Chris Gergley is an emerging Vancouver-based photographer who has developed a signature style over three serial projects. His first major work, Vancouver Apartments, is a series of 88 photographs of the lobbies of middle class apartment buildings. This work explores the success of typological photography, (as practiced, for example, by German artists Bernd and Hilla Becher,) and is used to reveal contemporary attitudes toward once hopeful Modernist apartment buildings, whose gold lettered names and vibrant colours have faded over time. Queen City, a work in progress, is a growing archive of images of Regina, his hometown in the Canadian Prairies. For each new exhibition, Gergley selects and displays a different collection of images of his hometown. The images seem so typical of small North American cities that Gergley’s images can easily be mistaken as representations of other such cities. His third and also on-going project is built from a process of reworking and reframing of his documentation of work by other local artists. Here he played with notions of authorship and blended his work as a commercial photographer with his art practice.
Copy Work and Gobo are the titles for Chris Gergley’s solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery. It is a new body of work that includes four separate components, all of which involve elements culled from his archive of images and photographic paraphernalia. Copy Work is an articulation of the varied production and use of images, such as documentary and commissioned photography. As well, the exhibition includes Gobo, a slideshow, Perfect Colour a presentation for the gallery’s street front windows and apublication, which includes texts by art historians Steve Edwards, John O’Brian, and John Roberts, writer Maria Fusco, and myself, the curator of the exhibition.
The publication, which also shares the title Copy Work, is more than a supplement to the exhibition. It disregards the conventions of an exhibition catalogue that would feature images or essays about the exhibition, contextualizing an artist’s practice in a larger framework, grounding it historically and currently within a global and local milieu. It is more along the lines of a bookwork that functions separately from the main body of the exhibition. In its form and content it is like a journal with a simple design. It is black and white with a minimal cover and standardized design throughout. It is a collection of related texts, and has only few correlating images. But it is a one-off, published on the occasion of the exhibition with the artist acting as editor. All of the texts were written for other contexts and some were previously published. None of the texts directly address the exhibition. Some of the texts are about the work of other artists. O’Brian’s “Statistical Ruscha, or Watching the Village Watchman,” is on the early photographic work of the American artist Ed Ruscha and in “Writing Out Failure,” I write on the sculptural work of Toronto-based artist James Carl. Fusco’s “Window Strikes” is a fictional piece in the narrative voice of a voyeur who buys a digital camera to document the activities of his neighbours. Edwards and Roberts’s texts both deal with the shifts in the reception and usage of photography. The former is concerned with the language surrounding “the potentials of the new medium,” in the mid 19th century, and the latter discusses the characteristics of the everyday realm in which we see snapshots in contrast to the “art-snapshot.” The texts run parallel to the exhibition’s own concerns. They all incorporate issues from photo-documentation and the photographer as laborer to the categorization of images, image usage and authorship. Copy Work is not an exhibition catalogue; it does not set the terms for the work in this exhibition and it does not speculate on the reception of the work. This begs the question of the particular text you are reading.
In fact, the artist was nervous about this text. He was worried that in writing it, I would cement the work into categorized meanings that were descriptive of his intent or its reception. I could say, “Copy Work addresses notions of appropriation;” or “in using the out-takes of his professional shoots, the artist challenges the process of selection;” or that “in using familiar images of historical works in Gobo, Gergley is referring to the relation between material transactions and their effect on meaning.” Gobo is a good example because materially the piece plays with the instability of meaning and the distancing of artistic intent both formally and conceptually. It is not fixed. In the film industry, “gobo” is a term used to describe a process of set decoration that uses light to project a design, from a detailed pattern to a basic shape, or block out or darken portions of a set. For Gobo, Gergley projects single slides of art historical light works on the gallery’s walls. The slides, which are borrowed frompublic institutions and are already well worn from age and use, will deteriorate at an accelerated rate under the constant illumination and exposure over the course of the two month exhibition. The original light works are now just images displayed by an antiquated technology that, over time, will cause them to fade. This slow burn takes the original works out of their contexts as image, as document and as educational tool. The word gobo demotes the slide, the once essential document for artist, galleries and archives, to something to be played with, like a magic lantern. Through this double play on light, reinserting canonical works as image into the generic white cube and by using a common mechanized device, Gergley qualifies intent and destabilizes meaning – he is simultaneously rewriting the artist’s intent as well as erasing that meaning.
Images are not just to be read. The artist’s rejection of a traditional catalogue and the fading images of Gobo attempt to resist particular ways of reading, and in some ways establish a loose process of reception for images – one that is open and not limited to a line of thought, a narrative or a chronology. Meaning is more tangential, like Gergley himself and the sources for his images. The images for the photographic series Copy Work come from so many places and times. He has captured some himself, appropriated others; some he has produced for other artists and several were made in collaboration, but he has taken them all and claims them as his for this exhibition. In reusing these images, some of which are unmistakably associated with the work of other artists, the original intent is subjugated by their present context. The images barely change but they are different. As such, their meaning becomes unstable, oscillating in time from past readings to present experience.
In the windows there is a visual repetition of an element that reoccurs in the various images from the photographic series Copy Work. Here Gergley uses the actual colour bar, which is a common tool used by photographers. As a by product of his work, he has accumulated a variety of different types of bars, some of which are fairly expensive and of professional quality. In placing them in the direct light of the windows, he is essentially destroying them. Once the colours fade they are useless. Their function as a tool has shifted to nothing more than an object to be looked at. Are the photographs and images in the exhibition Copy Work meant just to be looked at? Can they be read differently from their original intent? Can they be experienced, not read? These are undetermined questions. What is clear is that the artist is a photographer. He has chosen this medium and is interested in the arguments surrounding it and how the definition of photography shifts as does the way images are read. What remains constant is that each image holds more than its surface, and that Gergley is gently bringing us back to that plane.
– Jenifer Papararo