating through photocollage and video the experience of a predominantly white identity in a black-associate culture like Jamaica. The interactions played out as a dance of projections and curiosity in Ernestine and Me will mean dramatically different things to different viewers and, as such, reveal more about race in a contemporary context (at least in a city like Toronto). Erika DeFreitas' self-distortion, on the other hand, directly engages the viewer, pushing (literally) against the frame in order to mess with expectations. The result is both grotesque and empowering. In the end, getting knocked off balance is probably the best reaction to have.



Jason Wright, Pleasure: A Performance of Taste, A Place Setting, 2013, C-print on aluminum

There are times when you hear a song, read a story, or look at a picture and think, "Of course. Why didn't anyone think of that before?" The main wall of Jason Wright's To Serve Man is a Cookbook at gallerywest elicits that reaction with its salon style tribute to the abject subtext (as digested through a selection of art historical styles) of the classic scene in Disney's Lady and the Tramp when the titular canines are bound by a string of spaghetti they are both in the process of eating. Seen as a link between two mouths in collage, impressionistic drawings, and gooey action paintings, the pasta becomes a stand-in for the organic links that both delight and disgust us, a symbol of the material fact of food as art as shit, a metaphor for sex and communication, and a pathetic index for the interpersonal communication that sustains us. Over a couple dozen iterations, it manages to sustain its iconic status while also unearthing any number of repressed meanings. God knows, it was one of the first romantic scenes I witnessed as an impressionable youth, so it must have had some effect on my juvenile understanding of sexuality (but let's not go there).

A similarly juvenile take on food appears in the quintet of splatter paintings over collaged baby faces that Wright calls Pleasure: A Performance of Good Taste, A Skill Set, A Taste Test, A Place Setting. The quasi-scientific nature of the title does little to offset the mess on display. Your reaction to the remains of Chef Boyardee will no doubt be influenced by how many times you've had to clean up similar abstractions in the comfort of your own kitchen. As I recently told a painter of transgressive imagery, "I deal with pooh and pee every day. It doesn't scare me." Which brings us to the last part of Wright project wherein what appears to be a seriously bad case of hemorrhoids is tarted up with berries and paint. Now, that makes me wince. Check, please!


Gallery 1313: http://g1313.org/
Face Value continues to March 2.

gallerywest: http://www.gallerywest.info/
Jason Wright: To Serve Man is a Cookbook continues until February 28.


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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