Opening: Thursday, February 28 – 7-10pm
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents Medium-Based Time by Berlin-based Canadian artist Jeremy Shaw, featuring a black and white 16mm film of transgender voguer Leiomy Maldonado, an HD video installation that reworks archival ethnographic film into a dystopian science fiction narrative, and a new series of light-activated UV prints in the windows of our street façade.
The exhibition centres on Variation FQ (2011-13), in which Shaw worked with legendary voguer Leiomy Maldonado to produce a film that explores aspects of subculture, dance, gender, power and special effects. “Vogue” is a primarily black and latino, gay subculture that evolved out of the drag balls of New York in the 1980s and includes a fluid, yet raw dance style based around miming the poses of models from high fashion magazines.
The film sets Leiomy starkly lit against a black void performing her signature freestyle dance teetering between elegance and violence. As the film progresses, Shaw introduces step-and-repeat style visual effects, originally created by Canadian animator Norman McLaren in his 1968 ballet film Pas de deux. In Pas de deux, this optical printing technique embellishes the seduction between a male and female ballerina as typically choreographed for the stage. In Variation FQ, the use of special effects creates a ghostly layering and repetition of Leiomy’s image in her most virtuosic gestures and extends the experience of abandon evident in the consequences on her human body. Leiomy’s performance is accompanied by Shaw’s original soundtrack that combines a minimalist piano score with contemporary chopped and pitched audio techniques. This merging of classical composition with manipulated pop a cappella MP3’s is emblematic of Shaw’s fascination of the interdependence between high and low taste cultures.
Shaw’s practice amplifies conceptual strategies within the transcendence-seeking experiences of popular culture, as well as in the speculative nature of scientific mapping of these phenomena. In keeping with this ongoing interest in and around altered states, we premiere Quickeners (2014), a pseudo-documentary that puts the role of truth telling into crisis.
Set five hundred years in the future, Quickeners tells the story of Human Atavism Syndrome (H.A.S.), an obscure disorder afflicting a tiny portion of the Quantum Human population to desire and feel as their Human Being predecessors once did. A species wirelessly interconnected to The Hive, Quantum Humans have evolved to operate solely on pure rational thought and they have achieved immortality. Quickeners is set against a cinéma vérité aesthetic, reworking archival documentary footage from a gathering of Pentecostal Christian snake handlers to illustrate the story. As the film unfolds, an authoritative Quantum Human narrator comments on what we witness: indecipherable testimonials, sermons, songs, prayers, convulsive dancing, speaking-in-tongues, serpent handling and ecstatic states that Quantum Humans define as “Quickening”.
Incorporating elements of science fiction, ethnographic survey, neuroscience and belief systems, Quickeners collates these disparate themes into a succinct whole to discuss varying notions of evolutionary progress with clinical indifference. This alchemical fusion suspends belief of the fantastic situation by its use of familiar, outmoded technology, meticulous audio editing and subtitles. As the piece builds to a cathartic climax of media techniques and special effects – caught in limbo between ritual documentary and music video – the Quantum Humans surrender to this evolutionary throwback of perceived biological transcendence, while the film attempts to incite a similar phenomenological response in the viewer.
Alongside these film/video works in our window vitrines hangs Degenerative Imaging (In The Dark) (2015), a new series of light-activated, glow-in-the-dark vinyl cut-outs that reference star and planet stickers. Though presumably designed with the aspiring child astrologer’s bedroom in mind, these stickers are also commonly found adorning the walls and ceilings of the teenage psychonaut; more likely used to “trip out” than to plan a trip. Rather than the cosmos, Shaw’s source material comes from 3D SPECT scan renderings of the degenerative effects of cumulative mind-altering substance use on the blood flow and metabolism of the human brain. The representational language of neuroscience, or at least the populist aesthetic familiar in health and pharmaceutical advertising, is reformatted here as a mechanism to enhance altered states while viewing their supposed biological effects on the brain. The prints are charged by fluorescent light once per hour, causing them to glow strongly and then fade, glow and fade; static time-based mediums on repeat.
Variation FQ is generously loaned by the Rennie Collection, Vancouver
Quickeners was co-produced by the Contemporary Art Gallery with the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève for the BIM 14 and Johann König, Berlin, with the generous support of a grant from BC Arts Council: Special Project Assistance – Innovations; the Fmac and the FCAC.
Exhibition is supported by Inform Interiors and Best Film Service Inc.
This exhibition forms part of the Capture Photography Festival, running from April 2 to 29.
Jeremy Shaw: I think the way that I am amplifying these manipulative possibilities is quite pronounced in the work – my use of devices and clichés is very apparent. This isn’t to say that that makes them obvious to the viewer, as they’re proven manipulative by design, so may be working in a way that people don’t recognize immediately. If I was truly creating work that’s in keeping with this potential, they may never be picked up on, but I don’t mind either way. I have always loved walking away from an art work or film with the feeling that I’ve been had a little bit – like I’ve been tricked or lead some way or other unknowingly and possibly even against my own usual judgement.
In what way do you think this understanding, or awareness, might affect the reading of the themes within each film?
This use of techniques are an amplification of the things I love about cinema, music video, documentary, etc – so I see them as a way to push the themes even harder, but to do it in a way that’s moving, alluring, entertaining, repelling, whatever – it’s amplified. I tend to celebrate things in my works – even things I may not fully agree with, but that I find a beauty in the core of. I often ride a line between this celebration and critique via this use cinematic device, but essentially, I leave things nebulous. I don’t attempt to force a certain reading – only possibilities.MORE
This is the second installment in a series of three parts of a Q&A that Patrick O’Neill conducted with Jeremy Shaw. Part 1 can be found here.
