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09 Feb 2010

Steele + Tomczak: enregistrements at wharf - Centre d'art Contemporain de Basse-Normandie

© steele+tomczak

Steele + Tomczak: enregistrements
wharf - Centre d'art Contemporain de Basse-Normandie


January 25th to March 13th 2010
Monday to Saturday from 2 to 6 pm


+33(0) 2 31 95 50 87

Wharf, Centre d'art Contemporain de Basse-Normandie
Square du Théâtre
14200 Hérouville St Clair

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Wharf, Centre d'art Contemporain de Basse-Normandie presents
Steele + Tomczak photographs and videos 2003-2009

This major European survey of recent work by Canadian artists Lisa Steele + Kim Tomczak questions the idea of 'the document', asking how much 'truth' can actually be extracted from images - both still and moving. Produced since 2003, this body of work reveals the artists' complex relationship with the idea of typologies, as they have systematically built up banks of images and interviews that can be grouped together for the sake of comparison.

Taken together, the works in 'Enregistrements' all play with the idea of recording, with the possibility of reporting, with the artists' desire to go outside and look around, to go outside and listen.

In 4 recent series of large-scale photo/text works, they have taken to heart the words of Martha Rosler, who asked in the introduction to her 1975 photo and text work The Bowery... 'what can you learn from them that you didn't already know?'

'...bump in the night' (2003-9), presents 3 large-scale photo/text works, each a series of individual photographs overlaid with texts that are verbatim answers to very short interviews done by the artists. The photos are of a young person about to enter a doorway to their school; the photos are taken from the back; the texts are transcriptions of short interviews with teenagers on the cusp of change, about to leave their current level of schooling. (One series was done in Toronto, one in southern Germany and a third in Caen, France). Embedded in the middle of very innocuous questions (what is your favourite colour? Describe a recent dream.) is a more loaded one: what are you afraid of?

'Facing forward' (2008) uses the same interview strategy, this time applying it to high-powered business executives the artists interviewed during a 2007-8 residency at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart. This time their answers are overlaid onto photographs of the entranceways to major financial institutions in the same area of Germany. Here the artists' uneasy relationship with 'documentary practices' emerges more clearly: the subject - the person interviewed and whose text the viewer reads - is not present (not even anonymously as the teenagers' are depicted from the back only); nor is the location shown the 'real' place where the subject works. In other words, there is no 'documentary truth' present in these works, just layer upon layer of reflective surfaces, as glass mirrors glass, then mirroring the viewers back to themselves.

Paris-based writer and critic Paul Ardenne has written of their work, 'Taken collectively, their methods re-invoke a key technique of modern artistic expression, (they) deliberately readopt the principle of 'distanciation': the establishment of critical distance, the Verfremdungeffekt that Brecht once exploited so radically.'

The video artworks being exhibited in 'Enregistrements' continue the accumulation of typologies, this time focusing on the built environments of cities. In the 3 part 'City Studies: Becoming V... (2007), Becoming B... (2007), Becoming T... (2008)', Steele + Tomczak explore how Vancouver, Berlin and Toronto are evolving architecturally. Shot in vivid high-definition, these works are relentlessly explicit in their comparative analysis of 'the new' being mapped on existing urban environments in the contemporary western world. Speak City (2009) sustains this investigation. Here the artists produce a 'portrait' of the city of Toronto told through its street signs, a semiotic journey that unfolds the passage of time in an unpeopled city.

Paul Ardenne again: 'Rather than alarm viewers, Steele and Tomczak give us time. Their goal is to alert us, to gain our attention, to question rather than to amaze. It being understood, of course, that the ideas must travel further than the images themselves as a platform (an excuse) for launching ideas (to escape tangible gravity).'

The exhibition continues with 3 silent works from the artists' on-going 'Miniatures' series which combines political slogans with unrelated images drawn from the natural world; 'Make Love Not War' (2003), 'Free Speech' (2007), and 'May 68' (2009) each articulates the disconnect between the media-saturated world of realpolitik and the speech of resistance.

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