Lung Capacity: Andrew McPhail, Vincent Chevalier and Lisa Lipton


Andrew McPhail: Sorry, 2009, installation view, 2011: Images courtesy the artists. Photo: ARTSPACE, Peterborough.Andrew McPhail: Sorry, 2009, installation view, 2011: Images courtesy the artists. Photo: ARTSPACE, Peterborough.

By April Steele

Lung Capacity: Andrew McPhail, Vincent Chevalier, Lisa Lipton
To November 5, 2011

Lung Capacity features the work of Andrew McPhail, Vincent Chevalier and Lisa Lipton, three Canadian artists looking at contemporary approaches to the themes of identity, disclosure and mortality.

McPhail’s three text-based works, single words written with a variety of dollar store finds, explore both his HIV-positive status and his own sexual identity. Poof, from his 429 synonyms for homosexual series, is crafted from cheap blonde hair extensions; Sissy is created with shiny silver party decorations and other plastic jetsam; and Sorry is scrawled in black latex gloves. The words, trailing to the ground and culminating in a string of unshaped material, are earnest, moving and filled with pathos. The artifice of the materials used stands in stark juxtaposition to the gravitas of his subject; the hairpieces and tinsel all shine a little too brightly, and the gloves hang darkly and limply, markedly devoid of human presence. The works are beautiful, luminous, stark and inescapably tragic.

Vincent Chevalier: So… when did you figure out you had AIDS?, 2010: Video still.Vincent Chevalier: So… when did you figure out you had AIDS?, 2010: Video still.Chevalier’s single work, So... when did you figure out you had AIDS? is a piece of found home video footage of a mock television talk show created by the artist and a friend in 1996, when Chevalier was thirteen. In the talk show, Chevalier plays the character of a man dying from AIDS. In reality, Chevalier would be diagnosed with AIDS six years later. The nature of the found footage lends incredible complexity to the work. In the video, the host, a teenaged girl, begins by stating, “Today’s show is going to be very serious. So don’t laugh, don’t pee your pants, or don’t run around naked. ’Cause it ain’t funny.” Chevalier, as ‘Kamni Chooputchi’, a man dying from AIDS, wears a disheveled fluorescent yellow clown’s wig (he later explains that he has lost his beautiful hair). Chooputchi confides that he found out he had AIDS after he went to the doctor for a severe case of the hiccups, and that he also caught cancer from having HIV. He oscillates rapidly between periods of facetious cheeriness, bouts of coughing, frantic giggling and crying, “I don’t want to die! Please, don’t let me die!” At the end of the video, the screen suddenly goes blank. The camera cuts to the host who announces dramatically, “He just died. From AIDS. That could happen to anybody.” Chooputchi, lying dead on the couch, pops up suddenly with a burst of maniacal laughter.

Lisa Lipton: You Can Take My Bicycle, 2010, installation detail: Photo: ARTSPACE, Peterborough.Lisa Lipton: You Can Take My Bicycle, 2010, installation detail: Photo: ARTSPACE, Peterborough.The acting is overwrought, over-dramatized, confusing and, discomfortingly, deeply humourous. The viewer is unsure how to simultaneously process the seriousness of the topic and the darkly surreal humour of the children’s production. By presenting this found footage as part a gallery show, Chevalier makes a further point about privacy and disclosure. In the context of the exhibition, the piece, originally the spontaneous work of a childhood rainy day, becomes shockingly real and laden with conflicting emotions.

Halifax artist Lisa Lipton’s interactive installation, You Can Take my Bicycle, comprised of a hand-knit ‘grandfather suit’, stationary bike and two video projections, presents questions surrounding aging, death, anxiety and loss; particularly, the acceptance of mortality in old age and the realities of the physical body’s eventual failure. The viewer is intended to experience the work by wearing the knitted grandfather suit while pedaling the bike, which powers the two projections as well as a ring of knitted red roses that rotate around the base of the bike. The projections, one a haunting operatic performance; the other, the backlit outline of a rose, are meant to stand in as projected memories recalled during the last moments of life. Every component of the piece is cyclical in some way  the videos loop, the roses turn, the pedals spin – evoking the fragile, interconnected cycles of life. By placing the viewer in the work and providing him with the apparatus of age, Lipton affords a brief opportunity to experience the inevitable necessity of contemplating one’s own mortality.

April SteeleApril Steele is an emerging independent curator and writer currently based in Toronto. She holds an MA in Art History from the University of Toronto. Recently curated exhibitions include Liminal Place at Artspace, Peterborough; and Maidens, Spindles, and Mothers-of-all at Forest City Gallery, London.