Sharon Switzer at Corkin Shopland Gallery (55 Mill, building 61), to June 25. 416-979-1980. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Videographer Sharon Switzer uses incremental visual shifts as a backdrop for wry, forlorn and funny statements. Her artfully produced videos are shoulder shrugs of mild protest against the confusing and contradictory demands of contemporary culture.
Crisp statements emerge from dreamlike backgrounds, engulf the screen and then disappear. Mostly they poke fun at our attempts to do better. Titles like Gravity, Hope, Fall and Heaven promise metaphysical weight, but deft, humorous language undermines the seriousness.
In Gravity, Switzer's text serves up a steaming bowl of chicken soup for the soul. Against a garish neon waterfall that recalls a classic beer sign, the statement "You look a little tired" appears, followed by other even less helpful bromides. Half motherly, half motivational in tone, they bring to mind the enervating drone of a high school teacher in a stuffy portable.
Which is the point, I guess. Switzer's ear for the language of sitcoms, infomercials and insipid sermons is spot on. She highlights how often we are trapped by the unrealistic jargon and expectations of a blandly positivist consumer culture. "Pretending to be casual just gets me confused," she admits against the shifting nocturnal landscape of Hope. What do you do when generally accepted formulas for success don't appeal to you?
In Heaven, against an achingly clean backdrop of pearly sky, one-liner after one-liner of disappointment appears. "I once won a free trip to heaven, but by the time I opened my mail the offer had expired," she deadpans.
The one spot of truly mesmerizing beauty occurs when the language shuts off. In Fall, a spotlight on the surface of a body of water calmly scintillates. Without language, the image allows us to dream outside the confines of all those pushy little statements.
It's as if the whole series were looking for relief in a lingering moment of blissful visual ambiguity.