Vancouver – Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery

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Morris and Helen Belkin

Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, Vancouver, May 16 August 10, 2008

If 1968 was the year in which the revolution failed to happen, then 1967 was the year in which revolution was still possible. Key moments of 1967, the becoming-revolution, were prescient in their anticipation of the social upheavals of the following year. Indeed one finds this optimism in the thinking of the time.
In 1967 Guy Debord published La société du spectacle, with the claim that contemporary society was caught in the logic of the “spectacular.” In 1967 Michel Foucault lectured Des espaces autres, in which he presented the concept of heterotopias, contradictory but real spaces of otherness. In 1967 Herbert Marcuse spoke at the Congress on the Dialectics of Liberation on the politics of dissent and liberation from affluent society, proposing a rupture to the status quo. One can characterize 1967 by a conflicted sensibility, a collective anxiety, a radical polemic, and a belief in the potential of protest to effect political change.
Holly Ward’s video installation, Radical Rupture (2005-8), perfectly captures this moment of speculative thought. A cozy atmosphere invites one into a dimly lit room to lie down on a beanbag chair over thick shag rug. One reclines and gazes up at a tilted, suspended projection screen to find an image of the night sky.
The audio track playing in the space is the mesmerizing voice of Marcuse from his 1967 lecture, complete with the tin can sound of the original recording, the echo of the lecture hall, the occasional cough of an audience member, and the static of vinyl playback. Despite this interference, the tenor of Marcuse’s conviction is clearly audible as he calls for the abolition of reigning institutions and the mechanisms of repression; a voice demanding radical change. In 1967 he spoke these words:
“If today these integral features, these truly radical features which make a socialist society a definite negation of the existing societies, if this qualitative difference today appears as Utopian, as idealistic, as metaphysical, this is precisely the form in which these radical features must appear if they are really to be a definite negation of the established society: if socialism is indeed the rupture of history, the radical break, the leap into the realm of freedom—a total rupture.”
Ward pairs Marcuse’s voice with a projected image of points of light appearing on a black ground. It is a construction, a fake cosmos, in which blinking lights we take for stars come into view, flicker, then gradually disappear. The cosmos is defined as an orderly, harmonious system. Yet Ward’s pairing disrupts this apparent order with Marcuse’s voice repeatedly calling for rupture. Ward’s practice has consistently investigated spaces of speculative literature, Utopian thinking, revolutionary moments, creating spaces of critical reflection and quiet reverie where one least expects to find them.

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