Any catastrophic event, whether it's a major disaster or private trauma, exerts a bizarre, gravitational effect on our experience of time. It becomes the point towards which all past experiences lead and the moment from which all others follow. Like a dull ache or low-pitched rumble, it hangs in the background of consciousness only to resurface suddenly, intrusively in the present -- sometimes with overwhelming force.
The moment itself can seem to last forever, witnessed as if from a distance, like slow-motion television footage. For survivors, the minutes and months that follow pass unpredictably, dragging on or flying by in irregular waves. Disaster warps our recollection of everything that came before it: the calm before impact seems eerie in hindsight; we compulsively retrace our steps.
All of a sudden..., curated for Platform Centre by acting co-director Collin Zipp, brings together works that speak to the experience of disaster -- the lead-up, the aftermath and the moment itself -- without ever picturing it directly.
In an untitled work by Laurie Kang, cascades of undeveloped, unfixed photographic paper hang fully exposed from the gallery wall. Offering no image where we'd expect to find one, the chemically-treated surfaces having deepened to an unpleasant ochre-brown, it stands as an abstract record or mute witness of everything that's happened since the paper was first exposed to light.
Similarly concerned with the passage and recording of time, Daniel Wong's Hours Pass Like Centuries consists of a modified alarm clock. Marking minutes and hours at the expected rate but in seemingly random sequence, the piece quietly, unnervingly destabilizes the viewer's expectation of logical, linear narrative order.
In the context of the exhibition, images by photographer Jeff Bierk and the late conceptual artist Gordon Lebredt serve as neutral screens onto which viewers can project their own memories and anxieties. Bierk's dimly lit shot of a green-and-yellow hospital curtain evokes the fear and anticipation of loss that attend that setting. Mounted under grey-tinted Plexiglas, Lebredt's straight-ahead view of a vacant park bench takes on the funereal chill of polished black granite, a seeming memorial -- of what, if anything, we can only guess.
Striking a similar note, Snow Storm, a photograph by Sarah Anne Johnson, pictures an faceless figurine staggering through a model blizzard. We're left to wonder if some critical moment has past, if it isn't already too late to turn back.
In Nessie, a 2001 video by Mitch Robertson, we watch a steady trickle of tourists as they pose for photographs and scan the horizon for Scotland's most famous lake monster before decamping to a nearby gift shop. For Lord of the Flies, Jason de Haan marked every seemingly significant passage in William Golding's grisly allegory with a green highlighting flag -- some 7,000 tabs in all -- rendering the book unreadable. Both works gently skewer the absurdity of our more fevered expectations.
It's a distinct possibility that none of the artists included in All of a sudden... were actively contemplating "disaster." Just the same, the curatorial premise infects our interpretation of their work, just as the memory or expectation of trauma colours our experience of otherwise innocuous events. All that we can know for certain, as in Ian August's still-life painting of a plastic vodka bottle crudely sawn in half, the icy mountain peaks pictured on the label standing in as an absurd and eerie landscape, is that something went down, and it probably isn't over yet.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.