Midi Onodera at Centre 3, Hamilton

By Stephanie Vegh

Our current reality has shrunken art-viewing prospects to a handful of options: the digital remove of online presentations or in-person rituals of careful sanitation and navigation. Midi Onodera’s exhibition at Centre 3 makes the best of both possibilities.

Midi Onondera, EXC-19

Curated by Lesley Loksi Chan, TOO MUCH TIME ON MY HANDS is a reckoning with the push-pull of isolation and information overload that has shaped the pandemic experience of lonely bodies crashing into the immensity of the internet. The productive potential of that dynamic is seen in the exhibition’s virtual playtime component, EXC-19, an Exquisite Corpse collaboration that has generated 68 videos by 109 contributors since April. Each video interprets a short text through image and sound assembled by four players within a limited timeframe, all accumulating into a layered digital tome of scrappy storytelling. Some nod explicitly to the pandemic through found footage and PPE, while many more capture its uncanny estrangement from our domestic surroundings – daily rituals rendered meaningless by endless time.

The physical objects on view at Centre 3 distill these storm-clouds of shared consciousness into harsh, tactile focus. After fulfilling my duties of appointment setting, mask-wearing, contact tracing and sanitizing, I received the disposable gloves needed to handle each of the five plaster forms waiting on their plinths. At a time when galleries and museums are eliminating high-touch objects from their exhibitions, this thing that can only be experienced by hand feels laden with risk, intimacy and trust: all in vanishingly low social supply today.

Midi Onodera, TOO MUCH TIME ON MY HANDS, 2020, installation view

Each eccentric vessel, ranging from white to marbled sky-blue, must be lifted and opened to activate the miniature video screens nested within printed fabric frames. Romper Bomper reveals two hosts of the syndicated children’s television program Romper Room gazing through their magic mirrors. From one hand to the next, she names the children she sees while an anxious circle of text  that revolves around her fake mirror expresses the wistful hope of hearing one’s own name. Cradled in hand at the scale of a mobile phone, the urge to be seen from unfathomable distance is immediately familiar.

As these vessels painfully attest, being witnessed can also have cruel consequences. Slant Eyes collects YouTube videos of children and adults alike chanting a racist rhyme made all the more repulsive by the delight of its performers. Afterimage places a tiny toy gun in one hand while a video whispering fear of Black men plays in the other, terminating in a gunshot that feels heavy in my clean, gloved hand.

Designed to be viewed by a solitary person who becomes an instrument for the work’s protection, this installation is an intimate gift that offers the unlikely comfort of seeing one’s anxieties laid bare – and of being seen in turn.

Midi Onodera: TOO MUCH TIME ON MY HANDS continues until October 10.
Centre 3 for Artistic and Social Practice: http://centre3.com/
Viewing by appointment only.

Stephanie Vegh is an artist and writer who has exhibited her work in the UK and Canada, and publishes art writing and criticism both locally and nationally. She maintains an active profile in regional arts advocacy, and currently serves as Manager, Media and Communications at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. She can be followed on Instagram @stephanievegh.