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Toronto
Terence Dick
Trisha Baga at Gallery TPW
March 21, 2018

Perhaps it’s because I read The Republic once a year, but any time I see a cave I think of Plato. The interior of his analogical cavern corresponds with the realm of illusion, which for him meant shadows, reflections, and most art. Shifting his epistemological parallel to the present, it’s easy to see the prisoners restrained deep within, whose only knowledge of the world is based on a parade of silhouettes across an illuminated back wall, as average consumers locked to their computers screens who only interact with reality through the never-ending flow of social media, streaming services, and instant updates.



Trisha Baga, The Voice, 2017-2018, 3D video with podium, furniture, and three 2D video projections

The first of the two 3D video installations by Trisha Baga that recently opened at Gallery TPW as part of their Images Festival programming takes place, in part, in a cave. Department of Interior (sketch for untitled technothriller) ricochets from abstract forms and conceptual space to a shadowy cave that suggests, among other things, the ascent and descent of the freed prisoners who become put-upon philosophers in Plato’s authoritarian Republic. Linking the ancient Greek’s Utopian politics to the American artist’s identity politics is a stretch (she is fixated on crossing lines while he only wants to police them), but their shared investigation into real, imaginary and ideal things is front and centre care of an actual bucket and pebbles, magnified granules of dust that seem to float just out of reach, and layers of mediation as the projected cave extends past the gallery wall but overlaps a living room or a studio that somehow occupies the same place. Plus there’s a cute puppy roaming around as well! Flashlight beams swing past assorted figures engaged in creative exercises that have no clear outcome, but the immersive experience invites an interrogation of visual culture that is equally head-scratching and eye-popping.



Trisha Baga, The Voice, 2017-2018, 3D video with podium, furniture, and three 2D video projections

Baga’s larger installation The Voice is far more (purposefully) fragmented, though less in-your-face. Instead it situates the 3D effect in a classroom setting and turns the screen into a multilayered surface of shifting texts. One of the many themes that churn throughout the twenty-five minute video concerns the vicissitudes of language and translation. In the exhibition text (a wonderful interview with Images Festival Head of Programming Aily Nash that is well worth reading to get a sense of Baga’s idiosyncratic thinking processes), the artist describes the experience of having her mother’s friends make fun of her in dialects she couldn’t understand. Language, as she point out, becomes material when it means nothing. This in turn becomes the stuff of her art and relates not just to language per se, but also her queer identity and her Filipino heritage. Like all great artists, she doesn’t fit in and this consistent condition of being at odds with the world makes her an expert at revealing ruptures and uncertainties. She points to her use of consumer-grade electronics as a formal instance of this breakdown. This quality of technology creates the illusion while also critiquing it. From shadow puppets to virtual reality, that inherent contradiction in representation is something we have always wrestled with: how much of what we see do we believe? Plato thought we were dummies for the most part and blamed artists for duping us. If only he had experienced art like Baga’s that uses illusions to get to truths, then he wouldn’t have been such a grouch.


Trisha Baga: Biologue continues until April 21.
Gallery TPW: http://gallerytpw.ca/
The gallery is accessible.


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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