SIGNALS IN THE DARK: ART IN THE SHADOW OF WAR at the Blackwood Gallery (U of T Mississauga, 3359 Mississauga North), 905-828-3789; and the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery (Hart House, 7 Hart House Circle), 416-978-8398, to March 2. Rating: NNNN
Seamus Kealy curates this ambitious two-venue show, bringing together artists who want to undermine the “regime of representation” of news images that frame violent conflicts for public consumption.
The variety of media at the Blackwood Gallery makes for easier viewing than the all-video show at Justina Barnicke. We’re greeted by a road sign by Vancouver’s Ron Terada stating, “You Have Left The American Sector.” That’s small consolation to Iraqi sculptor Abdul-Karim Khalil, whose small, classically carved marble of a prisoner with a bag over his head sadly contradicts the sign.
Local Kristan Horton reveals excellent draughtsmanship in three spiral drawings depicting the history of World War I. French collective Bureau d’Etudes have two fascinating (but are they art?) charts of political linkages, one on the notorious Bohemian Grove, a secret California playground for the military-industrial complex.
Videos include American Sean Snyder’s interesting exploration of magazine advertisers’ relationship to photo spreads on Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Barnicke’s centrepiece is Johan Grimonprez’s Dial H I S T O R Y, a mashup of mass media images chronicling airplane hijackings in the 60s and 70s. It’s startling to see how the representation of “terrorism” evolved pre-9/11 in the Belgian artist’s 1988 work.
In one corner of the gallery, facing out, rentable films like Children Of Men play, presenting the media’s outward face, while a small monitor on the floor facing into another corner plays bad boy Kendell Geers’s horrifying clip of black South Africans torturing a suspected police spy to death, to a soundtrack of quotes from René Magritte.
A highlight of the videos installed in small rooms is Maja Bajevic’s Double Bubble, in which a black-clad woman repeats religious justifications for violence culled from Balkan war crimes testimony.
For those of us used to holding the remote on the couch, watching so many lengthy and disturbing works in a gallery can be problematic, but the important content here rewards that effort.