Three: Brendan Fernandes’ They at Rodman Hall Art Centre

Rodman Hall Art Centre
  • Installation view, Brendan Fernandes: They, Rodman Hall Art Centre, St. Catharines, 2014. Photo: Danny Custodio
  • Installation view, Brendan Fernandes: They, Rodman Hall Art Centre, St. Catharines, 2014. Photo: Danny Custodio
  • Installation view, Brendan Fernandes: They, Rodman Hall Art Centre, St. Catharines, 2014. Photo: Danny Custodio
  • Installation view, Brendan Fernandes: They, Rodman Hall Art Centre, St. Catharines, 2014. Photo: Danny Custodio
  • Installation view, Brendan Fernandes: They, Rodman Hall Art Centre, St. Catharines, 2014. Photo: Danny Custodio
  • Installation view, Brendan Fernandes: They, Rodman Hall Art Centre, St. Catharines, 2014. Photo: Danny Custodio
  • Installation view, Brendan Fernandes: They, Rodman Hall Art Centre, St. Catharines, 2014. Photo: Danny Custodio
  • Installation view, Brendan Fernandes: They, Rodman Hall Art Centre, St. Catharines, 2014. Photo: Danny Custodio
  • Installation view, Brendan Fernandes: They, Rodman Hall Art Centre, St. Catharines, 2014. Photo: Danny Custodio
  • Installation view, Brendan Fernandes: They, Rodman Hall Art Centre, St. Catharines, 2014. Photo: Danny Custodio
  • Brendan Fernandes, Mirror Stage II, 2014. Photo: Courtesy of the artist
  • Brendan Fernandes, Mirror Stage IV, 2014. Photo: Courtesy of the artist
  • Brendan Fernandes, They, video still, 2013. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

[En anglais]

Three: Brendan Fernandes' They at Rodman Hall Art Centre
October 14, 2014 to January 4, 2015

They, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is used to refer to two or more people or things previously mentioned or easily identified, people in general or a group of people in authority regarded collectively. Further to this definition is a statement discussing how they has been used as a singular pronoun since the 16th century to refer to a person of unspecified sex. This, more than the definition, indicates an enlightened stance on identity politics within the etymology of they, the word that names Brendan Fernandes' exhibition at Rodman Hall Art Centre.

They turns up in many ways throughout the exhibition, surfacing in the form of subtle references to people or things, often in groups of three. The subtlety of the title is perhaps the strongest aspect of the exhibition, tying they together in threes within the various works presented. Three video projections of the piece Encomium (2013) are placed around the room. The work, a choreographed dance performed by two male dancers and emphasizing balance, asymmetry and dependence on the other dancer, is viewed from three different perspectives. The piece also includes three plinths coloured orange, pink and yellow positioned throughout the space. Each plinth contains a poster.

"The lover pursues his beloved through his wisdom. His beloved supplies his lover with physical beauty. The lover aims to teach his beloved. They advance facing one another in a slow but confident walk."

These words are found on one of the posters, with a background image referencing the creased and rough skin of an elephant. "They," the two lovers, are being guided by these words, written by the artist as directions for movement: literal, lateral, poetically linear. On the far wall, three screen prints of directions translated in a form of Morse code are hung haphazardly directing the gaze from one to the next in a prescribed path. Also leading the viewer through the exhibition space are vinyl Morse code letters on the floor.

They and Three thus emerge as central themes in this exhibition. Both words carry meaning that can be specific and nuanced, further informing the reading of this exhibition. Presenting a series of triptychs throughout the gallery creates a call and response effect for viewers as they follow the circuit of works. In the movement between different elements of the exhibition – precise, pristine and pointed – viewers are gently coaxed into their understanding of They. It is quite mesmerizing watching the dancers. They rely on each other to complete the dance, holding one another for balance, resistance and strength. What translates here is the need to allow these elements space and time within any given relationship. Simultaneously, they refers to any person, and here queer politics plays a small but significant role. Fernandes does not overtly speak to Queer theory and politics in his work, but given the subtle and pointed significance of the term they, these issues come to the fore.

"The lover positions his glare across the room, his beloved is captured.
They advance facing one another in a slow but confident walk."

As the viewer circles the room, returning again and again to the mediated but meditative, enduring and endured performance, the meaning of they returns as well. While the work is clearly directed toward a specific reading or understanding, there is also much room for interpretation and the entrance of three-way conversations. They does not lead the viewer, the viewer leads they.

The exhibition also features two other video works, curtained off in other rooms within the gallery. These pieces branch away from the major body of work in the main room yet continue to dialogue with this queer narrative of the notion of they. In one video the viewer hears the voices of two elephants speaking as if they were in a relationship. Barbara Gowdy's The White Bone (2007) comes to mind, and the same thoughtfulness and soulfulness of being immersed in the elephant's consciousness that she illustrated in the novel surfaces. In Fernandes' rendition, the elephants – one Indian and one Kenyan – discuss why race should not interfere with their relationship, how love rises above this issue. The piece is forthright and touching in its acknowledgement of the continued battle of racial discrimination that many individuals experience.

What Fernandes does so skillfully with his work is subvert gender and racial dichotomies through allusion. Issues of race, gender and sexuality might not be referred to specifically, but they come to the surface nonetheless. In approaching these deep-seated issues with subtlety, Fernandes is able to question and destabilize the continued inequality that is present in our society. The poignant and powerful moments of They are found through gentle suggestion and subtle conversation. The term they, as that which defines without defining at all, is the ideal entry point into wandering and wondering through these questions.

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