“Internalization of Land, Body.” Camera obscura photographic print by Julia Abraham. Photo by Lauren Dzenis.
“That room looks like a student art show,” says one, pointing way up to the second- or third-floor windows of Connaught House, lit up in an electric whirl of colour.
“That room looks like MGMT is DJing it,” says another.
Well, same thing.
All three girls look high, though no higher than expected, given that this is, in fact, a student art show. And it’s not at OCAD, where we imagine that students sniff oil paints and “try opiates” in an effort to spin their suburban teenage worldviews into something more like Basquiat’s New York. That doesn’t fly on the lawn of 1 Spadina Crescent, so much. If it’s time to get high and go to school, and that school is the University of Toronto, well, you’ll smoke proper homegrown pot, thank you.
Up the creaking spirals of stairs and to the point: every spring, a bright new Thesis Class graduates from U of T’s Visual Studies Programme. The spelling could irk; why not just “program,” you ask? Ah, but there is no “me” in program, and there is plenty of it here, in the aching reflexivity of this year’s art show-off. It’s called For What Is Not Said, which is a great title, and an even better hint: if you want to like the work here, don’t listen to the artists talk about it. (Certainly, do not read eight of the ten artist statements, unless you are well-equipped with ibuprofen. Here’s one particularly wincing line: “Not necessarily comprehensible, but possibly arguing in favor of the incomprehensible, these works issue from explorations of structuralism and feedback, all of which are self-referential states, activities or processes.”)
“Wallpaper Disaster,” intaglio and monotype, by Lauren Dzenis. Photo by Lauren Dzenis.
Lauren Dzenis knows this best. Pressed for the details of her mixed-method paintings—they have the lightly surreal, photographic quality of lucid dreams—she smiles tiredly and offers to talk about any of her peers’ efforts instead. This instantly makes her the most likeable student artist in student art history. (True confession: we already knew and liked her. But still.)
A lone brunette wants to know where Macy’s work is; she means Macy Siu, a name that promises to be much-looked-for in Toronto’s art-slash-culture scene. When she’s not voicing her “culturally mixed” self-identity and “personal narrative” through film and photographic hybrids—in which the “eye” of the camera reflects the “I” of herself—Siu is writing and taking pictures for independent publications, interning at art galleries, editing the Hart House Review, and serving as co-president of the English Students’ Union. Whew. This girl could make Rory Gilmore feel bad about herself.
Looking for an idea not ripped from dense textbooks, or the pages of Us Weekly (see: the worst painting ever, of three tabloid starlets done far too literally as Catholic saints, by Nicole Clough), we find ourselves in a room full of Julia Abraham’s camera obscura photographs. These are ripped from her body instead, it seems: using her mouth as the camera, she placed torn bits of photo paper in her throat and used a black shield with a pinhole to create black-and-white “internalizations” of land and sky. The result is blurred and sparely beautiful, and it’s a rare example of an involved—and, yes, self-involved—process that adds a bit of poetry to the work, not just complicated contextuality to the artist’s statement.
But we’re not finished here. There’s an older, balding man with a drooping backpack on, and he’s standing almost too close to the pretty Ms. Abraham, hoping—it would seem—to achieve heat between them, if only in debate.
He demands to know why she scanned the negatives at a super-high DPI and printed them on black squares, the torn edges a reproduction, as opposed to developing them in a more organic way. She argues for the augmented clarity of the result. He shoots back that the “physical connection is lost by going into this dark digital process.” (When he says “physical connection,” the whole room seems to cringe. By now, several bystanders are pretending, badly, not to eavesdrop.) She says something about the tears in the photo paper being more visible this way. He says, well, couldn’t she have developed and enlarged the photos, and then torn the edges again? To achieve real physical tears, as opposed to the scanned and printed ones? “But that would be two tears!” she protests, and nearly sounds as though she’s in tears herself.
The farce goes on, forcing us to leave before we forget that we had instantly loved the photographs.
For What Is Not Said continues through Saturday, April 18. For hours and details, visit the website.