Toronto – Royal Ontario Museum

65
Royal Ontario Museum

Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, August 27—October 13, 2008

This year’s Sobey Art Awards showcases a selection of works from Canadian artists Daniel Barrow, Mario Doucette, Raphaëlle de Groot, Terence Koh, and Tim Lee. United by a common thread, the pieces presented urge the viewer to reflect critically on the question of identity, be it in terms of the cultural narratives that situate us historically or the social contexts that give rise to our sense of personal identity.
Both Doucette’s naïve paintings and Koh’s sublime installation invite the visitor to consider aspects of our collective heritage. In citing specific moments of violence in colonial history, be it Canadian or Latin-American, in the flat perspective and symbolic mode common to children’s colour drawings, Doucette’s narrative canvasses unsettle viewers by communicating a profound emotional engagement with war and cultural conflict. The lacerating irony of the Acadian tableaux in particular underscores painful points of rupture in our shared Canadian cultural narrative and provokes us to re-evaluate the history lessons we learned in youth. Koh’s monumental Raven Sits on Snowman Thinking of Earth from the Moon (2008), on the other hand, moves us away from the concrete facets of life by encouraging us to contemplate mortality from the standpoint of formal abstraction and ruins. A “sacred” line separates the visitor from the white objects within the exhibit space, imposing the physical distance requisite to an aesthetic judgment of the sublime. The giant sphere thus calls to mind the majestic heavenly bodies that inhabit the sky; the small, glass-encased objects, comprising traces of life (i.e., cultural artefacts, bones, etc.) remind us of the finitude of human existence contrasted to the infinite passing of time.
Barrow’s emotionally charged and visceral multi-media installation Learning to Love the Normal Amount (2008) presents the hot-house abjection of the post-WWII, western adolescent psyche with its phobias, transgressive desires, and unconscious fears. The symbolic violence depicted in the surreal, cartoon-like images conveys a fragmented sense of identity and reveals a fictional self caught between conflicting social pressures and burdened by oppressive interpersonal dynamics. There is nonetheless a sense of hopefulness expressed in Barrow’s playful use of retro technology and his procedure of manual animation, permitting the viewer to posit the subject represented in his images as a crucible of affirmative creative activity. For his part, in insinuating himself in canonical moments of western music history through photography and edited audiovisual performances, Tim Lee re-conceptualizes them in the aesthetic space of contemporary art and generates an ironic distance that incites us to reflect on the figure of the artist in contemporary society. Finally, Raphaëlle de Groot’s video, sound, and visual pieces undermine our notion of identity by exploring the limits of visual perception, inter-subjective communication, and institutional classifications, revealing the constructed nature of the categories we use to define ourselves.

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