Sean Sprague is a photographer from Toronto who now lives in Los Angeles. His work—large-scale singular tableau photographs—stage moments he observes in daily life, then recasts and recontructs. These are spaces of in-betweenness aggrandized. Questions of labour and class drift through his work, tensions between the real and unreal, yet evidence is always withheld, faces turned away, details guarded, while maintaining that everything appears in piercing focus. Sprague, like many of his references and predecessors, is preoccupied with the gaps around truth. In describing his work he states, “Through staging of documentary scenes, these works seek to challenge the authority of the documentary traction in photography and its narrow definition of truth that excludes so much.”
We were both headed to seeRobin Cameron’s exhibit Memory Palace. I was walking, you were riding your bike. We had apparently chosen the same route, only different methods of transportation. I had turned around halfway because a few seconds earlier I realized that it was Sunday, not Saturday, and the gallery would be closed. As I turned, we crossed paths–you headed where I was just a few seconds ago. Now that I was turned in the direction of my house, changing directions again seemed like too much change for one day. You continued on, risking the possibility that you would show up and there would be no one to let you in, but there was. You saw the exhibition that day, a Sunday. I did not. You sent me a picture of the show and I regretted not turning a second time, back in the direction of the destination I never made it to.
Plenty of Fish opens with James Knott’s shadow dramatically shaving off body hair behind a dimly lit partition to an assemblage of sounds. The West Side Story tune “I Feel Pretty” harmonizes with the clamouring of an electric razor, sheep shearing, and the buzz of a lawn mower. Meanwhile, the famously cinematic score from Alfred Hitchcock’s horror-thriller film Psycho resounds. The figure behind the divider seductively unravels a pair of stockings as Nina Simone’s The Other Woman melancholically lingers quietly in the background. Knott eventually emerges from behind the partition scantily dressed in vintage lingerie and dramatically falls down onto a duvet, while the dimly lit lamps conjure a lonely night time scene. The audience is in the bedroom now, and we find Knott waiting like a lonesome queen.
Recently I had a memory come back to me—the type of memory that comes to the surface seemingly out of nowhere, one I imagine would be considered so very mundane that any brain, in an attempt to conserve space, would erase immediately. But there it was, collapsing time, a visceral scene from childhood of me squeezing into the small space beneath my bed. I remembered the tightness of the space, so tight my child-sized head could only fit in sideways. I remembered the smell of the dusty cambric from the boxspring, and the feel of the carpet on my cheek. Close and containing, this small space gave me the experience of disappearing entirely from view, complete with the contradictory desires to both remain hidden and be found.
It was great to catch up with you and R in Winnipeg in February. Visiting Plug In and the WAG reminded me of how much I miss the essential pleasure of an exchange about art before art. Clint Roenisch’s Eli Langer exhibition would have been an antidote to the usual bunch of second-rate shows any time, and when Ontario’s emergency orders were still novel, Clint welcomed a private visit on a Tuesday afternoon. With everything closed, Langer’s paintings from LA around the turn of the century, through the aughts, blotted local mediocrities and lifted my spirits.
How can we create the conditions for intimacy, solidarity, and nourishment while we’re apart? How can we break bread and share knowledge over a virtual table? Meals for a Movement, an online project organized by Koffler.Digital, shows us how answers to these questions might take shape. Transcending the typical online exhibition through an intimate audio format, the project’s three sound pieces invite the viewer to share invaluable space with BIPOC women artists and activists. Launched in February 2019, its works have only gained relevance since. When I first began writing about Meals for a Movement in March 2020, social distancing orders amid the COVID-19 pandemic made the project’s online format feel suited to the current moment. Then a global uprising against systemic racism and police brutality began its resurgence, and Meals for a Movement’s lessons in metabolizing resistance became more resonant than I could have anticipated.
A warm sensation arises inside of me as I step into the Joan Goldfarb Visual Arts Study Centre. Originally a storage space for artwork that has recently been converted into a small gallery as part of a pilot project, the space is small and cozy. The gallery is well-lit by large circular lights hanging from the ceiling, the light warm and soothing as opposed to glaring in the way white cube galleries sometimes are. There is an interplay between black and white in the space, the exterior wall on the left-hand side of the gallery is painted a matte black that instantly draws the eye. A rug on the floor and the comfortable-looking couch just off to the side serve as an invitation to linger, adding a sense of intimacy to the space.
The exhibition, Between Ice and Earth which took place last summer at Xpace Cultural Centre, celebrated a close-knit community of Indigenous OCAD students, transcended barriers, and vibrated with a palpable uneasiness. The showing by Ana Morningstar, Dehmin Osawamick Cleland, Megan Feheley, Laura St. Amant, Amanda Amour-Lynx, Ben Kicknosway, Kaya Joan, and Tom McLeod addressed frustrations about the expectations of Indigenous art and the pressure of being makers inheriting Indigenous and settler cultural legacies. The artists responded to the familiar theme of relating to the land and space of Tkaronto, but with a distinct anxiety about anthropogenic pollution, the climate apocalypse, and how the continually degrading health of the land affects Indigenous protocols, ceremonies, and material practices. This angst presupposed our current political climate, while offering an antidote of community solidarity—a fundamental element which should not be ignored.
“Science does not have a monopoly on empiricism,” historian David Topper once noted, arguing that empirical matters are, in fact, “germane to all visual imagery.” (1) Recognizing the role of visual images in the production of theoretical knowledge means understanding that their value extends beyond mute illustration to their unique capacity for discovering and articulating new information. An elegant case in point is trigonometric parallax—the “gold standard” of geometric measurements—first developed by Hipparchus (190-120 BCE), and still used by today’s astronomers for determining the moving edge of our expanding universe. (2) Whereas distance measures the spatial difference of two points, parallax derives distance through the mediation of a third: observing a distant object while alternating between two lines of sight, one can measure the apparent shift in an object’s location. Read More
In the early 2000’s, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency under the United States Department of Defense working on social forms of Artificial Intelligence (AI), began to develop machine-learning agents that could cognitively engage with each other, their environment, and essentially ‘learn’ from their experiences in a simulation. During one simulation, two learning agents named Adam and Eve were programmed to know some things (how to eat), but not much else (what to eat). They were given an apple tree and were happy to eat the apples, but also made attempts to eat the entire tree. Another learning agent, Stan, was introduced and wanted to be affable, but eventually became the loner of the group. Given the natural development of the simulation—and a few bugs in the system—Adam and Eve began to associate Stan with food and one day took a bite out of him. Stan disappeared and thus became one of the first victims of virtual cannibalism. (1) Read More