CARRIE SCHNEIDER and SPENCER MURPHY at Gallery 44 (401 Richmond West, suite 120), to March 6. 416-979-3941. Rating: NNNN
How close is too close, and how alone is too alone? Photographers Carrie Schneider and Spencer Murphy have collaborated on a show that explores the complex dynamics of the self and the family. Both rely on a cinematic, highly narrative style that in turn depends on a talent for smart framing and dramatic symbolism.
In Schneider’s Derelict Self series, she poses with a male analogue of herself. Stuck together and moving in unison in identical outfits, the pair could be brother and sister going about their business in austerely staged scenes. It becomes apparent, however, that this is one bifurcated self, male and female, moving about in unison.
As they fight, bathe, shop and eat in unison, a palpable alienation is suggested. The two halves of the self made visible seem lonelier for being made so. Only in Bar, where her male half tentatively embraces a woman in the seclusion of a cubbyhole, is there a possibility of intimacy, fraught as it is with conflict.
The series attempts to paint a complex portrait of self in tightly controlled and neutral tones.
Murphy shies away from self and focuses instead on family, constructing a meta-drama where his relatives inhabit different fictional scenarios. A brother broods outside a toolshed. His mother looks vulnerable seated on the edge of a massage table. These are Hitchcockian stills: claustrophobic windows into family tension, laden with loaded symbolism.
In Murphy The Dog, all the elements of the modern family home – a ferocious guard dog, propane under pressure and a ballerina tchotchke referencing the dream of domestic refinement – are brought together in a subtle but highly charged trifecta.
Not mere photographs, these seem more like film stills from a waking dream that teeter on the brink of something intangible.