Robin Arseneault at Esker Foundation, Calgary
By Levin Ifko
“It’s as easy as falling off a log.” You could say this about a task completed with ease. Or it might refer to a series of steps in tap and jazz that are calculatedly playful – a nod to falling mistakenly without actually doing so. It could be used to poke fun at oneself, to get a laugh from the audience, and yet the space between dancing and falling can be tense. Calgary-based artist Robin Arseneault’s Falling Off The Log, currently on view at Esker Foundation, is an exploration of how our bodies perform in this way.
Arseneault’s Walk-In Drawings line an entryway towards a selection of her sculptural works. She describes these drawings as an initial impression of the way that the sculptures would look in the gallery space. This process-based work lends itself to the study of movement-performance in the exhibition. Collage material in these drawings is sourced primarily from the book The Dance Through the Ages. Photos of performers in action exemplify a similar sense of gravity as the sculptures in the next room.
Dancing Men (Troupe) is the central work in the exhibition. A group of person-sized driftwood pieces pose on a platform. They allude to the human body in shape and size, and how they are positioned. One could contort their body to mimic each sculpture, or even hide behind the driftwood in a game of hide-and-seek. The art alludes to a dancer’s movement, but remains motionless. Arseneault says the sculptures are “caught mid-dance.” The idea of the tableau (as a storytelling technique used in theatre) comes to mind. Each dancer has paused on stage with one another. Who are they reaching towards? Or turning away from? Perhaps they spare a glance at the gallery visitors as we move around them, but these sculptures seem heavy as they pause, still engrossed in their dance.
Also included in the exhibition are Studies for Lantern, which uses vinyl on the gallery’s windows, and two photo-collages entitled La Danse. Both works create silhouettes that nod to the type of movements Arseneault’s sculptures evoke. In doing so, they highlight how movement-based performance has been captured in photography and film.
There are always various means of engagement integrated with each exhibition at Esker Foundation. In this case, the accompanying audio tour read by the artist, reached through scanning the QR code on didactics next to each work, encourages one’s movement through the gallery. I listened to each of the recordings on repeat, pacing around the exhibition space, headphones in. I felt somewhat alone with the work, as if the now-muted sounds travelling from elsewhere in the gallery gave me permission to move around in the way I desired. I felt welcomed through Arseneault’s storytelling in a way that began to break down the emotional distance I often feel in some galleries.
For an exhibition that is described as exploring the way that bodies interact in space, Falling Off The Log elicited a reflection upon my own body that was quite fitting and brought my attention to the more serious or self-reflective notes in the work.
Levin Ifko is an interdisciplinary artist, video editor, and creative producer based in Mohkinstsis (Calgary).