The Dazzle


Joe Becker: Sloth head (2010), oil on linen: Images courtesy Narwhal Art Projects, Toronto.Joe Becker: Sloth head (2010), oil on linen: Images courtesy Narwhal Art Projects, Toronto.

By Carolyn Tripp

The Dazzle
Narwhal Art Projects
Sept. 9 – Oct. 17, 2010

The Wunderkammer (or Kunstkammer) is one of the earliest manifestations of the idea of a curatorial vision. Before the advent of publicly accessible museums, these “Cabinets of Wonders” made history available through the images and objects displayed. These objects were often a smorgasbord of natural history, geology, and small cabinet-sized paintings. As a result, these collections were also used for propaganda, and their contents were sometimes faked, such as horns being affixed to the heads of taxidermy horses.

Jamiyla Lowe: Bear (2010): ink on board.Jamiyla Lowe: Bear (2010): ink on board.These wonderful collections, most popular during the 1500s through the 1700s, also displayed disjointed political visions, sometimes embodying a freak-show mentality that later influenced traveling-circus culture. Wunderkammers were a way of displaying, and perhaps controlling, certain political or social issues that concerned the curators or collectors, providing them with some kind of comfort when faced with the unknown.

The Dazzle, a group show, was based on the idea of the Wunderkammer, and brought together over 25 artists who deal in delightful oddities and work across different media. Graham Stephen Appelby-Barr paints, in a meticulous style that aligns his work with cabinet paintings, fictitious characters who still feel familiar. In Deeble (all works 2010), Appelby-Barr depicts a well-dressed gentleman with a white shroud over his head. With glasses on top of the shroud, the character has the air of a dignified ghost or somebody living with an incurable disease.

Furthering delight are the many pieces that portray the aforementioned freak show. Here, that world is portrayed in the colourful, hairy-faced creatures of Joe Becker’s oil paintings. His works bring to mind Maurice Sendak’s story, Where The Wild Things Are, but with even more mysticism and solitude attached.

Jamiyla Lowe’s delicately rendered black ink drawings Bear and Bike Gang conjure up a more recent freakish past, one in which animals walk on their hind legs and people can bend themselves in the most unholy manner. The figures in Bike Gang bring to mind the contortionist talents of the Ross Sisters, who melded Broadway-style singing with incredible acrobatic talent in the 1940s.

The Dazzle stays true to its Wunderkammer predecessors by bringing together a wonderful collection of things and by staying bound to an intriguingly dual history.

Carolyn TrippCarolyn Tripp is a Toronto-based artist and writer whose work has been featured at the Contact Photography Festival (Contacting Toronto), the Gladstone Hotel (upArt), the Centre for Culture and Leisure No. 1 and the Toronto Urban Film Festival. She has been published in Eye Weekly, Broken Pencil, and Spacing and C Magazines.