Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Flux 2021

If you can make it out to the show at Cre8ery, I highly recommend it over viewing photographs of original art online. There is simply no comparison. But if you cannot, this is the next best thing.

First and foremost though, you must download Peter Gabriel's song Signal to Noise, and listen to it while you look at and read about the images below. Here's the link to the studio version on Youtube.
I've included some fundamental information about each piece, and explore a little bit about how they relate to the music, to today, to history, and whatever else I might think of that is relevant. The title of each of the twelve pieces is drawn from the lyrics of the song, following it from beginning to end. If you can't quite make out the words, they are included below. If you have an comments about the work or the feelings that arise from it, leave a comment below and we'll carry on the conversation.

Exhibition Statement included at the show -

Even though Peter Gabriel's song Signal to Noise came out in 2002, I heard it for the first time only a couple years ago.
My pieces in this exhibit draw their titles from the lyrics of the song, and follow it in the order they are numbered. This is simply my response to the music, but I encourage you to listen to it (on your device with headphones if you can) while you ponder the images. If you feel what I feel, perhaps you will see what I see.

During that first listen, I was immediately transported to my visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Images of hundreds of former prisoners hung in the museum, their faces revealing a range of emotions: fear and despair, but also courage and hope. I was confounded yet again by humanity's ability to be cruel and shortsighted, while lost in the faces of those who were just like me.
It's in this place where this group of work began, Gabriel's song providing the catalyst to bring it out of me.

Today we live in a world that is dominated by small but powerful groups, a world that is generally indifferent to our individual needs. Individual thought is diminished for the sake of a marketable contrivance, all the while "we" champion the individual whose action best underscores the superficiality of it all. Invariably, the powerful groups are elevated by the noise, noise that may have some grounding in reality but is largely fabricated. Truth begins to share common ground with fantasy, until it is necessarily pushed to the side.

And to the individual for whom the truth is a fundamental value, particularly in a world where one becomes separated from those who are like-minded, it can feel like the image of the ideal is being lost, overwhelmed by the noise of a seemingly ever-growing majority whose words and deeds no longer make sense.

It will require an internal strength, resilience and hope, to carry us through, to find a way, to make a start.

Reymond Pagé

The Way That Things Go
6 by 6"

What You Fight For
6 by 6"

That Fuzzy Picture
6 by 6"

The genesis of these three images lies in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. The power that emanated from these faces, or maybe the emotion that they evoked, was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. I couldn't imagine what these people faced. Having spent a lifetime building up their lives, in the blink of an eye it all came apart. What they had fought for, worked for, all leading to a point in time when there was nothing they could do against a tide of paranoia and cruelty, and everything came apart. A great deal of uncertainty in a very certain future.

The ink drawings over top of the portraits are culled from my photographs of the old Khmer Empire of Angkor that ruled the area a thousand years ago. A doorway, a Bayon face, a window, each with their own structure and symbology. While ancient Angkor was a magnificent city, purportedly the largest pre-industrial city in the world, I have little doubt that the crimes against 20th century Cambodians occurred in the pre-industrial era as well. But there is something about our existence that finds itself imbued in our history, and in our societies. As we walked around modern day Phnom Penh, it was as though I could feel the eyes of each of the victims of the Khmer Rouge purge. That despite the means of their deaths, they still held sway over the city. Despite the fact that the atrocities had happened barely more than a generation earlier, a sense of calm conviction seemed to penetrate the entire city.

In This Place
24 by 18"
Water soluble graphite

In This Place comes from a photograph that I took in Rabat, Morocco in 2018. Just steps from our comfortable hotel on Avenue Laalou, this building still stood, despite what seemed as obvious efforts not to do so. A face is superimposed over the plaster as a reminder of all those whose actions, for better or worse, make modern Morocco what it is today.

Can You Reassure Me
18 by 24"
Water soluble graphite

Can You Reassure Me is a water soluble graphite depiction of a tiny portion of a photo I took from a bus heading south out of Kolkata, India. There were no two windows alike on the entire face of this building, yet behind each one lived a family who could perhaps always escape to this humble home, to be comforted by a loved one, while the world outside raged.

