XXXX (Polina Tief): Interval (2011): Video still. Images courtesy the artists and Red Head Gallery, Toronto.XXXX (Polina Teif): Interval (2011): Video still. Images courtesy the artists and Red Head Gallery, Toronto.

By Ellyn Walker

Red Head Gallery
August 10 – 20, 2011

Case History is the debut exhibition of the Toronto-based artist collective XXXX, which consists of four emerging female artists: Shannon Garden-Smith, Emily Smit-Dicks, Corrie Jackson and Polina Teif. Their work explores themes of nostalgia, serialization and representation. The artists’ diverse practices merge with their shared interest in documentation as a means of mediation between past and present modes of representation. With Case History, their investigation of archived moments in time works to mediate history and its relevance to the contemporary moment through each artist’s individual act of intervention.

Upon entering the gallery, one first sees hanging textiles by Garden-Smith that enliven the space by wavering back and forth when visitors’ move around them. Five articles of clothing are suspended by invisible strings at body-level and appear to be floating in the space. Their suspension is instrumental to their display, as it enables viewers to peer inside the clothing where vintage photographs of women dressed in white have been transferred onto their faded surfaces. This transference evokes a history of inhabitation by its wearers, and speaks of the shifts between bodies and time. However, upon viewers’ attentive looking, it becomes evident that these pieces are not as lively as they first appear. Rather, they possess a haunting, ‘absent’ presence within the space. Here, the documentation of a moment in time is articulated through the artist’s re-imagining of materials, uniting both historical and contemporary narratives through the act of display.

XXXX: Case Study installation view (2011)XXXX: Case Study installation view (2011)Jackson’s work is similar in that an attentive mode of viewing is required. Her series of photographic prints from the In There series presents the viewer with tiny pinhole-sized images of a nude subject (Jackson) in various intimate environments. This series is inspired by Jackson’s childhood experiences at her grandparents’ rural home in Guelph where she has re-documented her presence within these nostalgic settings. Ultimately, Jackson’s photographic series evokes a powerful response, forcing viewers to confront past and present shifts in representation.

Smit-Dicks presents two different series of work in this exhibition, both of which use archival materials and propose new narratives of scientific documentation as the artist re-imagines historical anatomical records. Along the main gallery wall, four works on paper present intricate studies of mutated 19th-Century anatomical documents. Here, traditional scientific records have been altered and re-purposed by the artist, presenting fascinating images such as an oral cavity containing three rows of teeth. Smit-Dicks’ re-imagining of Victorian aesthetics also echoes historic records of Cabinets of Curiosities, and works to manipulate viewers’ understanding of the body and of scientific accuracy. Smit-Dicks’ other studies include four photographs of mutated bodies that perpetuate grotesque bodily experiments through their act of display, such as a double-spined image of a male.

Interval, a nine-minute video loop by Teif, and projected on the wall, presents us with archival black-and-white photographs of individuals who are animated through the artist’s intervention with contemporary technology. High and low-keyed areas of the photographs vary in their presentation, while white objects continue to emerge from light sources within the photographs themselves. Teif also includes four small archival documents originating from World War I that attentive viewers will notice have been altered in subtle ways. The documents and video challenge preconceived notions of ‘archives,’ providing fragmented information of an experience in time that predates viewers.

This exhibition proves that a diverse range of media can be explored through shared philosophical and aesthetic interests. Case History is marked by its prolific mediation between past and present modes of representation, which point to even greater inter-relationships between the found and familiar, the visible and invisible, the imagined and re-imagined.

Ellyn WalkerEllyn Walker is an artist and writer who lives and works in Toronto. Her writing can be found in C Magazine and in the upcoming publication Homework, in collaboration with Broken City Lab. Ellyn’s practice explores the relationship between representation and re-imagination, and aims to collapse distinctions between found and created objects of identification by constructing new sentimental narratives.