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Toronto
Terence Dick
The More I Look At These Images at 8-11 Gallery
December 06, 2017

From landscapes to still lives, nature might be the most common subject for art. That’s nature in its uncomplicated sense: flowers, minerals, animals, wilderness. Nothing tainted by human hands. However, the moment those things becomes art, nature is tainted (which is, I admit, overlooking the problematic nature of nature as a non-problematic category – which it isn’t), so where does that leave us?



Jennifer Murphy, The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail), 2017

If you’re like me, you’re not that big a fan of nature anyway. In fact, you much prefer going to art galleries than going on hikes, and if you’re going to contemplate the things in the world, you know you’re already seeing them through culturally constructed lenses, so why not look through the eyes of artists engaged in a similar reflexive observation – but who do it so much better than you? Which brings us to The More I Look At These Images, a group exhibition at 8-11 Gallery that takes nature photography as its starting point then spins it through a variety of looking glasses.

Celia Perrin Sidarous’ looping 16mm projection is the clearest statement on how artificial our art really makes things. The bottom of the film frame touches the floor, so the images on screen (on wall, actually) feel more like sculptures than paintings. Which is apropos because she arranges flowers, shells (lots of shells), ceramics, pictures, and more over and over again in still life settings like miniature sculpture gardens. Objects disappear and reappear in different places, and as the relentlessly clicking projector keeps showing them over and over, those real things lose their original (that is, natural) contexts and become increasingly abstract.

Jennifer Murphy has always forgone the thing itself for its representation. By collaging someone else’s images of animals and plants into organic forms, she completes a different sort of loop – one that fluctuates between art and nature just as her practice fluctuates between two and three dimensions, wall and floor. A small arrangement of cut-out figures propped up on the bare ground makes a miniature mythological menagerie while actual dead flowers throw a spanner in my theorizing, but since they are the sort of thing found in a shop rather than a field, I’d argue they are overdetermined by symbolic value and fall well within the range of the ersatz.



Christina Battle, the future is a distorted landscape, 2017

The two videos in the exhibition add commentary on how our contribution to/place in the natural/unnatural world is marked by hypocrisy, deceit, denial, and devastation. “Culture evolved because people wanted to live in a manner as unlike an animal as possible,” says an older man in Zinnia Naqvi's Seaview. She clicks through a file of photos of a beach in Pakistan, explains what goes on outside the frame, and concludes the image doesn’t reflect the reality of her having to be accompanied there by three male adults. Between raw footage of this beach and the meta-textual analysis of the same, we travel through an electrically illuminated night market, discuss driving (the most common way to regard the landscape) and the differences between Karachi and Canada, and then enjoy an intensely weird/typical (depending on where you come from) group of musicians rock a party.

The intensity of that scene is matched by Christina Battle’s high velocity video-slideshow of isolated objects interspersed with supersaturated monitor noise overlaid with polemical directives… “Stand still for a second and look around you.” Crystals, pomegranates, mushrooms. “Think about the future.” Satellites, sea horses, old houses. “The environment is a distorted landscape.” Helicopters, avocadoes, corn. “There is a glitch in the system.” Sandstorms, oil drums, abandoned cars, and a dried riverbed.

Are we the glitch? The onslaught of images continues unabated, and in the close confines of the basement gallery, it is relentless. There is nothing romantic, picturesque, or sublime here. It is only assaultive, which is as honest an account of our relationship with nature as you can get these days.


The More I Look At These Images continues until December 14.
8-11 Gallery: https://www.facebook.com/811gallery/
The gallery is not 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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