Stephen Waddell

Toronto

Stephen Waddell: Wrestlers (2010): 244 x 301cm (96 x 119 inches), archival inkjet print. Images courtesy Monte Clark Gallery, Toronto and Vancouver.Stephen Waddell: Wrestlers (2010): 244 x 301cm (96 x 119 inches), archival inkjet print. Images courtesy Monte Clark Gallery, Toronto and Vancouver.

By Vanessa Nicholas

Stephen Waddell
Monte Clark Gallery
February 10 - March 20, 2011

Stephen Waddell’s suite of new large-scale, colour photographs takes a focused look at the intersection between place, memory and time.

Waddell’s new photographs frame happenings on the streets of Berlin and Vancouver. The works exist in the undefined territory between document and art, and thus invites the viewer to consider their contextual frameworks. Waddell has long worked between the two cities. The artist’s personal attachment to these city’s subjects explains in part the intimate, still and contemplative nature of the images; however, it’s likely that Waddell’s aesthetic is more meaningfully informed by the artificial ahistorical identities of both locales.

Senior Vancouver-based photographer Ian Wallace has said that Vancouver appeals to artists because it is “a vacuum to fill, a tabula rasa”. This masculine, colonial perspective enables Wallace and his contemporaries to imagine themselves as pioneers. Berlin is a different kind of blank slate, one that is heavy with recent history. Indeed, Berlin’s newness is a survival mechanism, an attempt to lift the burdensome weight of memory. While neither city can claim to be without a past, both look stubbornly ahead and take comfort in the now.

Stephen Waddell: Woman at Table (2009): 76 x 95cm (30 x 37 inches), archival inkjet print.Stephen Waddell: Woman at Table (2009): 76 x 95cm (30 x 37 inches), archival inkjet print.Waddell’s images reveal an interest in the immovable present, caught forever between the past and the future. In Arbutus Corridor (all works 2009-10), a girl walks away from the camera’s lens along a stretch of abandoned Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) track. The CPR is a loaded symbol on the West Coast because, while the historic rail corridor enabled Vancouver’s growth in the 19th Century, its construction relied on de facto slavery. The girl’s turned back could be read as a comment on the city’s selective memory, which doubles as willing blindness (according to the outspoken critics of Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics).

Sport features prominently in Wrestlers, which was shot at a Mongolian wrestling match outside the Altes Museum in Berlin. The crowd circles around two men whose bodies are locked in struggle. The athletes’ feet are firmly planted in the ground and there is only a faint sense of impending climax. Stilled forever for the camera lens, the athletes’ static pose represents the permanence of the present tense. In the background, Berlin’s museum of antiquities faintly glows with neon lights and bald bulbs – a clichéd spectacle of the gap between the city’s dark past and its imagined future.

In Kurfurstendam 225, an elderly woman leans against a doorframe. Like the girl on the train tracks and the wrestlers on the lawn, this woman represents the purgatory of the present. Assuming that she is native to Berlin, we can imagine her tumultuous past: Nazi rule, the Battle for Berlin, the blockade and the Cold War, and the fall of the wall. Her gaze extends beyond the right-hand border of the photograph, in the direction that our eyes read. Naturally we ask: “What is written there?”

Linear time is largely accepted as an imagined concept, necessary for societal organization. Waddell alludes to the elasticity of time in Universal Man, which is a collage of photographed moments. Some physicists claim that every experienced moment is a permanent fixture of the universe. In other words, on some plane of time and space you have always, and will always, be reading these words. Waddell’s layered image presents us with a visual interpretation of infinity and begs us to reconsider our imagined place in the cosmos.

Vanessa NicholasVanessa Nicholas has an MA History of Art degree from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, UK. Since 2007, she has worked for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Tate Britain, Stuart Shave/Modern Art and the Canada Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale. Vanessa now works in Toronto at Canadian Art magazine, The Power Plant and OCAD University. She blogs at blogthegood.tumblr.com and is co-editing an anthology of essays and art works related to gallery attending.