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Through the eye of the beholder

by Tiffany Lafleur March 15, 2016
Through the eye of the beholder

See the world through three different lenses at the FOFA Gallery

Explore the ephemeral yet ominous nature of borders, the myriad conventions of female representation and the fragile tension between wildlife and human devastation. Take a step back and view the world through the perception and perspective of another at the Faculty of Fine Arts Gallery where intricate and exciting exhibitions from the Concordia community are on display.

Marisa Portolese has photographed women for this project since 2002. Photo by Marie-Pierre Savard.

Marisa Portolese has photographed women for this project since 2002. Photo by Marie-Pierre Savard.

Canada and the United States are two very distinct countries with their own ideologies, currency and even measurement systems. And yet the only real, tangible thing keeping both nations separate is the 8,891 kilometers of border, the longest shared land boundary in the world.

But what does it actually consist of? Andreas Rutkauskas explores this impossibly long stretch of land in Borderline, in which he photographs the six-metre-wide cleared path winding through forests and over 5,500 obelisk monuments peppering the terrain. Rutkauskas’ work explores the subtle surveillance technologies that have been put in place in a post 9/11 world, discouraging people from lingering in these vast, empty areas. His documentary-style photographs of improvised barriers, gates and X-Ray scanners show that a border doesn’t necessarily mean simply putting up a wall to block access, and that the concept of a border might be more powerful than the physical representation of one. His subject is the border itself, regardless of what form it has taken in a defined space. This can be a border crossing, a cleared patch of land through a forest, or any number of monuments, small or large. What’s also interesting is the way that Rutkauskas approaches his subject, delving into the history of the border and examining the trials and tribulations of choosing where exactly one country ends and where another begins.

Mandi Morgan crafted this touching animation about wildlife. Photo by Marie-Pierre Savard.

Mandi Morgan crafted this touching animation about wildlife. Photo by Marie-Pierre Savard.

In a different exhibition, the intricately designed and well-constructed stop-motion animation Boreal, Mandi Morgan explores, through delicate paper cutouts, the vulnerability that wildlife faces when confronted with human engineering and expansion. Morgan’s animation explores different ecosystems complete with forests, deer, birds and butterflies, and how human development sweeps nature away in order to replace it with machinery, altering the environment in the process. The landscape, background and animals are all brightly coloured with intricate and detailed bodies. Knot work, parallel lines, vivid colours and markings of all types weave together to bring about a light-hearted representation of woodland creatures, which contrasts with the seriousness of the theme at play.

The soundtrack of the piece pulls the viewer in with its playful and melancholy harmony, which downplays the sadness of the destruction and instead replaces it with nostalgia for things as they once were.

Morgan uses an interesting way to conceptualize the animals losing their territories. Red and black balloons descend upon the earth to air-lift the wildlife out of the area, replacing them with pipes belching toxic fumes into the once-pristine air.

Andreas Rutkauskas reflects on the Canadian-American border using photography. Photo by Marie-Pierre Savard.

Andreas Rutkauskas reflects on the Canadian-American border using photography. Photo by Marie-Pierre Savard.

The airlifting out of the area is fitting, because it highlights the animals’ roles as unwilling bystanders left powerless to try and avoid the situation they’ve been forced into. This helplessness, vulnerability and lack of understanding are further highlighted when a woodland creature tries to offer a mechanical petrol machine the last fruit of the last tree. The horse-like creature picks the fruit and places it on the ground, nudging it closer and closer to the black machine, which is  oblivious both to the animal and to its peace offering. Finally, the animal is airlifted as well, and brought out of frame. The strength of this piece stems from the very real problems of deforestation, habitat loss and natural resource depletion the world is currently struggling with.

The codes and conventions of female depiction are thoroughly explored in Belle de Jour III: Dialogues with Notman’s Portraits of Women, the third installment of Marisa Portolese’s photography series. An associate professor in the photography program at Concordia, Portolese creates art that blends portraiture and autobiography in her representation of the women she photographed for this project, which has been going on since 2002.

Inspired by the work of 19th-century Canadian photographer William Notman, the project brings past and present together, as Portolese’s depictions of contemporary women are framed side by side with Notman’s, showing the same fierceness, vulnerability and strength through the ages. Through this juxtaposition, new and old merge through the passage of time and express womanhood in a wide spectrum, each subject posing in her own personal way for the camera.

 

Borderline, Boreal and Belle Du Jour III are on display at the FOFA Gallery now until April 8. Make sure to go by and explore how these different artists have approached their subjects, be they creative depictions of wildlife, an investigative look at female representation or even using an invisible border as a subject. Admission to the gallery is free.

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