Op­u­lence, pub­lic spa­ces, and pas­tel colours

“We, ‘Other’” de­con­structs Ro­coco and Baroque with con­tem­po­rary touch

The McGill Daily - - Culture - Camille Queen Cul­ture Writer

“We, ‘ Other’” was held at the POPOP gallery from March 8 to March 18, as part of Art Mat­ters 2016, a stu­dent-run fes­ti­val show­cas­ing Con­cor­dia artists. The theme of the show was in­spired by the French his­to­rian and crit­i­cal the­o­rist Michel Fou­cault’s words, “We other Vic­to­ri­ans.” In “We, ‘Other’,” cu­ra­tor Miles Pe­trella con­structs a space in which the artis­tic tra­di­tions and themes from the Ro­coco and late Baroque pe­ri­ods of vis­ual art are in con­ver­sa­tion with the au­di­ence, the modern “Other.” The au­di­ence, the artists, and the art­work are a syn­the­sis of late 18th and 19th cen­tury aes­thetic ideals of deca­dence, ma­te­ri­al­ism, and lux­ury – all put into a modern con­tem­po­rary con­text.

Pe­trella chose pieces that de­pict the time pe­riod in a way that prompt modern un­der­stand­ings of those art­works. In an in­ter­view with The Daily, Pe­trella said, “To me, all the pieces have some­thing sig­ni­fy­ing op­u­lence, deca­dence, or taste-lev­els and have a sex­u­al­ity com­po­nent to them too.” The layer of con­tem­po­rane­ity was then laid over the pieces as they were sit­u­ated in de­cid­edly modern and post­mod­ern con­texts.

“We, ‘Other’” is in­fused with the vis­ual echoes of 18th and 19th cen­tury art. Pas­tel colours, rem­i­nis­cent of the idyl­lic gar­den scenes char­ac­ter­is­tic of the Ro­coco era re­peat­edly ap­pear through­out the ex­hibit, and one of the walls of the gallery is painted a bright pas­tel pink. The pieces that com­prise the show are di­verse in style, sub­ject mat­ter, me­dia, and de­gree of nat­u­ral­ism. The show in­cludes and dis­plays this di­ver­sity un­der an um­brella of shared qual­i­ties; “We, ‘Other’” as a whole does not pro­fess a spe­cific cri­tique, but rather al­lows the pieces to speak for them­selves and their own man­i­fes­ta­tions of op­u­lence, deca­dence, and sex­u­al­ity.

One of the cen­tral themes of the ex­hibit is the por­trayal of the hu­man body as sub­ject mat­ter, a fre­quent theme found in much of Baroque and Ro­coco art. Brent Mor­ley Smith’s Shag is a bril­liant piece of tex­tile work de­pict­ing a young man with an Ado­nis-like physique in the midst of mas­tur­bat­ing with­out any seem­ing aware­ness – or care – of the au­di­ence’s ob­ser­va­tion. The mus­cu­la­ture and clas­si­cal flaw­less­ness of the fig­ure as well as the deca­dence of its rich fibers cer­tainly speak to the fig­ure’s ded­i­ca­tion to op­u­lence. A Mcgill stu­dent who at­tended the ex­hibit de­scribed the piece as “beau­ti­ful, but I wouldn’t hang it in my liv­ing room.”

Works vary­ing in me­dia adorn the room, but not ev­ery piece makes the link be­tween the present and the past ex­plicit or worth ex­plor­ing. One such art­work is Mon­ica Rekas’s XXX Source Footage, which is stead­fastly modern by virtue of be­ing in the form of video. Dizzy­ing geo­met­ric squares are or­ga­nized by cat­e­gories of fetishes. In the de­scrip­tion of the video, Rekas states that the piece’s goal is to “ex­plore the cu­ri­ous irony of our pri­vate-pub­lic sex lives.” Although im­pres­sive and provoca­tive, XXX Source Footage does not sug­gest an ob­vi­ous link to the 18th and 19th cen­tury art that the show aims to con­nect with in its greater theme, aside from the shared mo­tif of sex­u­al­ity.

Ex­plor­ing the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the fe­male body in art through­out time, Cindy Phenix’s trip­tych Play With Me 1,2,3 de­picts the in­va­sion of women’s spa­ces and the trans­for­ma­tion of their bod­ies into an ob­ject of the pub­lic gaze. Soft pas­tel colours are present, but it’s the faces of the women that draw at­ten­tion – they are il­lus­trated with huge black eyes, mas­sive lips and bushy eye­brows. One of the paint­ings de­picts a wo­man hold­ing her hands out in a “stop!”

In a crit­i­cal and flex­i­ble man­ner, “We, ‘ Other’” com­bines the themes typ­i­cal to 18th and 19th cen­tury art­work with modern in­ter­pre­ta­tions, thus de­con­struct­ing and dis­man­tling “Other” as sex­ual mores. Hint­ing to au­di­ence why art in­deed mat­ters, the ex­hibit de­vel­ops a bal­ance of styles, artists, me­dia and tones that en­gage with the viewer on his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant is­sues, all through a con­tem­po­rary lens.

The au­di­ence, the artists, and the at­work are a syn­the­sis of late 18th and 19th cen­tury aes­thetic ideals of deca­dence, ma­te­ri­al­ism, and lux­ury – all put into a modern con­tem­po­rary con­text.

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