The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes

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Tuesday to Sunday 12 - 6pm
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The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes



13 Jun, 2014 to 29 Jun, 2014

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The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes is a group exhibition of recent film and video that seeks to interrogate notions of uncertainty within the documentary format. Work by ten artists engages with the conventions of source footage, narrative voice and re-enactment, questioning perceptions of such devices, while also reclaiming them in order to redefine their intent and potential. Not all works critique these characteristics, but each examines the consumption of knowledge and truth, using the body as form and performance as a site, to address where meaning may reside.

The belief in the documentary as an authoritative tool has long been scrutinized, alluded to by the exhibition’s title, a direct referencing of a 1971 Stan Brakhage film shot in a Pittsburgh morgue, his title itself an attempt to literally translate the “autopsy” as shown. Brakhage’s film has a visceral intensity, a sense of the tangible that rests in his presentation of an inanimate figure, the dead body, being acted upon.  Even though categorized within the genre of experimental film, it also functions as a candid record.  While in part the filmmaker’s intent was to disrupt readings of his films as mere documents, this work more pointedly plays with presence and absence, the body as both figure and subject. In blurring the ways factual information is conveyed while simultaneously undermining the more usual documentary conventions, Brakhage’s film provides the underpinning for other works in this exhibition.

Bernadette (2008) is a portrait of Irish activist Bernadette Devlin, Duncan Campbell using archival footage from the late 1960s/early 1970s to create an indirect account of her political history. Campbell uses out-takes, the moments between interviews seeming to capture a more off-guard Delvin, the “truth” behind the public persona. However such a strategy only serves to heighten our awareness of the mediation of the camera. A Rock that Learned the Poetry of Jung Jiyong (2010) by Kim Beom similarly creates a portrait of a historic figure, but through an absurdist gesture, that of asking a professor to teach a rock everything he knows about the Korean modernist poet, Jung Jiyong. The original video lasts over twelve hours, the instructor giving detailed lectures, a saturation of information that Kim enacts in the work’s sheer length, refusing to distill Jung’s life into a digestible format. Rossella Biscotti’s film The Prison of Santo Stefano (2013) also offers a portrait of sorts but here of a place. The super 8 film depicts a trip to the prison, the first to be designed specifically to receive people with life sentences. It wanders through graveyards and shows visitors planting flowers as well as documenting the making of several of the artist’s sculptures, and shows rubbings taken from the prison’s stone courtyard, which is another form of recording.

Avalon (2011) by Maryam Jafri initially appears as a straightforward documentary about individuals who unknowingly find themselves making paraphernalia for the fetish industry. Yet among a series of interviews, Jafri inserts a staged performance, a re-enactment of a story told by a dominatrix, thus juxtaposing a fictional world with that of the factory, and performativity with production. Toril Johannessen’s Non-Conservation of Energy (and of Spirits) (2012) is based on a transcript of a conversation where she interviewed the late Danish physicist Niels Bohr about energy and consciousness through a psychic medium. The performative element in both these works raises questions about the investigative nature of documentary, the information accessed and the methods of inquiry. Subject and format are set against each other, their topics remaining elusive. In contrast, Edgardo Aragón’s Efectos de Familia (Family Effects) (2007–09) uses re-enactment to make tangible his family’s violent past. Drug-related incidents are restaged using young male relatives and their friends as actors, the incongruity between what is portrayed and the age of the actors revealing the ongoing impact of the past on the present.

Fabiola Carranza’s Corrida, 1929 (2013) also collapses different time frames by asserting a physical presence on top of footage from a bullfight in Spain. A screening of Corrida, a home-made film by Man Ray shot in 1929, is re-filmed with Carranza tracing the bull and fighter with a flashlight across the surface of the projection. The artist’s gestures can be read as comment on Man Ray’s process, an illustration of his use of the body, light and shadow to make images, and of how we as audience, read film. This reference to the viewer is also seen in Shahryar Nashat’s Factor Green (2011) where a package containing a green object is delivered to a museum under restoration, it is found by an individual who then proceeds to use the form in various ways. At one point it begins to move of its own volition, becoming witness to the workings of the museum itself. A green screen is used in post-production for cinema or television when layering two images together. Here it acts as a poetic surrogate, embodying the potential to represent all that is not seen: the missed histories, misrepresentations and absent visitors.

A Primer for Cadavers (2011) brings us full circle. Ed Atkins’ videos deal with the apparent immateriality of computer generated imagery in relation to its precise representations of the physical world, yet links to Brakhage in poetically addressing corporeal reality. Visually and conceptually the physicality of the body provides a primary focus, whether real or conjured in spirit. The documentary as a form of veracity is called into question, for while the undeniable end for us all is pictured, it remains an attempt to delve into the unknowable, a representation that is at once life-like yet completely dead.





Exhibition Bulletin





Ed Atkins   
Edgardo Aragón  
Kim Beom  
Rossella Biscotti   
Stan Brakhage  
Duncan Campbell  
Fabiola Carranza  
Maryam Jafri  
Toril Johannessen  
Shahryar Nashat  


Related Events

Screenings and reception at Western Front, 303 E 8th Avenue, Vancouver

Reception: Thursday, June 26, 7-9pm.
Screenings: Friday, June 27 – Sunday, June 29, 12 -5pm.

The Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG), Western Front and Dim Cinema present a weekend-long screening in the Grand Luxe Hall of 2014 Turner Prize nominee, Duncan Campbell’s film Bernadette, as part of the CAG exhibition The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes. Bernadette presents an open and indirect account of Irish dissident and political activist Bernadette Devlin, constructed out of archival footage from the 1960s and early 1970s. Campbell approaches documentary as form of fiction, revealing the complex relationship between author, subject and audience.

