I is being This

by Janine C. Grant

Liz Magor, I is Being This. Photo Courtesy of Catriona JeffriesInstal­la­tion view, I is being This, Catri­ona Jef­fries, Van­cou­ver, 2012.
Photo Courtesy of Catronia Jefferies

It happens to all of us.  At some point, we are confronted with the trite materiality of our daily existence.  Whether it’s emptying your pockets at the end of the night, clearing off your desk, or bagging clothes to give away, each daily activity is a form of exhuming the evidence of your life choices and vices.  I wouldn’t say that these remnants define who we are, but rather act as indicators of our life narrative.  The process of sorting and discarding is complicated, involving many different layers and items of the everyday.  Liz Magor, in her recent show I is being This at the Catriona Jeffries Gallery, displayed them all.

Liz Magor, Being This, 2012. Photo Courtesy of Catronia JeffriesLiz Magor, Being This, 2012. 36 boxes, paper, tex­tiles, found mate­ri­als.
Eachbox approx­i­mately 19 x 12 x 2 ½ inches (48.25 x 30.5 x 6.35 cm). Photo
Courtesy of Catronia Jefferies

As I walked into the first room of the gallery, garment boxes seemed to burst out in a grid of small visual, explosions from the surrounding walls.  Brightly coloured and neatly folded clothing items were nestled in boxes lined with tissue paper. The brightness of the boxes beckoned closer examination, and as I leaned in I realized that what I thought was a single garment was a collage of materials all expertly stitched together.  Layers of cotton, knits, chiffon, tweed, and silks, with sale and clothing tags cut out and placed as embellishments on the outside of the piece, made for an eyeful waiting for you in each box.  Gloves, either real or implied by a cut piece of fabric, lay across the breast of some of the jackets and pointed toward a price, provenance, or detail of the clothing.  As my eye wandered to this area I also noticed that some of the jackets had other items trapped between the layers of cloth.  Cigarette butts, candy wrappers, receipts, and wine corks were jumbled together, evident as though I had x-ray vision into the contents of the jacket’s pockets.

But in saying “the jacket’s pockets,” I know these items are not of the jacket but rather the detritus of the person who wore it.  The bits of garbage act as signifiers of a human subject.  Magor, in a recent interview with the Vancouver Sun, said she doesn’t want the exhibit or her work to be a critique of consumerist culture, or the production of identity, but rather to present the pieces as human relics.  Our lives are intertwined narratives, she explained.  The clothing, being snippets of several different items sewn together, indicate the morphing of our styles and influences.  The pocketed debris is a token of our daily life.  Together, these things are arbitrary reminders of our activities, often hidden and only surfacing within our consciousness when we pull out a handful of receipts, or use the edge of our hand to sweep wrappers into a trashcan.

Liz Magor, Study for a Farce, 2012. Photo Courtesy of Catronia JeffriesLiz Magor, Study for a Farce, 2012. Tex­tile, fur, found objects
60 x 96 x 8 inches (152.5 x 244 x 20 cm). Photo Courtesy of Catronia Jefferies

The title of the show, I is being This, conflates the tenses—the past, present, and future of who we are or might be.  This statement does not identify a person as a static object, and neither do the clothes.  The movement and interplay of materials within the contained boxes indicate our own malleability.  Liz Magor has said of an earlier exhibit, The Mouth and other storage facilities, that she was working with the “… coexistence of two drives or two realities.  A kind of staking of one part of your life that is not quite manageable on top of another part that you manage quite well…   [E]very single person is trying to keep the balance between control and lack of control, rational and irrational.  You are living with complexity.”  This theme also pervaded I is being This.  Her garment boxes provided an intricate glimpse into human existence here in North America, with our weaknesses and comforts on display.

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