Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Distance Between You and Me, Vancouver Art Gallery*

Image credit: Gonzalo Lebrija The Distance Between You and Me 18, 2008
Lambda print 42.2 x 52.0 cm Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Laurent Godin, Paris

The Distance Between You and Me as a series, a show, and as a  syntactical arrangement conjures up the phantom of sentiments seen and  felt, as if I have already read and heard this line over and over again  in a poem or song whose origins I cannot locate. This sense of  dislocation runs throughout the exhibition: manifesting on the physical,  mental, and metaphysical levels.

As a series by Guadalajara-based Gonzalo Lebrija, this sentiment is expressed as moving across a string of vast  landscapes. Lebrija runs from behind the positioned and stationary  camera, away from the lens, away from his perceived viewer, but he is  also clearly running towards something off in the horizon (if not  towards the glory of the horizon itself). The intonated separation of  space between “you” and “me” is open for interpretation, but I prefer to  see the separation as existing between the landscape and me, a  human-scale proximity that I would have never measured where it not for  the presence of the artist, gently reminding us that perceptions of  location are dependent on our bodies in existence.

As the first show I am writing about for this new platform, the context is not lost that these artists were chosen for their tenuous relationship to geography as part of VAG’s Next: A Series of Artist Projects From the Pacific Rim. Brightly so, the exhibition exacerbates this tenuity, especially by opening the space up with Vancouver-based Isabelle Pauwel’s new acid-drip narrations of her family’s colonial history in the area now known as The Democratic Republic of the Congo. W.E.S.T.E.R.N. (2010) and June 30 (2009) clip along in a shattered rhythm of home movies made by Pauwel’s  grandfather intersecting with present-day absurdist contemplation of  objects in her family home. The video works leave little room to breath  through its fragmentations, and I believe that is the point. Here,  location as a narrative agent disintegrates into shards of places,  loosely re-assembled into a reconciling creature that speaks to the  impossibility of ever moving entirely beyond a temporal or geographic  point once it has been traversed.

The philosophical debate of time and space goes on through Here & Elsewhere (2002), an absorbing two-channel/one-screen video by Los Angeles-based Kerry Tribe.  Played out as a conversation between what can only be presumed as an  off-screen father (figure) and his 10 year old daughter in their L.A.  homestead, the man’s voice is distinctly English, authoritative, and  inquisitive to the existential health of the young girl, who answers  with an obedience that only reinforces the work’s fictive construction.

Presented on one screen with two projections side by side, often with  cross panning shots that are synchronized in motion but not in time by a  3 second delay, the resulting effect opens up gaps in time and space,  as if existence of both rests on a linear line that could be folded and  unfolded at any interval. The work as a whole is engrossing, especially  with its cinematic installation that is suggestive of immersion, but I  am unconvinced as to the use of a young girl as the primary visual  focus, as it is reminiscent of using the sympathetic choice a la casting decisions for The Exorcist.  The question of playing or being an identity is thrown at the young  girl who often does both, whether she is caught looking poised on the  edge of the sink and reading, playing with her toothbrush as if it was a  pencil or cigarette in contrast to those moments she is simply brushing  her teeth in routine. Both are constructed realities that are no more  real than each other, yet Tribe does not actively question or challenge  the concept of location so much as our formation of being within the  most ordinary of spaces. Being here or being there, the girl shifts  across the seat and across onto the other screen, a marked difference in  space and time, and this active gesture by Tribe is the ripple of our  own perceptions of being, of finding existence within a place and time,  and of existing as is.

The Distance Between You and Me is curated by Bruce Grenville and runs until January, 22, 2012.

*First posted on Post Pacific Post