World is Turning to Noise
18 by 24"
Water soluble graphite

I spoke at length with a friend after I finished this piece (a Winnipeg window in the Exchange) last year, about all the possible meanings of this piece, of each individual brick and the broken panes of glass. One of the big refrains to come out of this pandemic is, "We're all in this together." It seems to me that those are the words spoken by people who are doing just fine and will likely come out of these days better off than ever before. We are all bricks in this economy, clinging to the central core of a broken system. And broken systems/societies don't do a particularly good job of creating unbroken people or nurturing the broken ones. But we soldier on, doing our part to hold everything together while the world around us does its thing.

Surrounding Us
18 by 24"
Water soluble graphite

We spent some time on Chios Island a number of years ago, choosing Chios as it was quiet and uncrowded. The village of Volissos is small, half built up and half broken down. There is so much beauty in the unkempt, as it is a reflection of a life lived, all the experiences hammered into the surface but surely impacting the internal. It's surrounding us, and it's relentless.

Losing Sound and Sight
18 by 24"
Oil on board

Wrong From Right
20 by 15"
Mixed media

This is the part of the song that really hit me, where this idea really coalesced in my head. How our thoughts are powerful and how the people around us can help us to envision the world as a better place simply through their goodness. But when things are not right, when the world seems to be actively trying to make things worse and we are separated from that community of people who see a kinder and more thoughtful place, it can feel like something is drifting from the central values that got us this far. Two fine Winnipeg people, superimposed with two Winnipeg spaces.

All Things Beautiful and Bright
18 by 24"
Oil on board

While Rabat's glory days are definitely not behind her (it is the modern day capital of Morocco after all, and capital cities generally put on their best face), in some places it can certainly feel that way. Building facades that were at one time a sight to behold, now sit in half-ruin. The colour is still there, the memories for many likely remain, but sometimes the beautiful things are sinking, seemingly unopposed.

Something in My Heart
18 by 24"
Mixed media

Make a Start
15 by 20"
Water soluble graphite

Netflix, Amazon, computers, gaming, 24-hour news channels that focus on the immediate moment, but not so much the underlying realities. Nearly five billion mobile phone users on the planet, and almost four billion of those are smart phone users. Billions of game downloads. It's pretty easy to be unaware of all the chaos going on around us, as the modern world is fully equipped for us to do just that. We can try to buy our way above the chaos, live vicariously to try to escape it, or virtually in an attempt to ignore it. I'm of the belief, some days at least, that there are extraordinary things all around us. Little bursts of light that deliver a bit of hopefulness in the face of despair. Hope and imagination are a bit like sports, in that the more we practice them, the easier it becomes to execute the fundamentals. The more we look for hope, the more we will find it. And the more we imagine a better world, the better our world will become. I have always wondered what our world could look like if we spent more time on peace than on war. More time on equality than on self-aggrandizement. More time on celebrating our similarities than on insults over our differences. More time on listening than on crushing our enemies.

I see so much hope in that little sailboat.

“Turn up the signal, wipe out the noise.

Receive and transmit.”

As with all art, there are multiple ways to interpret these pieces. And frankly, if I were to start writing this up again next month (maybe even next week), I could quite easily take this somewhere else. But for the time being, this is what it is. It's about finding hope in trying times, maybe even elevating ourselves above the chaos without ignoring it. Or better yet, taking action.


Lyrics to Signal to Noise

you know that way that things go

when what you fight for starts to fall

and in that fuzzy picture

the writing stands out on the wall

so clearly on the wall

send out the signals

deep and loud

and in this place

can you reassure me

with a touch a smile

while the cradle’s burning

all the while the world is turning to noise

oh the more that it’s surrounding us

the more that it destroys

turn up the signal

wipe out the noise

send out the signals

deep and loud

man i’m losing sound and sight

of all those who can tell me wrong from right

when all things beautiful and bright

sink in the night

yet there’s still something in my heart

that can find a way

to make a start

to turn on the signal

wipe out the noise

wipe out the noise

you know that’s it 

receive and transmit 

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