Javier Tellez at the Power Plant (231 Queens Quay West), to March 5. $4, stu/srs $2, Wednesday 5-8 pm free. 416-973-4949. Rating: NNNN
Javier Tellez is an artist who tests the boundaries of institutions.
Through installation projects with inmates from mental hospitals, he charts the murky relationship between "insane" individuals and the governing agencies that classify and treat them.
The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (Rozelle Hospital) emerged out of a month-long collaborative project Téllez undertook with female patients at a psychiatric facility in Sydney, Australia. It invokes and challenges the power of the school, the psychiatric hospital and the cinema.
Each of these institutions is concretely referenced on two screens: one with a series of interviews with each patient, and the other projecting Carl Dreyer's silent film masterpiece. Dreyer's agonizing treatment of Joan of Arc's trial becomes an allegory for female inmates subjected to psychiatry.
In their interviews, patients write their names on a chalkboard before detailing their personal conflicts and difficulties with mental illness and psychiatric facilities. They are often unnervingly lucid and touching, detailing their experiences while betraying the traces of the paranoia or depression that may have led them there.
One cheerful girl matter-of-factly talks about how she learned Morse code from her dead grandfather, another woman delivers a blisteringly compelling political manifesto defending her paranoia, and another recounts her harrowing experience with electroconvulsive therapy in the 60s.
Michel Foucault's concept of panopticism (how surveillance is used for societal control) from his Discipline And Punish: The Birth Of The Prison hovers over every aspect of this installation. So it is telling that the piece is heavily coded with double entendres and paradoxes. The red velvet curtains at the entrance, reminiscent of a movie palace, are quilted onto psychiatric hospital linen, and a chalkboard ironically references so-called education.
Most important, though, is the fact that these marginalized women consented to collaborate with an artist. The courage and beauty of this gesture is undeniable.