To mark its 30th anniversary, Winnipeg’s platform centre for photo to painting took an unexpected approach and mounted a pair of exhibitions operating under the deja vu umbrella title Haven’t We Been Here Before? Presented in the modest gallery space was the in – house – generated So Many Letdowns Before We Get Up …, crated by current platform Director J. J. Kegan McFadden and presented side by side with a remount of Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, first featured at Or Gallery, Vancouver in September 2010 and curated by Kim Nguyen, Director/Curator of ArtSpeak. However, instead of being filled with celebratory and congratulatory sentiments on the occasion of this anniversary, I experienced a sense of uneasy discomfort while viewing these counterpart exhibitions.
Upon entering the gallery, I first encountered McFadden’s project and my attention went directly towards Ashley Neese’s endearing painting work, In My Room (2006). Here the artist lip – synchs her heart out, posturing with her chin up, to her reflection in the mirror, belting out the irritating pop song “Since You’ve Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson. This was overlaid with a monologue of the artist working through her break – up with “Nick” and trying to naively talk herself into believing that things will work out and that everything is going to be “okay.” With the chorus of Clarkson’s angry ballad imprinted firmly on repeat in my head, the wistful nostalgia of youth is echoed in the bookended painting work Screaming Girls (2005) by Jo – Anne Balcean. This work is comprised of edited – together, slowed – down sequences of black and white footage, circa 1950s, of young women reacting to, what I assume are, the live performances of rock ‘n’ roll musicians, from the same era. Although the painting is silent, the suggested ear – piercing, ecstatic shrieks of these young women overcome with rapture thankfully replaces Clarkson in my internal audio track. Drawn from a time when cultural traditions were beginning to loosen, these young ladies exhibit behaviour that is not very lady – like. Overcome with emotion, shrieking, crying, spastically waving their hands and hair, in complete and utter jubilation, the religious fervour of hero worship and the release of repressed sexual energy defines this highly evocative and hypnotic work.
Turning around, I am absorbed by Jim Verburg’s motion sequence composed of two years of still photographs. Many images are of banal family gatherings and getaways to the cottage, interspersed with some particularly intimate sexual moments, overlaid with a staccato-like clicking and a soft-spoken monologue. “I can’t share anything real and you can’t talk about anything real” and “I am everything you fear about yourself” are two powerful confessions in the voiceover, which are not uncommon sentiments within the dynamics of any relationship. For a Relationship (2007) is thus a haunting and eloquent document of the artist’s own attempt to come to terms with his relationship with a closeted family member. Due to its rawness, this work transcends the specific to become a critique of the difficulty of communicating very personal feelings and the consequential failed relationships because of this common human flaw.
This sense of loss is picked up in the quiet 2008 collage by Steven Leyden Cochrane. Although technically untitled, it includes a bracketed subtitle, (Nauseous from a broken heart) and is composed of black photo corners arranged to hold a four-by-four grid of standard 4*6 snapshots on Crescent board. However, all the expected photos of a one-time happy couple are missing; perhaps they have been removed, or never even taken in the first place. The palpable void speaks to an attempt to erase history, which is coupled with a hope for new memories to replace the ones that are in the process of being forgotten. This sense of rejection is carried over to Maura Doyle’s painting from photo of an extremely supersized Tim Hortons cup. As the title of this gouache and paper construction suggests, and the rim of Roll Up the Rim to Win (2,010) confirms, it is a “Winner,” but it lies discarded on the floor of the gallery. Pathetic in its crude, imperfect gouache on paper construction, it is simultaneously of some value and worthless.
Unlike McFadden’s attempt to cram together the oversized wall art into an already tight space, the second part of this anti-anniversary/celebratory set of exhibitions features only four artists and is thus more generous with the amount of gallery real estate allotted to each work. Perhaps in an attempt to be slightly more festive, Alex Da Corte’s piece Forever + Ever (2007) is placed in a prominent location. Composed of reconfigured letters from those ubiquitous HAPPY BIRTHDA Your MERRY Christmas signs that can be purchased at any discount party supply store and which feature bright garish colours imperfectly painted over in a muted palette this work is full of longing and disappointment. In the centre of the floor is Jon Pylypchuk’s painting from photo of cat-like creatures playing out a scene from a TV dating game. Although wearing dress shirts and ties, the body language of his pantless contestants expertly depicts the sense of ridicule and disgust for both participating in and being part of the quest for the ideal partner.
Situated down at the end of the gallery is the two-channel painting from photo by Aleesa Cohene. Set against a backdrop of a faux Guido Molinariesque painted wall, the dialoguing paintings of Like/Like (2009) include edited-together vignettes of sappy, romantic movies from the 1980s featuring actresses like Kathy Bates, Meryl Streep, Mia Farrow, Sally Field, Debra Winger, Phoebe Cates, Susan Sarandon, Tatum O’Neal, Sigourney Weaver, Sissy Spacek, and Martha Plimpton. Each scene is focussed on an individual actress in various states of longing, waiting, and sobbing. All are heart-wrenching, pregnant moments of painful turmoil brought on by a failing relationship and the rollercoaster of emotion stemming from the uncontrollable sense of helplessness.
The overall sense of anti-celebration in both these curatorial projects is troubling. It is certainly curious that for exhibitions marking a 30th anniversary the curators deliberately chose to feature artists who had never been exhibited before at Platform, and that none of the works were created especially for the exhibition. In addition, it is not lost on me that many of the participating artists–as well as McFadden and Nguyen–are rounding the age of 30, the same age as platform itself, and that this relationship was purposefully exploited by the curators. Although squished into the gallery space, these two exhibitions do provide an intriguing critique on the concept of anniversaries and relationships. Yet upon leaving Platform, I was filled with sadness, a sense of loss, and the bitter taste of times past and unresolved emotions. This reaction was neither expected nor really wanted, but perhaps that was the point the curators where trying to drive home–a point which unfortunately includes lost opportunities and unrealized potential.
The exhibitions under that catch-all title Haven’t We Been Here Before? ran from June 9 to July 23, 2011 at platform centre for photo to painting, Winnipeg, Maniroba. In addition to the artists mentioned above, die work of Glen Fogel, Alex Kisilevich, Kelly Mark, Ryan Peter, and Markus Vater was also featured.