Aernout mik and zhang huan at the Power Plant (231 Queen's Quay West) to November 18. 416-973-4949. Rating: NNnN
the power plant explores thepolitics of ambiguity in two breakthrough bodies of work by conceptual artists who are making waves in the international arena.Dutch video artist Aernout Mik creates his most technically ambitious installation to date in Reversal Room, a space filled with five screens and two two-way mirrors that show a deeply disturbing pair of scenarios.
In one, five zoom lenses record a Chinese restaurant where brawls keep breaking out -- brawls the patrons blithely ignore. After 10 to 20 minutes in the restaurant dining room (a computer makes the switch), the scene switches to a restaurant kitchen (definitely not at the same restaurant), in which zonked-out early-morning partiers and a team of efficient cooks seem to occupy parallel universes while moving through the same space, all filmed in a dizzying ongoing series of panoramic tracking shots.
Quantitatively, this is twice as technically complex as his last showpiece, mounted at London's Institute of Contemporary Art in 2000, and it can literally have viewers wishing they'd brought Gravol to the gallery.
Chinese-born, New York City-based conceptual artist Zhang Huan is known for naked, semi-private performances during which he explores endurance and pain. Since moving to the West, he's recorded these events on video, and two of them -- My Australia and My America -- are being screened as part of the Power Plant show.
The performance footage is intriguing, but not nearly as powerful as his brand new sculpture and still photography pieces. Huan went back to China to have a large, traditional bronze bell cast and covered with the names of people living in his hometown. Viewers are invited to ring it with a life-sized, gold-leaf-covered casting of the artist (made in Barcelona). Inevitably, viewers who accept Huan's implicit invitation to ring the fabulously resonant bell damage the piece -- the gold leaf is too delicate to survive the impact.
The Peace bell is surrounded by Family Tree, a series of large-format photos of Huan's face as it becomes completely covered with black calligraphic text referring to his fate and cultural identity. The final image reads like Huan in total blackface. There is no question that this is intentional -- Huan is too good at pushing buttons to miss this one.