Patrick O’Neill: The soundtrack seems to occupy a pivotal role in both films in this exhibition. To what extent has your artistic practice been informed by your experiences with Circlesquare and vice versa?
Jeremy Shaw: As far as my skill sets go, [sound design] has been a massive influence. I spent countless hours/days/months working on Circlesquare music – experimenting with production, writing and recording, learning programs, samplers, instruments, etc. All of this is all very useful in technical ways with how I am working now. I used to really try and keep these two practices separate, but since disbanding Circlesquare I’ve felt a real freedom to use music in a much more present way in my art works. I brainstorm in both a visual and musical way – rarely do I think of one without the other.
PO: You seem to be quite conscious of the power of technology to inscribe or convey belief structures to the viewers or users of those technologies. Is this idea simply of personal interest, or is it something you try to explicitly acknowledge in your works?
JS: It’s a device I use as a way to lure a viewer into something via an assumed awareness. Their personal understanding of/relationship to the technology puts them somewhat at my disposal to subvert that familiarity; to propose something new via this comfort. It is definitely acknowledged in the works – for example, in Variation FQ, the first 3 minutes are mono sound and the antiquated 16mm image authentically mimics a 1960’s aesthetic. If one was not to know of contemporary voguing, they could believe this was an archival work. But at 3 minutes in when Leiomy takes her hair out, the audio switches dramatically to surround sound and an MP3 quality digital sound is introduced while she shakes her head in a way that would be difficult to believe was shot anytime before the late 1980’s. So here the projector and media and music all come into question as no longer endorsing the initial set-up. I like the idea of collapsing time this way.MORE
Patrick O’Neill is a UBC Art History student who has come on board as an intern at CAG to assist with the research connected to our Reading Room. While Jeremy Shaw was in town, they took some time to discuss the three works that are currently on display. This post focuses on the work Quickeners (2014).
Patrick O’Neill: What inspired you to create Degenerative Imaging (In the Dark) (2015) as a glow-in-the-dark, light-sensitive piece?
Jeremy Shaw: Degenerative Imaging is continuation of work I’ve done in the past (Representative Measurements) where I reformatted fMRI brain scans of subjects after cumulative use of MDMA as black light silkscreen posters. This time I’ve used SPECT scans of the cumulative effects of various mind altering drugs on blood flow in the brain and transferred them to the same material that is used to make glow-in-the-dark constellation stickers that adorn bedroom ceilings. It is a bringing together of these two very disparate drug experiences – one which is attempting to map and explain, the other attempting to enhance or further the experience itself. This pushes the 80’s “this is your brain on drugs” propaganda with the idea of looking at a scientific representation of what something has done/could do to your brain via the experience you are currently having. The representation is aiding in positively enhancing yet presumably seen as a negative when considered in its cumulative context.
PO: What inspired you to start working within a more explicitly narrative structure for Quickeners (2014) and what did this juxtaposition allow for in your exploration of themes which are familiar in your practice?
JS: The decision to work with a narrative was due to my desire to be able to talk about all these seemingly disparate interests in a more cohesive or straightforward way. It is the first time I was explicitly able to address a lot of these things – ideas around scientific rationalization of transcendental experience, parallel realities, belief systems of many degrees, etc. The creation of a narrative in which a new, entirely rational species was experiencing a degenerative syndrome that incited reversionary, irrational behaviour allowed me to create characters in varying states of decline from which I could address many different perspectives on said topics. Here I was able to explicitly vocalize via these characters speech/subtitles rather than submerging the ideas into a nonlinear or abstract piece. I had the footage for Quickeners for years and knew that I wanted to work with it, but hadn’t quite figured out how. It ended up being a logical progression in my practice – specifically after Introduction to The Memory Personality – where I felt the desire to push further with linear structure. I still did end up with an immersive, experiential section within this that reads like previous works – but it is submerged within the narrative form. I liked the idea of almost pushing the viewer into submission or a kind of exhaustion before introducing this cathartic release in the narrative aspect of the work and for the audience as well.MORE
Hello! My name is Nicola Krohman and over the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to work with Shaun Dacey, Curator of Learning and Public Programs, and Jill Henderson, Communications Coordinator, as a volunteer and now in my new role as Communications Intern. I first met Jill four years ago when I started as a volunteer in the CAG’s Abraham Rogatnick Library, where I was introduced to many CAG publications in addition to the various other resources the library holds. Since then I moved to London to complete my MA in Fine and Decorative Art. My dissertation examined the evolution of, architect and designer, Eileen Gray’s furniture designs, considered through her innovative use of materials. This experience led me to New York, where I worked for a furniture dealer and restorer, and continued to explore my interests in art and design. Last fall when I decided to spend the year back home in Vancouver, I wanted to return to the CAG to learn from and participate in the workings of such an exciting Canadian art institution. It’s been nice to see familiar faces again and to meet many new ones, as well as, interesting to see how the CAG has continued to grow and evolve. During the next few months I hope to share with you through the blog some of the CAG’s upcoming exhibitions and events.
I also wanted to mention that Berlin-based Canadian artist Jeremy Shaw’s exhibition Medium-Based Time opened at the CAG last week. We are very happy to see that the exhibition was included in both The Vancouver Sun and The Georgia Straight’s art features (see here and here), as well as, with a great review of the exhibition by Marsha Lederman in The Globe and Mail.
Come by the gallery to see Jeremy Shaw – Medium-Based Time, which runs through to April 19th!MORE