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Never-Dying Worm, AHVA Library Gallery

As an exhibition curated by Marina Roy, an Assistant Professor in UBC’s Visual Art Department and a practicing artist in her own right, Never-Dying Worm presented two impressions.

Burrowing deep beneath the Walter C. Koerner Library, the window-wrapped AHVA gallery displayed the administrative tenacity of Heather Passmore's “Form Letters” (2008 - ongoing), a selected archive of letters from galleries, residencies, and granting agencies that weigh more towards rejection than acceptance. Moving away from illustrating each letter and towards a revelation of record keeping, the series as a whole was surprisingly nostalgic. As I peered over the grid of letters dating back ten years, the assortment of letterheads and corresponding names attached to the various institutions were duly noted as a set of fluctuating names within this standardized method of peer-to-peer engagement. Time moved on, but it would appear that language stood still (save for a few hilarious oddities).

This is the first impression: that beneath the necessary persistence, the work opened up an understated importance of the tangible material. The letters themselves are the fetish, and they are all the more cherished when traces of handwriting appear beyond the obligatory signature. The traces of presence were also visible in the work of Kelly Lycan, who had several of the strongest pieces in the exhibition.

Image credit: Kelly Lycan “315 Eyeglass Lenses” Detail (2004)

Expanding beyond a mere obsession with collecting and creating seemingly use-less objects, works like “Doily Stump” (2004 - ongoing), “315 Eyeglasses Lenses” (pictured above), and the stand-out, “Tab Flyers” (2009) from WHITE HOT, Lycan consumes our excess, our loaded material discards, and offers back to us these formal monuments built out of considered accumulation.

An honorable mention also goes to Derek Dunlop's “A Lover's Geography” (2008), a photo-based project of deserted and heavily pixelated domestic spaces, furniture, and homely fabric patterns. It is not obvious, though overheard was the explanation that these are screen captures taken from amateur online pornography videos. Their uncanny sensibility comes from an odd blend of Kijiji aesthetics and a mild shout-out to Thomas Ruff’s Nudes series, the latter which heavily distorts freeze frames of digitally downloaded pornographic images into blurred portraits of bodies in motion, exacting a sensuality where there was none before. Dunlop’s works are barren landscapes in contrast, and perhaps it’s unfair to contrast, but so it goes.

While there were other works in the exhibition, they seemed anomalies to me in their overall relationship to each other. This is the second impression, which came hours later as I was reading over the leaflet containing Roy’s curatorial essay. As a mediation on the unconscious and the material turn, instigated by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from where the exhibition’s title is derived, I paused to wonder if what I was reading was in fact about the exhibition I just visited. There were some common themes of interest, but a close analysis of the essay didn’t necessarily need any of the art works to support or even compliment its existence. While I shudder at the marketing copy of exhibitions that inanely describe the works into bare reductions, and I can barely stomach curatorial essays that expand upon these reductions with c.v. padding, this type of academically rigorous arts writing arguably swings hard the other way and subsumes its parallel exhibition.

This is sliding into a quandary on the relationship between the words of an exhibition and the works of an exhibition, and here I am finding them too disparate, but nevertheless, unexpectedly welcoming in presenting the choice of multiple entry points. 

Exhibition runs until February 4, 2012 at AHVA Library Gallery

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