IVAN JURAKIC AND AUBREY REEVES at Gallery 44 (401 Richmond West, #120), to February 2. 416-979-3941. Rating: NNN
Constellations isn’t the kind of exhibit you’d expect to see in a photo-focused gallery. Rather than conventional prints, its two installations play with the very basis of photography: light and darkness.
In Ivan Jurakic’s almost blinding installation, dozens of light bulbs outline the form of an airplane. A photo of men standing around a Nazi plane is propped against the wall. Because it’s on plexi, its figures cast shadows wallward, highlighting shades-of-grey ambiguousness. Are those guys Nazis or members of the Resistance? Or is one man’s Nazi just another man’s resister?
In Aubrey Reeves’s more sombre installation, a black-and-white video of a man in an oarless boat is projected on a carefully punctured screen. The holes spell out entries from a prisoner’s diary.
As the hapless sailor unfurls papers in his floating “cell,” viewers must mirror his squinting actions to decode the screen’s fragile letters. Ambiguity resurfaces around the prisoner/diarist: Which side is the prisoner on? How about his captors? Who is the guy in the unarmed boat?
What comes across overall (despite specific answers in the exhibition brochure) is an attempt to talk about war in ways that thwart the usual desire to identify good guys or bad guys, establishment or terrorists.
It’s a worthwhile theme. But it could’ve been conveyed more pointedly: these works are too subtle (and too isolated from sites of war discourse, like military bases or war museums) to reach anyone but the converted.
Interestingly, a few war-themed exhibitions are opening this month. We’ll see if any of them put up a better fight against the hourly headline-news onslaught.