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‘Ugly and beautiful at the same time’

KAG’s exploration of human form is an open book
September 26, 2016 3:20 P.M.
Margaret Dragu leads KAG visitors in tour behind the current at "All membranes are porous."

Visitors to the weekend opening of Kamloops Art Gallery’s fall exhibition could be forgiven for momentarily thinking they’d stepped into a yoga centre.

First, there were the pink yoga mats neatly rolled up near the entrance, then there was the curator leading a tour of “All membranes are porous,” urging visitors to inhale deeply, then exhale, three times.

“OK, now that we’re in our bodies, I want to talk about ways to address the body,” said Charo Neville, KAG curator and the one who organized the exhibition.

“All membranes” is all about multiple meanings manifest in and interpreted through the human body.

“It’s a theme addressed throughout art history and also a very hot topic within the art gallery world,” Neville said. “It is is given to each of us and shifts throughout life, but the body is also political, and it’s a social force.”

A spring show at TRU’s Visual Art Gallery spawned the idea for this show, featuring an array of multi-media works and installations by six Canadian artists. 

Each work is experiential, drawing the observer into experience as an active participant, each taking the theme in a different direction. Neville described the whole as “an open, porous investigation.”

There are two video-based installations that completely enclose the viewer. The first encountered is Jeremy Shaw’s Introduction to the Memory Personality (2012), designed for a single viewer. Shaw’s monotonous voice is soothing, almost hypnotic, narrating video images depicting the brain as he explores altered states and transcendental experience.

“If you’re epileptic, just don’t go in,” said Neville, warning of stroboscopic effects in Shaw’s video that can trigger epileptic episodes.

The second walk-in video installation is Hospital Hallway by Sarah Anne Johnson, which is visceral and disturbing in its own way. Johnson’s grandmother was an unwitting participant in experiments conducted at Montreal’s Allan Memorial Hospital in the 1950s and ’60s. Patients suffering from a host of complaints were administered LSD in mind-control experiments overseen by the CIA. When admitted, Johnson’s grandmother was suffering postpartum depression. Reunited with her family, she could not remember them.

Two artists attended the opening to talk about their work.

Zoe Kreye’s Futureloss, ceramic sculptures created from casts of body parts and architectural features, represent a kind of dual portrait of Mount Pleasant, an inner city neighbourhood in Vancouver.

Margaret Dragu’s video-based installations, The Library Project and Commodification of Touch, lie beyond her curtain, a floor-to-ceiling patchwork depicting social activism and childlike depictions of home. In one, she creates an inviting and cozy niche to watch Life is a Book, a romantic video about the life of a book amid the cavernous back stacks of a library. In the second, she invites visitors into a breakfast nook to explore the experience of the aging body linked to various themes, intimacy, loss, death, boundaries and community among them. There is also beauty to be found there.

“Sit in the beautiful nook and see the beauty,” she said. “Many people, if you’re like me, stand in front of a mirror and see yourself as ugly and beautiful at the same time.”

Zoe Kreye explains the architecture and community behind Futureloss at Kamloops Art Gallery.


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