CHRISTINA BATTLE at YYZ Artists’ Outlet (401 Richmond West, suite 140), to April 19. 416-598-4546. Rating: NNN
You don’t have to be Disney and Co. to know that pirates are big business. And that doesn’t just extend to “exclusive edition” DVDs; skull-and-crossbones souvenirs are a staple of coastal locales from Halifax to Miami.
Toronto artist Christina Battle takes these fantasies (and their associated financials) to task in Uncharted Histories: Pirates, a low-key film and video installation that deflates the viewer’s swashbuckling avast-ye-mateys expectations. (Style note: leave the eye patch at home.)
Battle’s installation consists of three major works: a film triptych based on excerpts from Francis Drake’s late-1500s pirating diaries; a video summarizing the biographies of pirates Drake, James Hawkins, Henry Morgan, William Kidd and Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard; and a light-table transparency of an aged world map accompanied, on headphones, by a bleak oceanic soundtrack.
The film and video have a significant text component, giving these pirate histories a dry, grade-school film strip feel rather than one of CGI-driven amazement.
These texts also underline how unromantic and unrebellious many of these pirates really were, acting as slave traders and royal partners rather than as Robin Hoodesque social equalizers.
Battle’s treatment prompts many questions. Who from our own era will be worshipped as romantic heroes down the road? Will Stephen Harper find greenwashed glory? Will Enron be lauded for bringing boldness to bean-counting? How do we make fantastic heroes fact, and how do they, in turn, make us?
Though such rigorous critique is worthwhile, a little more seductiveness (contrary though it may be to Battle’s creative ethics) could’ve improved the work. Compared to dreadlocked pretty-boy megastars, point-form Times Roman is as unattractive as walking the plank.