Jamelie Hassan’s Common Knowledge uses personal and official artifacts to comment on her family history.
JAMELIE HASSAN and GUY BEN-NER, to October 14, and JEROEN EISINGA, to September 16, at MOCCA (Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, 952 Queen West). Reception Friday (September 7), 8-10 pm. 416-395-0067. See listing. Rating: NNNN
These three shows at first seem unrelated, but all in different ways make dramatic points about domesticity and identity.
At The Far Edge Of Words is a retrospective of work since the 80s by Lebanese-Canadian artist Jamelie Hassan, on tour from Museum London in her Ontario hometown. In small mixed-media installations that make use of painting, photography, video, ceramics, neon tubes and text, Hassan filters Middle East politics and immigration issues through her own family history.
The wall cards offer extensive background on Hassan's career and explain Arabic-language references like the teardrop-shaped neon sign shaming the U.S. for its detention of an Al Jazeera cameraman and Slippers Of Disobedience, a comment on the subversive effect of educating Muslim women. The intimacy and directness of Hassan's work bring emotional depth to her politics.
On the other hand, Israel's Guy Ben-Ner totally sidesteps Mideast and identity politics. In his video Stealing Beauty, his domestic life becomes an episodic sitcom in which a nuclear family of English-speaking Israelis inhabits a German Ikea showroom, going about their daily routines while shoppers file by. The retail netherworld makes a comedic setting to send up solemn family discussions about property relations.
Addressing the web of interspecies domestication, Jeroen Eisinga's black-and-white film Springtime (part of TIFF's Future Projections) documents the Dutch artist's performance of bee-bearding, a weird activity sometimes practised competitively by beekeepers, who attach a caged queen to their bodies and let the worker bees crawl over them. Engulfed by a living, flying fur that almost obliterates his human identity, Eisinga silently stares out like a long-suffering Christian saint, contradicting our basic urge to run from a swarm of stinging insects. Uncomfortable to watch, yet fascinating, the film is silent; the sound of buzzing might have made it unbearable.
MOCCA's a maturing public institution that encompasses a wide spectrum of art. Let's hope it finds an appropriate space before its current location falls to condofication two years from now.