JEREMY SHAW AT THE CAG: Medium-Based Time

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The Contemporary Art Gallery presents Medium-Based Time by Berlin-based Canadian artist Jeremy Shaw, featuring a black and white 16mm film of transgender voguer Leiomy Maldonado, an HD video installation that reworks archival ethnographic film into a dystopian science fiction narrative, and a new series of light-activated UV prints in the windows of their street façade.

The exhibition centres on Variation FQ (2011-13), in which Shaw worked with legendary voguer Leiomy to produce a film that explores aspects of subculture, dance, gender, power and special effects. “Vogue” is a primarily black and latino, gay subculture that evolved out of the drag balls of New York in the 1980s and includes a fluid, yet raw dance style based around miming the poses of models from high fashion magazines.

The film sets Leiomy starkly lit against a black void performing her signature freestyle dance teetering between elegance and violence. As the film progresses, Shaw introduces step-and-repeat style visual effects, originally created by Canadian animator Norman McLaren in his 1968 ballet film Pas de deux. In Pas de deux, this optical printing technique embellishes the seduction between a male and female ballerina as typically choreographed for the stage. In Variation FQ, the use of special effects creates a ghostly layering and repetition of Leiomy’s image in her most virtuosic gestures and extends the experience of abandon evident in the consequences on her human body. Leiomy’s performance is accompanied by Shaw’s original soundtrack that combines a minimalist piano score with contemporary chopped and pitched audio techniques. This merging of classical composition with manipulated pop a cappella MP3’s is emblematic of Shaw’s fascination of the interdependence between high and low taste cultures.

Shaw’s practice amplifies conceptual strategies within the transcendence-seeking experiences of popular culture, as well as in the speculative nature of scientific mapping of these phenomena. In keeping with this ongoing interest in and around altered states, the CAG also premiere Quickeners (2014), a pseudo-documentary that puts the role of truth telling into crisis.

Set five hundred years in the future, Quickeners tells the story of Human Atavism Syndrome (H.A.S.), an obscure disorder afflicting a tiny portion of the Quantum Human population to desire and feel as their Human Being predecessors once did. A species wirelessly interconnected to The Hive, Quantum Humans have evolved to operate solely on pure rational thought and they have achieved immortality. Quickeners is set against a cinéma vérité aesthetic, reworking archival documentary footage from a gathering of Pentecostal Christian snake handlers to illustrate the story. As the film unfolds, an authoritative Quantum Human narrator comments on what we witness: indecipherable testimonials, sermons, songs, prayers, convulsive dancing, speaking-in-tongues, serpent handling and ecstatic states that Quantum Humans define as “Quickening”.

Incorporating elements of science fiction, ethnographic survey, neuroscience and belief systems, Quickeners collates these disparate themes into a succinct whole to discuss varying notions of evolutionary progress with clinical indifference. This alchemical fusion suspends belief of the fantastic situation by its use of familiar, outmoded technology, meticulous audio editing and subtitles. As the piece builds to a cathartic climax of media techniques and special effects – caught in limbo between ritual documentary and music video – the Quantum Humans surrender to this evolutionary throwback of perceived biological transcendence, while the film attempts to incite a similar phenomenological response in the viewer.

Alongside these film/video works in our window vitrines hangs Degenerative Imaging (In The Dark) (2015), a new series of light-activated, glow-in-the-dark vinyl cut-outs that reference star and planet stickers. Though presumably designed with the aspiring child astrologer’s bedroom in mind, these stickers are also commonly found adorning the walls and ceilings of the teenage psychonaut; more likely used to “trip out” than to plan a trip. Rather than the cosmos, Shaw’s source material comes from 3D SPECT scan renderings of the degenerative effects of cumulative mind-altering substance use on the blood flow and metabolism of the human brain. The representational language of neuroscience, or at least the populist aesthetic familiar in health and pharmaceutical advertising, is reformatted here as a mechanism to enhance altered states while viewing their supposed biological effects on the brain. The prints are charged by fluorescent light once per hour, causing them to glow strongly and then fade, glow and fade; static time-based mediums on repeat.

Variation FQ is generously loaned by the Rennie Collection, Vancouver.

Medium-Based Time starts February 27 and runs until April 19, 2015 at the Vancouver Contemporary Art Gallery.

See more about the exhibition here

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