Rob Kovitz at YYZ Artists' Outlet (401 Richmond West), to August 12. 416-598-4546. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Walter Benjamin once dreamed of writing a book that would consist entirely of anecdotes, references and quotes. In his Arcades Project, he hoped to produce a montage of material that effectively expressed the sociological, economic and cultural underpinnings of 19th-century Paris.
Rob Kovitz acknowledges Benjamin in his own quixotic mapping of the Canadian zeitgeist in Ice Fishing In Gimli, a work-in-progress. Its five volumes are set in seven separate stacks on a large square reading table lit by a nest of Ikea reading lamps, inviting gallery goers to pull up a chair and start leafing through them.
After a few minutes it's obvious this isn't a saga or any sort of linear narrative. An assemblage of material from hundreds of published sources, it traces fault lines, fissures and odd tangents in the Canadian experience through a careful selection of criticism, philosophy, tourist brochures, song lyrics, forensic documents and everything in between.
There are bits of Icelandic sagas, snowmobile blueprints, info on drowning victims and genetically modified carp, small-town archival photos and a breakdown of the five different kinds of small-town wave greetings. Kovitz is present only as the unseen hand guiding the dense accumulation of second- and third-hand data.
The work's initial effect is bewildering, like stumbling into the second-hand store of a genial but completely eccentric collector. Helpful headings like New World, The Wandering Jew and Counter Intelligence Manual suggest themes of exploration, nomadic life, resettlement, the frontier and the struggle between rural and city life.
The image of the lonely Canuck leaving tracks on a frozen plain to the ice fishing shack seems a metaphor for the scholar fishing through text to find whatever meaning may be swimming underneath.
Since the work has yet to be completed (large sections of the fifth volume are left enticingly blank), we can only imagine what Kovitz will pull up next.