The Plot: Keren Cytter, Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, Isabelle Pauwels

Toronto

Keren Cytter: Avalanche (2010). Installation view of The Plot at the Power Plant, 2011: Photos: Toni Hafkenscheid.Keren Cytter: Avalanche (2010). Installation view of The Plot at the Power Plant, 2011: Photos: Toni Hafkenscheid.

By Sky Goodden

The Plot
The Power Plant
To November 6, 2011

Video has been a dominant medium in the visual arts for more than four decades, and the reasons for this beguile me. It’s cheap, yes. It lends itself to the post-modern tropes of appropriation, montage and self-reflexivity. But, it strikes me as being a particularly modern medium in its nearly intrinsic mandate for narrative. Video begins, it plays out, it ends. In its temporal structure—not to mention the medium’s limiting potential for inventive and associative display—its frame seems bound to another era’s concerns.

Which is why Melanie O’Brian’s inaugural exhibition as curator of the Power Plant, titled The Plot, sets a compelling premise. Focusing on three artists/collaborators, this manageable collection of video and film—just four works—engages in the very issue of narrative, and the possibilities for both its subversion and its success—despite itself—within the limits of the frame.

Isabel Pauwels: Eddie (2005) and W.E.S.T.E.R.N. (2010): Installation view of The Plot at the Power Plant, 2011.Isabel Pauwels: Eddie (2005) and W.E.S.T.E.R.N. (2010): Installation view of The Plot at the Power Plant, 2011.Artists Keren Cytter, Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, and Isabelle Pauwels’ press play in the Harbourfront institution’s main space, engage in installation as much as projection. Vancouver-based Pauwels opens the exhibition with an inviting yet obstructive installation that instructively houses her two video works, W.E.S.T.E.R.N. (2010) and Eddie (2005), in very different manners. A smart wooden construction, bent like a listening ear (and, in places, sheathed like a Congo hut), at once distances us from Pauwels’ unnerving family-archive video, W.E.S.T.E.R.N., while inviting us into an intimate exchange with the narratively interrogative Eddie. With the former, Pauwels’ crudely-built installation positions the viewer on the outside, forcing us to peer through its slats. Evoking the shutter, the frame and the lens, Pauwels also reminds us of the intrinsic distance that lies between ourselves and our subject, and her medium and its focus. We look in as her mother describes their ancestral memorabilia; archival footage of the family’s history in the Congo interrupts with an audible click-click-click. Humour is present (the camera inverts its subject shortly after Pauwels’ mother misnames the wrong end of an end-table), but so too is that painful, ineffable space that separates us from our parents, and them from theirs, and the stories we’ll never inhabit between the two.

Eddie pulls us into the other end of this labyrinthine bivouac, this time sitting us down. But Pauwels’ intimacy errs on the side of didacticism, with the artist peering through the video screen at us and saying, “You want me to entertain you … but what you really want is for me to con you … so I’m going to tell you a story.” (We get it.) But luckily, an element of nuance remains, with Pauwels, taking a page from Ian Wallace, barring a white strip of the screen, the visual equivalent of omission.

Belgian partners de Gruyter and Thys present a large-scale video projection, Das Loch (2010)—‘the hole’—that portrays cheaply-shot, strangely-made basement mannequins describing their art practices (in German, translated); this is eerie and this is funny, and it nicely invigorates still-image frames (mannequins don’t activate the screen much, after all) with their subjects’ moving narratives.

Finally, in a room apart, Berlin-based Cytter presents a four-channel film installation, Avalanche (2010), the films presented here for the first time together. Each wall screens a projected, disjointed narrative, while at the centre sits a cubic bench. Depending on the screen you face and your position on this seat, a tinny audio track whistles down from above, distant and persistent, like a fly headed for your ear. Characters are slightly out of synch with their dialogue, the acting is bad, and lines, like poetry, are traded among the subjects and recur, as in a dream, elsewhere, later. The narratives are separate and the same, complex and yet parabolic. This is jazz. A story is in there, but the notes scatter, and the ear can’t lean. Narrative, here, and in The Plot as a whole, comes pleasantly undone.

Sky GooddenSky Goodden is a Toronto-based art writer, editor and curator. She is the Co-Editor of the contemporary culture publication, ONE HOUR EMPIRE, and was the 2010 Editorial Resident at Canadian Art. Currently, she holds the title of Publications Coordinator for the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, while continuing to write for Canadian Art, C Magazine and others. She is currently writing a book on artist residencies tentatively titled A Floating Academy: Artist Residencies in Contemporary Art.