Duncan Campbell, born 1972 in Dublin, lives and works in Glasgow. His solo exhibitions include: Duncan Campbell, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2012);  Arbeit, Hotel, London (2011); Duncan Campbell, Belfast Exposed, Belfast (2011); Make It New John, Artist Space, New York and Tramway, Glasgow (2010); Duncan Campbell, Kunstverein Munich, Munich (2009); Bernadette, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2009); Bernadette and Sigmar, MUMOK, Vienna (2009); Art Now Lightbox: Duncan Campbell, Tate Britain, London (2009); 0-60, ICA, London (2008); Art Statements, Art Basel 38, Basel (2008); The Unnameable, Lux at Lounge, London (2006); Something in Nothing, TART Contemporary, San Francisco (2005); Falls Burns Malone Fiddles, Luis Campaña, Cologne (2004). His group exhibitions include: The Big Society, Galerie Vallois, Paris (2011); British Art Show 7,  Nottingham and Hayward Gallery, London  (2010); Critical Fetishes, Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid (2010); Asking Not Telling, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (2009);  Fight the Power, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2009); After October, Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York (2008); Art Now, Tate Britain, London (2006); The Need to Document, Halle für Kunst, Lueneburg (2005); Manifesta 5, European Biennial of Contemporary Art, San Sebastian (2004); Advertence, festival of documentary film , Belfast and Dublin (2003); Fresh and Upcoming, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt (2003); Shadazz, Royal College of Art, London (2002). He had been nominated for the 2014 Turner Prize.


Bernadette - Duncan Campbell


Related Learning

Marilyn Brakhage is a graduate of the Motion Picture Studies and Art History departments of Ryerson and York Universities, Toronto. She has worked as a film distributor, programmer, freelance writer and home educator, and is currently consulting on and managing the estate of her late husband, filmmaker and theoretician, Stan Brakhage (1933–2003). Marilyn responds to the work of her late husband.

This series invites cultural and critical producers to present thoughts and ideas rooted in their own interests and practices, and invites audiences to join in the conversations that will explore relevant contemporary issues, theories, ideas and culture.


Feedback Series Talk | Marilyn Brakhage


Related Learning

Maryam Jafri
Thursday, June 26, 7pm

Please join us for a talk by artist Maryam Jafri. Her video work Avalon (2011) is included in The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes.

In her moving image works, Jafri blurs the distinction between scripted films and unscripted documentaries. In Avalon (2011), Jafri seamlessly weaves together stories from real life workers in an unnamed leather company in an unspecified Asian country, with a script that she wrote herself. The workers in this factory are not told that they are making fetish products to be sold to the masses in the United States, and this selective disclosure can be seen in the disconnect between the production process and the final product itself. Parallels can be made between the secretive nature within the leather factory, the viewer’s unsurety of who is an actor and who is not, as well as to the overall editing process which yields a carefully restrained video work about the complex topics of overseas factories and the world of fetish paraphernalia.

Jafri’s solo exhibitions include: Mouthfeel, Gasworks, London (2014); Backdrop, Bielefelder kustverein, Bielefeld, Germany (2013); Stages, WYSPA Institute of Art, Gdansk (2012); Geographies, Museum of Contemporary Art, Roskilde (2012); Headlines and Small Print (with Anderas Fogarasi), Galerie Nova/WHW Zagreb (2012); Global Slum, Beirut, Cairo (2012) and Shanghai Biennial and Taipei Biennial (2012). She has also exhibited in group exhibitions including: Fassbinder Jetzt – Fassbinder and Contemporary Art, Deutsches Filmmuseum, Frankfurt (2013); Past is Present (Murals), Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit (2013); Ten Thousand Wiles, Hundred Thousand Tricks, MuKHA, Antwerp (2013); When Attitudes Became Forms Become Attitudes, Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit (2013); Manifesta 9, Genk (2012). Maryam Jafri lives and works in New York and Copenhagen. She holds a BA in Literature from Brown University, an MA from NYU/Tisch School of The Arts and is a graduate of the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program.



Artist Talk | Maryam Jafri


Related Blog Posts

We are very pleased to welcome Sofia and Eva as Curatorial Interns at the gallery, please read on as they introduce themselves:

Hi, my name is Eva Tweedie, the UBC CCST Curatorial Intern. I am halfway through my first year in the Curatorial and Critical Studies (CCST) program at the University of British Columbia and am looking forward to getting some hands-on gallery experience this summer. So far during my time at the CAG I have been working with artists in our upcoming summer exhibition The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes to prepare for the installation of their works. I have also been doing research on other artists who will be exhibiting here at the CAG later this year, and in 2015.

My name is Sofia Stalner and I am a Curatorial Intern and recent graduate from the Critical and Curatorial Studies Program at the University of British Columbia. I have been working on the collection which helped establish the CAG and is owned by the City of Vancouver, updating the database and registry, as well as receiving artworks from the collection that have been displayed throughout Vancouver, primarily on office walls. I am currently compiling information as research toward a hopeful and necessary move of the collection to a larger storage facility.  Here is a little bit of a background on the unique collection we have:

Established in 1971 as the Greater Vancouver Artist’s Gallery, through federal employment programs for artists, the Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG) was incorporated as a non-profit charitable society in 1976. From 1971 to 1978, artists were hired for six month periods to produce art for exhibition which was then accessioned into the City of Vancouver Art Collection. The City of Vancouver Art Collection of 3,000 works of art which are circulated in public spaces throughout City buildings and loaned for exhibition to museums and galleries.

– Stay tuned to the CAG blog for updates from Eva and Sofia on their projects and upcoming exhibitions.


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