Thursday, May 13, 2021

S O L A C E: The Art of Intimate Absence – Theme for an Imaginary Exhibition

Dreamwalk, Mimi Gellman, Edward Day Gallery, Giclee print, 2002. (Image courtesy of the artists)

Note: All images are courtesy of the artists.

“In dreams begin responsibilities . . . ”– Delmore Schwartz

In the museum of dreams, anything is possible. Perhaps prompted by viral circumstances, I imagined an installation of images, objects, films, videos and performances addressing social issues of import which impact everyone in today’s world: anyone who wonders how we maintain our mutual bond as people and cultures during a challenging time of collective isolation. The three well-known artists contemplated, Mimi Gellman, Vessna Perunovich and Nayra Martin Reyes, have a unique but shared interest in exploring isolation and identity politics, gender issues, exile and refuge, persona and displacement, and travel, in what I am designating as a post-proximity world. They express through their artifacts a transnational and humanist domain which is essential for us if we are all to survive the challenges facing our global cultures at this precarious moment in our common history. They each approach a new vista verging on the merger of safe place and secure shelter with vulnerable empathy and alienated exclusion.

While not explicitly or overtly feminist in subject or theme, their works also do examine a specific realm denoted by the female gaze and they are further united in emotive tone and aesthetic vibe. Diversely interdisciplinary and using parallel media in order to explore synchronous content, they have also each experienced some degree of personal displacement and amorphous identity shifts which render their works inherently social and political without limiting their artistic ventures to a specific ideological agenda. To creatively occupy a post-proximity world effectively, they each posit an experiential art that manifests embodied meanings which provoke the mind and touch the heart. There could even be a kind of homeopathy to such art: using small incremental doses of sadness to alleviate mutual human suffering.

In a time when travel has been disrupted and yet everyone shares a simultaneous sense of being separated together, via a single shadowy viral experience, how do we conduct alternative modes of coming and going?

Our self-enforced status as immobile flâneurs, wanderers who now rarely interact with others, has induced both limits and opportunities to provide the unique kind of solace that visual art provides: the ability to simulate the exotic transcendent realm of intimate absence. Suddenly, the politics and poetry of place, and of sheltering in place, takes on a new and deeper meaning that makes it possible, even essential, to offer each other a fresh kind of remedy, as an antidote to outmoded notions of self and other. Theirs is the kind of aesthetic remedy which uses absence to erase otherness altogether, replacing it with a community of shadowy dreamers and evoking Yoko Ono’s famous Fluxus maxim: the dream you dream alone is just a dream, but the dream we dream together is called reality.

Vessna Perunovich, an artist originally from the former Yugoslavia, currently lives and works in Toronto, Canada. Her installation Shifting Shelter, first shown at the Angell Gallery in Toronto in 2017 and most recently at the Goethe Institute in Belgrade, Serbia, in 2021, focuses our attention on the fragility of domesticity and the presumed security of the home, a theoretical safe place which only our good luck allows us to take for granted. Such poetic insights often occur even more in the mindscapes of individuals who have first-hand experience, as she does, with exile and displacement. Each of the mixed-media objects in Shifting Shelter is a physically arresting moment in an extended meditation on exile and return.

Vessna Perunovich, Shifting Shelter.

Vessna Perunovich, Shifting Shelter.

Vessna Perunovich, Shifting Shelter.

Mimi Gellman is an Indigenous Canadian artist of Ojibway/Metis/Jewish heritage. She uses interdisciplinary means in order to explore concepts of walking, identity, place, land, cartography and post-colonial endeavours. Her masked Traveler series of performative images from 2008, shot in multiple locations during actual geo-traversal, provides a prescient take on movement, security, vulnerability and anonymity which is spookily pertinent in our current crisis mode regarding borders, health and safety. The unknown figure she portrays, standing guard like a sentry in charge of our reveries, is an apparition on the landscape, seeking a kind of portable solace in the poetics of place.

Mimi Gellman, Traveler.

Mimi Gellman, Traveler.

Mimi Gellman, Traveler.

Mimi Gellman, Traveler.

Nayra Martin Reyes
, a Spanish artist residing in Ghent, Belgium, is best known for her provocative performance and installation pieces questioning received assumptions about beauty. They are often subtle studies contrasting contemporary values with classical myths;Reyes’ recent work has often seen her incisively satirizing the allure of ambition, pride and vanity. With a creativity fueled by a mantra of provocation and protest, her work comprises many disciplines, all with the single aim of creating an environment for realistic social and political change. Walking on Eggshells, April, Composition 2 and E Pluribus Unum all share self-inquisitive issues relating to the female form and social role, colour, textures and material practice. Her primary aim is the revelation of a unified and largely utopian state: the right and the left sides of the brain and body working simultaneously in both conflict and harmony. Her works are an exotic pendulum swinging back and forth between the polarities of embodiment and transcendence, as exemplified by her house-shaped wall piece with the famous Latin title that was absorbed in America’s self-generated mythology: Out of Many, One

Nayra Martin Reyes, Walking on Eggshells.

Nayra Martin Reyes, Composition 2.
Nayra Martin Reyes, April.

Nayra Martin Reyes, E Pluribus Unum.

Donald Brackett is a Vancouver-based popular culture journalist and curator who writes about music, art and films. He has been the Executive Director of both the Professional Art Dealers Association of Canada and The Ontario Association of Art Galleries. He is the author of the recent book Back to Black: Amy Winehouse’s Only Masterpiece (Backbeat Books, 2016). In addition to numerous essays, articles and radio broadcasts, he is also the author of two books on creative collaboration in pop music: Fleetwood Mac: 40 Years of Creative Chaos2007, and Dark Mirror: The Pathology of the Singer-Songwriter, 2008, as well as the biographies Long Slow Train: The Soul Music of Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings2018, and Tumult!: The Incredible Life and Music of Tina Turner2020. His latest work in progress is a new book on the life and art of the enigmatic Yoko Ono, due out in early 2022.

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