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Terence Dick
What does one do with such a clairvoyant image? at Gallery 44 & Trinity Square Video
May 17, 2017

Speculative fiction is such a better term than science fiction because it emphasizes all the ways in which the genre entertains possibilities – major and minor, scientific and not – about what we could be and who we are now. Speculating suggests something beyond what we know, something we can only imagine (though it also implies, in financial contexts, risk and the likelihood of loss). Perhaps it’s redundant to pair it with “fiction” since all storytelling is already speculative in some way; however, when it does get thrown into the mix – as in the curatorial statement accompanying the exhibition What does one do with such a clairvoyant image? – there is a giddy sense that the ground is dropping out from under you and the things you thought you knew will be thrown into disarray. In this sense, “speculative” might be an improvement on “experimental” when describing certain arts, but we only called it that when we were talking about form, and that kind of experimentation maxed out its impact a while back. What we care about now is content (even when we address its delivery) and this is why it’s important to identify the fiction that enacts the speculation.

Kapwani Kiwanga, The Secretary’s Suite, 2016, video and mixed media installation

Despite the futuristic overtones of speculation combined with fiction, the genre is equally adept at addressing the past. Curators Leila Timmins, cheyanne turions, and Jayne Wilkinson refer to this as "alternative history," but instead of the American-centric anxiety of The Man in the High Castle, their exhibition features three First Nations artists rewriting or writing over colonial history. Tania Willard makes a literal obstruction of an existing historical document by projecting an ethnographic film from 1928 titled The Shuswap Indians of British Columbia through a selenite crystal. The credited materials include photons, which leaves one to assume that the passage of light through Willard’s lens converts the anthropologist’s gaze into something empowering.

Dana Claxton and Dylan Miner use found photographs as references for a colonial-settler past, but intervene on their surfaces to bring a First Nations perspective into the visual field. Claxton blends colourful images of Lakota beadwork into the washed-out snapshots of a white camper to shift his analogue mementos into a pixelated array. Miner scars the images of North American landscapes with text or black and red blotches that turn the sightseeing sites into violent reminders of the continent’s recent past.

Stephanie Comilang, Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (Come to Me, Paradise), 2016, video

In addition to the three artists at Gallery 44, there works by Stephanie Comilang, Kapwani Kiwanga, and Martine Syms at Trinity Square Video. Kiwanga also addresses the past through a collection of images, but instead of adding her marks to them, she assembles them in a forensic narrative that attempts to solve the mystery of former United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld’s death in a plane crash. Her video works through clues taken from a photograph of his office, but in doing so she maps a network of secret histories that links power to relations of exchange.

Syms tells a story from the opposite end of the hierarchy with an audio-play titled Most Days that can be heard through headphones on a vinyl recording. Her characters populate a Los Angeles thirty years from now, yet they experience a range of anxieties and everyday challenges familiar to many in the present. Her wall text The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto brings Black science fiction tropes down to earth and questions the escapism that obscures Black Diasporic reality. While that might turn us off Sun Ra and George Clinton, it also draws our attention to the disorienting sense of the present as a confluence of dreamlike promise and an inescapable past.

Comilang’s video Come to Me, Paradise lands in this exact place by forgoing found footage to relay a story shot amongst the community of Filipina workers in Hong Kong. The architecture, technology, and general sense of being apart from the nature take the setting out of time. The interactions between characters and their phones become the central metaphor for possible transcendence. Rather than taking us into outer space, this speculation brings us face-to-face with the world we have. It doesn’t take a genius to know the future never happens; we are only ever always already in the present.

Note: On May 23 at 6:30pm, Dylan Miner will lead a walking tour from Gallery 44 to the former home of Emma Goldman.

Gallery 44:
Trinity Square Video:
What does one do with such a clairvoyant image? continues until June 3.

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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