As Canadians, the concept of revolt is something that we generally feel a significant distance from. The reality is that the news of revolution is at our fingertips at every moment. We are inundated with news of war, injustice, extremism, and terrorism, and as disturbing as it is, the generally peaceful state of our country allows us to shut the global reality out. Curator and Access Gallery director Kimberly Phillips, along with artists Kathleen Ritter and Guillermo Trejo, explore these ideas in their work as a part of Far Away So Close: Part II, presented at Access Gallery from January 24th to March 7th. The entire exhibition, which spans nearly one year of the gallery’s programming, examines the concept of distance through a variety of specific themes, and includes works by emergent Canadian and international artists. Upon first glance, Part II comes across as a bold statement of global terror. Upon deeper inspection, though, it is a thoughtful examination of how we understand the concept of revolution, and how it might be happening all around us (even without our noticing.)
In many ways, it is Trejo’s An Example of a Forgotten Ideology that forcefully sets the tone of the exhibition. The sculpture stands ominously in the southwest corner of the gallery, on a plinth painted in a nearly identical white to the plaster of the figure, calling for the viewer’s immediate attention and concern. The black plastic sheeting covering the torso of the plaster figure starkly contrasts the gallery white walls. After learning in the exhibition essay that the work was inspired by protesters who threw black garbage bags over the head of a statue of Christopher Columbus in Mexico, the artist’s critique of colonization was much clearer. With or without context, though, the work calls to mind an equally devastating prevalence of war prisoners and political hostages and their place in Western media, particularly those continuously murdered in Iraq. Trejo’s complimentary work, Dissertations about Actions, consists of three stacks of newsprint that sit on the floor to the right of the gallery door. Reading “A Political Action”, “Apolitical Action”, and “A Poetical Action”, visitors are encouraged to take copies of the posters with them as they leave. These statements leave us wondering— which one of these statements does art fall under? What about activism? Can they be the same thing?
As Trejo’s sculpture and posters are evocative of the ever-present and alarming realities of injustice and rebellion, Kathleen Ritter’s Revolt (We are all undesirables) can be seen as a reminder of a quieter uprising. The six two-colour prints line the east wall, and each are revolutionary texts copied in shorthand. The historical context of stenography brings to mind the advent of feminism and workplace rights, and a time when a female population filled many positions that required dictation and transcription, such as secretaries, who primarily used shorthand. Each text begins and ends with the same sentence, in order to further emphasize the cyclical definition of “revolution,” and the questions that arise from that sense of the word— are we in an endless cycle of societal destruction and rebirth?
Part I of the exhibition, which ran at Access Gallery from September 13 to November 1st of 2014, dealt with the specific subject of communication within the overarching theme of distance. The first show was far more playful than the current one and, although certain works were aimed at abstracting the theme, on the whole it was more straightforward. Similarly to Ritter’s work, for example, Erdem Taşdelen’s work in Part I examined the concept of written communication. His analysis of handwriting was unambiguous though curious, whereas Ritter’s work was far more ambiguous but exceedingly more critically engaging than Taşdelen’s. This can be said of the entirety of both shows: The first had colour and quirkiness, while the second lacks an initial gimmick or hook but requires a deeper commitment to examination on the part of the viewer.
In Part II, Phillips, Ritter, and Trejo have fulfilled the aim of the exhibition’s title in the most literal sense: though the revolution may seem far away in time or in distance, we are always too close to ignore it. Although the density of the critical theory brought to light in the gallery essay is dangerously close to outweighing the physical impact of the works, the revolutionary intention of the two artists is successfully met— Part II leaves the viewer with more questions than answers (and tough questions at that.) The works incite a thoughtful conversation that carries on far beyond the walls of the gallery, and in that way could very well propel new radical transformations within our preexisting stagnant structures.
“Far Away So Close Part II.” Guillermo Trejo. Accessed February 25, 2015.
“Far Away So Close Part II | Access Gallery.” Access Gallery. Accessed April 9, 2015.
“Far Away So Close: Part I | Access Gallery.” Access Gallery. Accessed February 25, 2015.
Phillips, Kimberly. Far Away So Close: Part II — Exhibition Essay. Vancouver, BC: Access Gallery, 2015.