Sharon Switzer at Corkin Gallery
Until April 24, Building 61, 55 Mill St., Toronto; corkingallery.com
Sharon Switzer’s exquisite new video and digital print exhibition, Nearly Present, fills the lower hall of the Corkin Gallery with spectral, transient visions, spacey energy waves, a fleeting, incantatory visual hum, and no small amount of disco-ball glam. That’s a lot of punch from four flat screens and five framed prints.
I don’t pretend to fully understand the highly specialized, laptop mechanics behind Switzer’s creations, so I’ll let her explain them herself:
“I work with software that processes images over time. Within that, I work with an effect that’s called particle effect. All that really means is that the effect shoots out little white dots, or particles, that can look like circles or little streaks, and after that, there are about two hundred different options that I have for deciding how those dots look, how they move over time, how they react, in this made up physical space.”
“This is software that people use in movies and TV shows, to create fake snow or smoke. But I don’t want to do that commercial look.”
“The videos always start with a stream, something that kind of moves in a straight line, or a sphere. Then I move the particles around the stream or the sphere. Then I go back and forth and change everything.”
However complex the process, Switzer’s final results will give even the most digitally illiterate plenty to fall into, or be transported by, or both.
The videos are, naturally, the most immediately eye-catching, because the animations contained in them move with a markedly febrile energy (despite how calculated each pixel might be by the artist).
In constant motion, the near-white on black animations simultaneously expand and self-enfold, over and over, in manic loops that replicate a psychological state close to that created by meditation; wherein one feels wholly attentive to internal cognitive ticks and the never-still external world.
Conversely, and contradictorily, the looping patterns, upon second or third viewing, become reliable, their patterns recognizable, and the ability to predict where and how the animations will change soon creates in the viewer a comforting, placidity-inducing sense of stasis. Thus, the world before the viewer, (or, rather, a world, in miniature) unfolds as confidently, and naturally, as rain falls to earth or leaves bend to the wind.
The digital prints offer a very different set of responses. Although they appear to be based on captured moments from the animations, Switzer informs me that while related, in shape or movement, to the animations, the prints are generated independently, to allow for much higher resolutions and far more printing options than would be available from a culled still.
Furthermore, Switzer layers deeper colours into the prints – warm golds and bright, cool silvers, flannel greys plus the odd, swampy green – and manipulates the hotness, a.k.a. the light intensity, of the white (well, not quite white, as pure white would be rather eye-blistering) particles.
Technical issues aside, the prints allow us to examine in depth images that are too quick, too transcendent, to hold onto when they are part of the dizzying proceedings spiralling on the screens. It’s like looking at a thunderstorm in stop motion, or a drop of blood under a microscope – individual particles pop out, like diamonds spread out on black felt, while undulating waves, halted in mid-crest, form cake-icing curlicues, and lines that breathe for mere half seconds while animated become tapestry threads, cat-gut harp strings, abandoned spiders’ webs.
Part of the fun of this exhibition is playing free-association games (if only the Corkin Gallery would provide a comfy Freudian couch to lay back on); matching and mixing, or mashing, your own readings of the forms with fellow visitors.
An animation I read as replicating the waves and pockets produced by wafting cigarette smoke reminded Switzer of a spinal column X-ray. An image of a pocked sphere imploding and reforming made me think of solar flares, wormholes, and the life span of soap bubbles, but for another visitor it triggered thoughts of corpuscles, bacterial attacks and spores.
Matt Bahen at LE Gallery
Until March 31, 1183 Dundas St. W., Toronto; le-gallery.ca
Today is your last chance to see Matt Bahen’s equally particle-infused oils on canvas at LE gallery. But I rather doubt it will be your last chance to catch this rising star.
Imbedded in a series of bread-dough-thick paintings of abandoned interiors – abandoned, but lush with decayed glory, peeling paint and rainy Gothic splendour – is a kind of story-book narrative detailing the lives of feral dogs, mutts who fight, love, and ponder the universe (as only dogs can) while camped out inside ruined domestic spaces.
Once members of another kind of pack, one that included humans who provided warm blankets and bowls of kibble, these beautiful but misplaced creatures now seek to recreate their once comfortable lives while battling both their formerly dormant, now dominant wildness as well as their new homes’ inevitable return to rude organic matter.
Bahen conveys this melancholy status decline, this fall from grace, with a fecund painting style that emphasizes robust brushwork, unaffected, free-range materiality, muscular gobs and dainty daubs … but also with a keen and balancing (dare I say dog-like?) sense of when to still his brushes, to lay flat and luxuriate in the clean, clear noon light.
In other venues
Lauren Poon at the Gladstone Hotel
Until April 10, 1214 Queen St. W., Toronto
Taking a lowly corner of the Don River Valley as her inspiration, Poon offers a series of proposals, lovingly crafted in pen and ink, for useful structures – such as a public toilet and a footbridge. This is how cities are built, by smart people.
Joseph Drapell at Lausberg Contemporary
Until April 29, 326 Dundas St. W., Toronto
Drapell’s grooved paintings look like slices of tree trunk, or vinyl records melted and stretched. That is, if trees grew on Venus and records were played on Jupiter.
Onya Hogan-Finlay at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives
Until April 10, 34 Isabella St., Toronto
Blending her own cheeky multiples and sharp collage with the archive’s treasure trove of lesbian content, Hogan-Finaly reclaims space for lesbians within (and without) a barrage of gay male market-driven content. Good not-so-clean fun!