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This article was published 27/1/2010 (2675 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Is it rape?
This open-ended, exploratory exhibition begins with a question, circling around an odd Greek myth in which the god Zeus visits the mortal Leda in the form of a swan. Expect more questions and not a lot of definitive answers from Evan Tapper, an artist who's wary of certainty.
Tapper, a former Winnipegger currently based in Toronto, uses the unlikely mating of a woman and a swan to examine sexual politics in the long history of Western art and literature. As a story, the myth can be seen as sinister or silly. As a picture, it's something of a technical problem. (How do you make an encounter between a woman and a bird physically plausible?) Still, it has exerted a perverse pull on artists and poets from the Renaissance to the modern period, with wildly mixed results. Some artists strive to express an ineffable encounter between the human and the divine. Others fall into poultry-related soft porn.
Tapper's show at Gallery 1C03 is concentrated into three components. The starting point is a piece taken from the University of Winnipeg's permanent collection, a late 1980s woodcut of Leda and the swan by veteran Winnipeg artist Arthur Adamson. In this raw, elemental work, Leda flails against an outsize swan with a long phallic neck.
A long, white carpet of loose duvet feathers forms an ephemeral bridge between Adamson's work and a screen made from the empty duvet cover. Projected onto this screen is a hand-drawn animated video by Tapper.
In this cartoon, Leda and the swan, based on the figures in Adamson's print, morph into a contemporary man and woman who interact in a repeated loop of gestures, coming together and drawing apart, taking their clothes off and putting their clothes on.
An audio loop repeats a casual conversation between a young man and young woman about sex and violence as it operates in art, including Adamson's print. Behind them, the barely glimpsed outlines of historical works by artists like Titian and Bernini rotate slowly on a terra cotta-coloured background.
Tapper is looking at the way each generation shifts the weight of history that presses down on its back, finding different meanings in the same stories. Adamson was born in 1926 and came of age when art was supposedly about virile self-expression. Tapper cut his teeth when art was expected to dismantle assumptions about gender and power.
Tapper's approach could seem college-radio earnest, except for the disarming simplicity of the animation and the easy tone of the he-said, she-said conversation, which has all the idiosyncrasies and hesitancies of everyday speech. The man worries that he's being classed as a potential rapist because of his anatomy. The woman frets that she's over-analyzing.
So, is it rape? Is it seduction? Or do we see it as seduction because the beauty of painting smoothes over something ugly? Or can we take a contrarian stance and see Leda as the instigator, bored by her Spartan husband and following her own wayward desires?
Tapper doesn't offer any final answers, but he's started off a thoughtful discussion.
Evan Tapper: Swoon
Gallery 1CO3, University of Winnipeg, 515 Portage Ave.
Until Feb. 20