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Toronto
Terence Dick
Vulgar Era at Xpace
March 24, 2016

As an addendum to my recent video report on internet art, the current exhibition at Xpace (and also an early entry in the 2016 Images Festival Off Screen programming) picks up a couple of the threads I mentioned (visual play, virtual space) and adds some new issues (real space, mediated sexuality) to continue the work within what some refer to as post-internet art. The nomenclature of this very “now” practice is unsurprisingly under debate; suffice to say, a whole new landscape appeared a couple decades ago and we're still playing catch up with a world that changes a trillion times faster than plate tectonics.



Trudy Erin Elmore

On the subject of land, two of the artists in Vulgar Era bring their laptop experience to bear on the world out there. Alana Gilchrist’s video puts a bored model in liminally urban scenes that match the colour of her clothes. This footage is then embedded in a out of date monitor that is otherwise landfill sitting on the barren plane of a gravel quarry. Anyone who has driven through the outskirts of southern Ontario will get the idea. The medium might be newish, but the ennui is not.

Erin Whittier’s photo-based sculpture, on the other hand, is unexpected in structure and matches serendipitously sublime Google streetview-scapes with actual samples of plant life and a smattering of dirt. Suspended between sheets of glass, the content of the work appears in layers like multiple windows open on a computer screen; the differences between real, represented, and mediated are not so much blurred as ignored.



Mary Grisey

An opportune contrast to this digital aesthetic is available with the back gallery exhibition of Mary Grisey’s paean to authenticity Cloth Dripping. Her materials – rough hewn terracotta and ragged cloth weaving – loudly proclaim that they are the real thing. She then adds water (literally) as elemental evidence and includes a recording of a woman's voice for further testimony to the unquestionable veracity of nature.

However, that very nature is questioned in Dahae Song’s 3D renderings of the human heart created from scanned abstract paintings and Nadia Kuzmicz’s neon and cement window work – never has light and earth been less real than with these two materials. Alessia Dowhaniuk’s video montage of internet hook-up sites and Trudy Erin Elmore’s sexually and spiritually active skeletons turn intimacy and transcendence into alienated experiences rendered in fragmented screenshots or crass computer graphics. There’s a grimness throughout that hints at something lost.

It strikes me that millennial artists, despite being born with the internet as a given, still struggle with its artificiality. The sex is tinged with dread, the abstractions are inessential, and prelapsarian nature is pined for, just like any old modernist suffocating in industrial urbanism. My point isn't to dismiss the youth, but to identify the ways in which they fight the same old fights. It doesn’t matter what tools are used, everyone is just trying to keep it real.


Xpace Cultural Centre: http://www.xpace.info/
Vulgar Era continues until April 30.


Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

 

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