The Studio Theatre: New Work by Damian Moppett

by Brandon Chow

Offsite: Damian Moppett

Damian Moppett’s work at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Offsite location fashions concrete space into an imagined stage, and Georgia Street’s sidewalk into front-row seating.

Large Painting and Caryatid Maquette in Studio at Night, colloquially nuanced, describes a large-scale model (maquette) of elements from a portrait of Moppett’s studio, translated into a colour kaleidoscope of Rorschach-esque metal cutouts. While a sculpture of a painting of an art studio sounds like an easy concept at which to throw hipster labels, Moppett’s use of various media in relation to one another reflects a deeper meditation on the progression of art making—something that didn’t immediately appear to me in my experience with this piece, but grew more familiar with an intimate review.

The exhibition features several pieces cluttered in isolation, but impossible to view as a whole without crossing to the other side of Georgia Street (and getting a lucky break with traffic).  I decided to view each piece independently, but from the first glance to the seventh, the figures monkeyed around with my imagination. So I abandoned a freshperspective in favour of the short introductory panel. Returning with new insight into the thematic elements at play, what initially looked to me like a tree sticking out of a cliff continued to look like a tree sticking out of a cliff, but I was able to get a better sense of what Moppett is trying to convey through the structural composition of the piece.

While the players stay fixed to their metal supports, their recital is played out through their arrangement within the stage: crowded, abstract fragments seem to represent the chaotic nature of an art studio, while a glowing light source in the middle of the set illuminates mysterious shadows that I thought added an element of drama to Moppett’s performance. Though it’s often difficult to make sense of the vibrantly painted cutouts—such as the caryatid (female sculpted figure) on the far right, or the presence of a stark grey crane in the backdrop—Moppett’s purpose seems to be more of a commentary on the character of the practice of making art.

Like the experience of sitting uncomfortably close to a movie screen, it’s unfortunate that the sidewalk on Georgia Street doesn’t provide enough depth to view Moppett’s work in its entirety. But the larger than life, brightly coloured cutouts are enough to make passersby pause in their step. The abstract shapes engage them in thoughtful musing (though I doubt you’ll be able use this to self-diagnose possible psychological disorders), but the concept of art-making presented as a performance is what is really worth considering in front of Moppett’s sculpture.

The Vancouver Art Gallery’s Offsite is located on Georgia Street between Thurlow and Bute, west of the Shrangri-La Hotel. Offsite: Damien Moppett is on view until April 1, 2013.

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