The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes

by Alex Southey

Ed Atkins, A Primer for Cadavers, 2011 Video still

Ed Atkins, A Primer for Cadavers, 2011 (video still)

The title of this article is also the title of Contemporary Art Gallery’s current exhibition that I just attended. The gallery’s lobby is fairly plain and although BC Binning Gallery one hallway over is as well, it is artistic in itself. Rugs are laid out across a black floor, and the only light in the room comes from the screen consistently showing one video submission after another. There are chairs on the left and right side of the room, and a long couch at the back.

I admit, because I rarely venture in to the world of contemporary art, I was skeptical. As the videos progressed, however, I became intrigued. When I saw the computer mouse resting on the side of the screen, turning in to a page —loading symbol, I was more than curious. It was too bad because when I arrived with a friend, we came in the middle of a featuring work. There was no set time and because all of the videos presented were on a loop, we had hard time figuring out what we were watching and why and its context.

I have yet to find out what the title was of the first video we found ourselves viewing is. However, it looked as though the majority of the shots were comprised nearly like photographs. Some times the subjects in the photographs moved, mostly depicting hard labour or general futile efforts towards something, but the rest of the picture stood still. From there, it got more interesting.

Rossella Biscotti, The Prison of Santo Stefano, 2013, (film still)

Rossella Biscotti, The Prison of Santo Stefano, 2013, (film still)

The second film we saw was Rossella Biscotti’s The Prison of Santo Stefano, 2013. It is entirely silent except for the sound of a super 8 film reel. We as the viewers watched grainy footage of a group of varied men working around a graveyard and prison. The men build art works such as sculptures and also plant flowers and dig graves. The entire setting is on an island where some products are clearly shipped from some other place. All in all, visually pleasing.

The third film we saw was Avalon, 2011 directed by Maryam Jafri. The film sheds light on the lesser known aspects of products created for certain types of fetishes: not only the mindset one must be in to produce fetish paraphernalia, but also the way users are affected by these fetishes. It was informative, although slightly disturbing going from one fetish to another, weirder and weirder as we watched. I am not sure if some of the interviews spliced between footage of fetish product users were real or scripted, but either way if the information came from a place of truth it was all, again, at least informative.


Maryam Jafri, Avalon, 2011, (film still)

The fourth video played was Toril Johannessen’s Non—Conservation of Energy (and of Spirits), 2012. This was the last video I saw and by far the most interesting. You may not think so at first, because the video is just a projection of a dialogue on a plain gray background. However, it quickly builds to a point where, like reading a good book, your mind creates the visuals for you. A client who wishes to learn the truth of conservation (or non—conservation) of energy gets help from a clairvoyant to get in touch with spirits from the past. The client believes the information from this experience will bring better understanding of the subject. After a short amount of time, the clairvoyant is able to feel a spirit present who we soon learn is Niels Bohr, the Danish scientist from the 19th century. Bohr, or the spirit of Bohr is not able to speak to the living directly so they improvise a way of communication through knocking. The client asks a question and Bohr knocks once for “yes” and twice for “no”. Although this limits the specificity of the client’s questions, it makes for an interesting dialogue if you’re willing to even semi—believe the transcript being played in the video.

Toril Johannessen, Non—Conservation of Energy (and of Spirits), 2012. Video still

Toril Johannessen, Non—Conservation of Energy (and of Spirits), 2012 (Video still)

I didn’t walk out of the gallery with the feeling as though I was a changed person, but I was without a doubt entertained and will maybe spend a little time reading about Niels Bohr and his work. I might even check out Toril Johannessen’s other work, if it’s available.


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