Simon Drouin approached the subject of Narratives with his compassions placed where many artists would never dare to venture. He’s taken the phantasmagoric images of wars past and illustrated them with horrific silence using an effective mix of ink on rice paper.
His series of paintings take up an entire row of Art Mur. They are far from meek; the explosions created by splattering ink across rice paper’s delicate canvas provide sense of irreversible trauma and frailty.
In Les Fourmis, mortar shells pummel soldiers attempting to take a ridge. Through the mess, they hold their guns up and push forth out of duty.
Bruitalité looks into the eyes of the dead. Drouin used a photo of fallen soldiers as reference for the work.
“With this work, you have to stay concentrated, it was difficult to look at death and misery day in and day out, but it’s a violence you have to oblige yourself to,” said Drouin.
In his introductory statement, Drouin said he was worried exploring drawing and painting would ruin “the magic” for him.
“I had that experience with music, studying it ruined the magic for me,” said Drouin, “but that hasn’t been the case with this.”
Drouin has studied literature, cinema and music before. He says the art of painting has come more naturally to him then any art form prior. He credits this to maturity and experience.
This series all started for Drouin with some rice paper he started spattering ink upon. The fantastic effect compelled him to expand upon this technique and refine it with intricate detail only where needed . . . for every gory detail.
From up close, the images in Anthony Vrakotas’ The Pixelography Project don’t look like much. Flakes of colour are crushed together in rough slices; the experience is like staring at a TV on the fritz. As the viewer moves away however, a clearer, although still fragmented, picture looms into focus. Slowly, the visions become recognizable as bits and pieces from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.
Vrakotas wrote a computer program to create the tableaux from The Pixelography Project. By plugging in specific parameters, he was able to compress entire scenes into single images.
“I always start out with one or two philosophical ideas and a technical idea,” said Vrakotas. “Here I’m concerned with how time and space are reconfigured through the modes of perception that we use.”
“I chose Full Metal Jacket because it’s a film that exposes war without offering any conclusions; that approach parallels my work,” he continued.
Vrakotas doesn’t shy from political themes. In several of his previous works, the image of the grenade has cropped up as a familiar motif. As an instantly recognizable icon of war, the grenade translated into a visual shorthand for politics.
In the end, The Pixelography Project does not offer any answers. Instead, it challenges viewers to keep coming up with their own questions. There is no hidden meaning or obscure symbolism; rather, it’s about investigating the relationship between representation and truth. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the works are beautiful to look at.
“Although it was never my intention to make something aesthetically pleasing, I’m pretty impressed with the way these turned out,” said Vrakotas.
One of the first things you’ll see upon entering Narratives is a life-sized diptych. The painting on the left features a row of shadowy figures; several of them are holding guns. At the top of the canvas is another figure with a child. The scene is washed over in a bold dark orange paint. The painting on the right depicts a horse and two robed forms. An expanse of bright blue at the top cuts across the uniformity of the palette. Together, the paintings are called Sacrifice.
“I made them this big for two reasons,” said Lennox. “One, for impact, and two, because it’s easier to be intuitive with a life-sized picture.”
Sacrifice is largely process-based. Many elements that Lennox never intended to include made it into the final work, such as sketch lines around the horse. Although they were used as outlines during the planning stages, the artist left them in for a more organic feel.
The project’s genesis lies in a course that Lennox took about the history of Africa.
“I wanted to tell two different stories: that of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and Noah’s Ark,” he said. “Although it’s a tough one, I would say the title refers to the sacrifice of life as it plays out against various ideologies.”
Besides the size of the paintings, the contrast of blue and orange is what arguably first draws the eye to Sacrifice. Despite this, Lennox insists he’s not a “colourist,” but rather simply someone who uses colour in a very graphic way.
Visually, Sacrifice is composed of only a few key elements. However, issues of race, class, and violence bubble beneath its simple exterior for all those who are willing to take a closer look.
Jackson Darby muddles the line between music and art with his newest project, Verb. Each piece tells a loose narrative through melody, rhythm, and timbre. To produce his electroacoustic experiments, Darby draws on fields recordings, vinyl samples, hip-hop, and turntablism. The titles are deliberately vague: “Play,” “Walk,” “Stay,” and “Sit.” By the time I caught up with Darby at the Narratives vernissage, he was about to play a forty-five minute DJ set. Instead, he answered my questions through e-mail.
“Each piece is similar in that they begin in one place and end up somewhere completely different, abandoning the traditional A-B-A structure conventional to tonal music,” wrote Darby. “This also contributes to the basic story structure I had in mind while composing, a sort of journey from point A to point B.”
When not volunteering for Arts Matters, Darby spins turntables in a band called Valley of the Shadow of Death. When asked what side of the music/art fence his work leans towards, he makes very clear that the pieces from Verb are first and foremost musical compositions.
“I’m pretty lucky that not many sound people think to participate in things like Art Matters (even though I tell them to all the time),” he said, “which leaves the door open for me and my band to take part.”
“Having said this, I do consider myself an artist, sound is simply my medium. I don’t feel like sound installations are an awkward addition to an art gallery, in fact I wish people would integrate visual arts and music more as I feel there’s often a large separation,” he continued.
The premise of Sophia Burke’s Five Years of Gingham reads like Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, a novel chronicling the semi-mythical rise and fall of a Colombian family. When Burke’s grandmother was a young girl in Guatemala, her older brother came across a burning textile factory and took two bolts of blue gingham fabric. For the next five years, the entire family (including all nine children) wore clothes made of blue gingham.
Burke freely acknowledges the parallels between her family and the fictional Buendía’s.
“When my mom saw me reading One Hundred Years of Solitude,” said Burke, “she said: ‘That’s our family.’ The gingham thing is just one story; there are so many, I could do all my work on my grandmother.”
Graphically, the anecdote is represented by four rows of blue gingham paintings held up with clothespins. The paintings detail each type of clothing made: dresses, tops, underwear, etc. Since no pictures survived from her grandmother’s childhood, the art also serves as a visual record of Burke’s family history. The second part of the installation is a recording of the artist interviewing her grandmother, whose name is (seriously) Liberty America.
The result is playful and light-hearted, a departure from some of the more contemplative or deconstructive works in Narratives.
Burke had her own explanation for the fantastical stories. “I think everything’s just like that down there,” she quipped.
Duc Tran is in his second year of design studies at Concordia. This is his first time exhibiting at Arts Matters. He has hit the proverbial nail right on the head, if that nail embodies none other than the listless feeling of regret.
The decades we lost is a short film that utilizes motion graphics and video to sway us through idle moments that unfortunately can make up the greater part of reality. The images are beautiful: they welly out cold impersonality and scattered doubt.
“The film reflects a time for me, when life had settled into a routine – design wise and in an everyday sense,” said Tran.
The film seems deeper than just that, the undulating sense of shiftlessness holds onto every scene. The music completes the piece, by creating just enough of a divide from the surrounding environment to push one’s thoughts towards perhaps a universal human truth: we are prone to regret.
“It’s about a loss of time,” Tran says, who says he feels accomplished once again, and out of a moot routine – although he doesn’t credit his video for helping him feel this way.
For a first installment, the feelings evoked in the film are certainly effective and clearly displayed. Being a student of design, Tran shows you don’t have to be lost in static and dilapidated celluloid to make an important unspoken narrative on film.