Layers of meaning
Group show highlights eight female artists, toys with with our perception
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/10/2016 (2291 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The word “superimposition” entered English sometime in the 17th century, but the layering of imagery and information it suggests defines the contemporary digital landscape. Images and text are endlessly cut, copied and pasted overtop each other with varying degrees of transparency, yielding endless variations as context and clarity get lost along the way. Mobile technologies promise an “augmented reality,” unlocking invisible layers of user- and algorithmically generated “content” on-site, in real time.
The exhibition Superimposition: Sculpture and Image at Plug In ICA presents eight artists who bring virtual and image-based processes of layering, augmentation, occlusion and redaction to bear on real space using tangible materials. Often playful, the confusions arising between two- and three-dimensional rendering, object and representation, are variously gentle and jarring.
Two large-format photographs by Vancouver artist Kelly Lycan capture subtle plays of light and shadow. Affixed directly to the gallery walls toward a hallway leading to the back office, Walked Into a Moment almost imperceptibly grafts one location onto another. It’s nearly overpowered by the faint cast shadow of a hanging work by Andrea Roberts, one of three perforated fabric banners recalling mesh safety fencing and blazoned with decontextualized words and utterances. We encounter the works, gauzy in form but opaque in meaning, as a kind of ominous tone poem pieced together from new age prosperity claptrap (“There is gold dust in the air for you”), hissing consonants and death rattles.
Like Lycan, Dominique Rey highlights architectural shading, albeit to different effect. In her freestanding photo-sculpture, a dramatically enlarged and seemingly incidental collage scrap mounted to cut Plexiglas becomes a tattered flag, oddly shaped brush, or broom.
Kristin Nelson also concerns herself with cutouts, recreating spent patterns for cut-and-fold architectural models in slabs of clay. Once we recognize the Syndey Opera House or CN Tower in the flattened, fragmented negative shapes, we begin a mental reconstruction of the landmarks that pleasantly contradicts the abstracted forms and blunt physicality of the slabs themselves.
In the ’60s, critic Michael Fried decried the “theatricality” of minimalist artworks — their tendency to stand as obstacles or set-pieces for us to navigate instead of purely visual experiences — a criticism artists came to embrace. Many in superimposition find themselves in direct conversation with conventions of stagecraft, performance and cinema: A meticulously made birch-bark shirt by Ursula Johnson was created as a costume for artist Kent Monkman’s indigenous drag persona Miss Chief Eagle Testickle; Ursula Mayer’s coloured glass forms are explained as attempts to physically realize forms developed in her films.
Valerie Blass and Nadia Belerique opt instead for theatricality in the round, presenting uncanny, human-scaled tableaus. A black-and-white photomural of two curiously dressed performers hangs like a studio backdrop in Blass’s installation High-up, dignitary, panjandrum, high muckamuck. Biomorphic stuffed-canvas blobs interrupt the image as they might a projected film, fragmenting it to near-illegibility, while the figures’ standing and kneeling poses imply a show of dominance or odd erotic encounter.
Belerique, meanwhile, crafts a kind of semi-abstract whodunit, placing a private eye’s crouching silhouette on a footprint-riddled carpet, among more ambiguous cutout forms and photo-based abstractions.
The exhibition withholds as much as it reveals — both Roberts’ and Rey’s works obliquely reference vanished and vanishing orders of nuns, for instance — resolutely forcing us to rely on our perceptions, even as these are called into question. Dry as it might sound on the page, it’s surprisingly fun to puzzle over in person.
Superimposition runs through the end of the year.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.