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Vancouver
Steffanie Ling
Jamie Hilder at Malaspina Printmakers
March 14, 2018

Each of Jamie Hilder’s prints in Landmarks, now on display at Malaspina Printmakers, tells a story we’ve heard before but can never understand. Each of the ten framed intaglio prints pair two accounts of human disaster. Blocks of red text describe bombings with a corresponding Richter scale reading of the rupture in black ink. The text weighs heavily on the paper, contained in its rectangular field, while the thin, spiked lines of seismic activity register in our consciousness with far less empathic potential. The tension produced by putting together these two abstractions of the same devastating event demonstrates how language can be molded to resonate coldly; however, the magnitude reading has no faculty to distinguish between natural phenomenon and the nexus of political turmoil, desperate measure, and human toll. There’s still human agency in language.



Jamie Hilder, Bishops Gate/4.3, 2018

Each of the written descriptions is delivered in the basic journalistic format – who, what, when, where, with a glaringly absent why: “When, concerned about the relationship between a university and a national military culture, 4 student activists exploded a 900 kg anfo bomb in a Ford Econoline van outside of a building housing an army-funded think tank. 1 postdoctoral researcher was killed and 3 students injured. 26 nearby buildings were damaged.” This particular passage resonates for citing the make and model of the vehicle used in the attack. Perhaps it’s an indication of journalistic thoroughness, but the relentlessness to detail works against our capacity to fathom the conditions the led to the the van’s use.

The exhibition includes a modified seismograph that detects and records the surrounding movement of the gallery’s visitors, street traffic, and adjacent print studio onto a rotating drum. The machine is loaded with red ink and superimposes the measurements over images that depict a history of riots, raids, and murders. The drums are changed daily and alternate between a set, so each day of the exhibition, a new reading is added. At times the needle even retraces the path of the previous day. The framing of quotidian activity rendered as this ritualistic scarring of a visual history of violence (in red ink no less) is formally rather heavy handed, but, if it offends sensibilities, it only advances the point.

When art includes a participatory element, it often indicates a kind of optimism or sense of belonging in the accumulative gestures that become part of the work. Contrary to this, Hilder treats our encounter as evidence of a prevailing passivity in the collective reading of disaster news. It’s neither a pointed finger or a useful call to action; after all, they are ten artworks exposed to a fraction of the audience for whom this information usually circulates. The slowness operating in this work – the necessary technical caution of producing prints, the sluggish revolutions of the drum – counters the momentum of these events, the speed that news travels. Though the work critiques the dehumanizing factor of measurement and language, there is also a delicate awareness of the potential to sensationalize.


Jamie Hilder: Landmarks continues until March 18.
Malaspina Printmakers: http://www.malaspinaprintmakers.com
The gallery is accessible.


Steffanie Ling's essays, criticism, and art writing have been published alongside exhibitions, in print, and online in Canada, the United States, and Europe. She is an editor of Charcuterie and co-curator at VIVO Media Arts Centre. Her books are Nascar (Blank Cheque, 2016) and Cuts of Thin Meat (Spare Room, 2015). She is Akimblog’s Vancouver correspondent and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram @steffbao.

 

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