Tropical Contact High wouldn’t seem out of place in a travel agency.
LAUREN HALL AND SUSY OLIVEIRA at ESP (Erin Stump Projects, 1086½ Queen West), to August 12. 416-834-0005. See listing. Rating: NNN
For their show Tropical Contact High at ESP, Lauren Hall and Susy Oliveira have built a simulated island paradise, or to put it more precisely, a simulation of a simulation.
The two sculptors, collaborating as Sculpture Club, seem eager to press every sensory and associative button to evoke the idea of a tropical island in its many commercial and fantastical forms.
Pedestals sporting glossy tropical landscapes are scattered throughout the room, surrounded by rings of neon pink sand. One of them is crowned with fake palm leaves. Macramé pot holders hang from the ceiling, holding glass planters filled with eye-popping rainbows of more dyed sand. The walls have been striated with stripes of light, oceanic blue.
Scent is also a major part of the show, with air fresheners plugged into the walls wafting tropical essences through the gallery. On the back wall, red, orange and gold sand has been carefully poured into a round glass frame to create an abstract portrait of a fuzzy, flaming sunset.
Survivors of island cruises and packaged Caribbean vacations will recognize all this. The over-dyed and packaged theme park atmosphere is a hallmark of the cruise ship aesthetic that has overtaken the tropics. This could be a promotional display at a travel agency or an airbrushed mural on the side of a surfer van.
It's less a critique than a celebration, however, cheerfully embracing the lo-fi aesthetics of tropical kitsch in all of its glorified technicolour weirdness.
As a whole, the show has just the right amount of glib visual resonance and humour to work. Nothing terribly serious, and nothing too taxing. It's easy-going, garish and slightly absurd - just like the tropics, and our fantasies about them, are supposed to be.