XU ZHEN and RON TERADA at Mercer Union (37 Lisgar), to October 22. 416-536-1519. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
On any given visit to Mercer Union , there's a good chance you'll be caught off guard. It happened to me when in my hurried anticipation I nearly missed Ron Terada 's large, brightly lit sign above the door. Glowing white in the gathering dusk on this often vacant industrial street, the Vancouver artist's installation reads, "Stay away from lonely places."
Tongue-in-cheek advice drolly offered to nearly no one in illuminated storefront signage is a good introduction to Terada's decade-long practice of playing with found text.
Opening the door, I stumbled into a deafening blast of wind from an enormous industrial fan just inside. Hailing from Shanghai, artist Xu Zhen in this way makes a fool of everyone who comes to see his work. I stood there stupefied for a moment. Were they trying to dry a wall? The rest of the show intrigues but doesn't quite live up to the promise of its initial fun.
Xu's other piece, Shouting, presents a series of video clips. In each, the camera is trained on the backs of teeming Shanghai pedestrians. When those behind the camera suddenly let out a maniacal yell in unison, the surprised crowd momentarily turns to see what the noise is all about before returning to their business.
The humour wears off quickly, leaving you to ponder the human herd mentality.
Dotting the walls, a series of Terada's small, simple digital snapshots reveal odd signs worth observing. Someone stands on the street wearing an orange backpack. The red sign affixed to it commands you to "Learn Video Editing."
In another, the words "Free manure" have been carefully written on a simple wooden cross in the grass on the side of a path. Photographed this way, these signs reveals both their original intent and a layer of unintended significance.
The merely useful, often banal, becomes profound.