Art as activism: personal and collective histories

Taking a look at Dazibao’s new exhibitions

I open the door to Dazibao and, with the exception of colour-changing neon lights emanating from the far corner of the space, it is dark. A cacophony of voices engulfs the room. As I make my way to the first video installation, I am immediately drawn into the abstract nature of the film and I tone out the other sounds.

Dazibao, an art center in Montreal’s Mile End, dedicates itself to circulating contemporary image practices, be it through exhibitions, video programs, films or public artworks. In an effort to create a space where individuals can experiment, reflect and share ideas, Dazibao collaborates with artists, curators, critics and researchers.

Their mandate, which is to promote cultural diversity as a means of enabling art to assert itself as a knowledgeable and intellectual field, is further reinforced via their three current exhibitions on view, Special Works School, New Pedestrians and Mikhail Karikis.

Special Works School by Bambitchell explores surveillance and military camouflage techniques by way of reflecting on the interconne – activity of artistic practice and surveillance technologies. The work, which consists of an installation and a film, considers surveillance as an artistic practice, invites the viewer to reflect on the various aspects of surveillance in both society and art.

Lights change from cyan to purple, and camouflage back to its natural colour, offering a metaphor for surveillance. Photo by Britanny Clarke.

Bambitchell’s work has video and sculptural components – the source of the colour-changing neon lights – which offers a multi-sensory experience. Sand appears to be rippled in a box, as lights change from cyan to purple, and back to its natural colour, the box and its contents camouflage to the colour of the lights. This offers a metaphor for surveillance and its visibility, or rather, invisibility.

Bambitchell is the artistic collaboration between artists Sharlene Bamboat and Alexis Mitchell. Since their conception in 2009, they have established their practice around notions of surveillance and nationalism, using archives and state documents as part of their work.

New Pedestrians by Julia Feyrer uses everyday objects to explore the body’s connection to various materials. As the name suggests, the film observes pedestrians as they walk. However, they are not your average pedestrians. Body parts are composed of wooden rulers, scissors and other everyday tools and objects, merging sculpture and film into one. The abstract nature of the film brings out in the viewer the sort of uneasy feeling that would arise from a bad dream.

Similarly, Children of Unquiet, Ain’t Got No Fear and No Ordinary Protest by Mikhail Karikis use this same type of bizarre construction. Although separate entities, the three films, when viewed in order, form an allegory. In Children of Unquiet, children clad in colourful masks sing at the top of their lungs as they reclaim a village that was built for workers at a geo-thermal power plant. Whereas Ain’t Got No Fear demonstrates the alternative vocation given by young people to a power plant, as a means of defying authority. Finally, along the same lines, No Ordinary Protest explores themes of activism enabling children’s voices to be heard.

Karikis uses sound and media to create immersive installations. His practice explores primarily the notion of the voice as a socio-political agent, as well as themes of solidarity in action, which he further develops by collaborating with various communities such as youth groups.

Although the works exhibited are very different in their conception and determination, Special Works School, New Pedestrians and Mikhail Karikis’ works share similar perseverance, enabling them to share personal and collective histories in abstract ways, and ultimately offer a form of activism. By making a statement about various conventional aspects of everyday life, such as surveillance, the works assert themselves and demonstrate how artistic practice can be political.

Special Works School, New Pedestrians and Mikhail Karikis are on display at Dazibao, at 5455 de Gaspé Ave. suite 109, until Dec. 21. The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.



Photos by Brittany Clarke.

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