Curator’s Notes: Fantasy Island


 [Fantasy Island was an exhibition I organized with Wendy Welch at the Slide Room Gallery in February of 2010.]

Curator’s Notes: ‘Fantasy Island’

Wendy Welch and I had originally been looking at a show based on notions of fantasy with something of a dark side. We were interested in this tendency in the work of several Victoria artists, and we thought there was some kind of crossover between the alternative subcultural crust that forms on the Western edge of the country, with its heritage of experimental living, psychedelia, folk music and craft and a sense of weightless whimsy that in my mind will always recall the networking obsessed turn of the millennium…a sense of interconnectedness that fuelled upbeat, neo-liberal notions of a self-policing community of moral & economic improvisation. By now we have all become more begrudgingly circumspect about the unreality of social media as it relates to the reality social contract, but that buzz of displacement, that momentary liberation of plugging in and getting down, remains a signal experience of our time.  

We began talking about a strain of escapism that both of us associated with the Pacific Northwest in general and Victoria in particular, a sense of utopia or dystopia as represented by both Victoria’s long history of tourism as well as the addictive behaviours of its homeless population. The ‘natural wonders’ that lure so many folks out here are part of the story as well…images of flora and fauna that nudge closer to human behaviour may indicate the fantasy of a back to nature ethos, or the ornamental expression of something that no longer participates meaningfully in our lives.

Caitlin Gallupe’s small, vivid gouache panels for instance, tell peculiar stories in which youth at play frolic in a hallucinogenic landscape. A monstrous character – the Brothers Grimm via science-fiction – emerges in the depiction of a landscape filled with alien intelligence. Her characters may have found an ideal, alternative community, or they may be the subjects of a countercultural cautionary tale, terribly out of place.

June Higgins’ acrylic paintings feature a bacterial fairyland whose lush brushwork whose rising hackles offer glimpses of a visceral, vulnerable underside. Their resemblance to landscape painting could be a form of protective or predatory camouflage. Lyle Schultz’s paintings by contrast configure a wall on which dense, paranoid, scribbles huddle together for crumbs of stray goodwill, all the while ready to change tactics and aggressively insinuate themselves into your consciousness.

Carly Nabess’ works on paper are delicate, open-ended monochromes. Their flower and animal shapes recall both an adolescent scrapbook aesthetic and something retro-modernist, the future that was…Likewise, Tyler Hodgins’ miniature community began as a model for a public sculpture proposal for the Dockside Green development. I’ve always been of the opinion that models for unrealized public sculpture are inherently utopian, representing a possibility of community that never was…His addition of live moss to the hollow centre of the piece suggests both the dream of a nature-centered community and the ‘greenwashing’ attendant upon so many prefabricated models of home.

Caleb Speller’s contribution to Fantasy Island bookends (literally) an odd, vaguely miraculous procession from youth to old age. Like the animals that mournfully carry the dead hunter through the forest in Mahler’s First Symphony, his quirky musical instruments are both droll and admirably serious at their work. Nearby, an author’s portrait of dubious veracity gives up the joke.

Selina Jorgensen has produced dozens of small to medium format works in graphic silkscreen and acrylic patterns based on tidal life as rendered with insistent flatness. Arranged in hypnotic configurations of lacy forms and tie-dyed colours, these works suggest the unreality of the aquarium world. 

Rachel has experience working with injured wildlife via both the SPCA and Metchosin’s WildARC. Her position is something of an update on the nineteenth century model of artist as naturalist. Though Evans’ work is motivated by a sincere interest in her subject, it also entails an aspect of wonder and curiosity. For instance, the eyes of the deer masks are fitted with periscopes so that viewers who try on a mask must relate to the sensory/cognitive experience of the way deer actually see. The curious (and potentially absurd or grotesque) appearance of a person wearing a deer mask is reflective of an element of fantasy, fallacy or romance, inherent in scientific models.

Camilla and Rosey Pickard have produced a screenplay for an absurdist melodrama, “Hinterland Attack of the Friendly and Dangerous Animals.” The farcical story pokes fun at images of animals as both friendly companions and/or majestic, awe-inspiring Canadiana, as well as our current penchant for environmental catastrophe as entertainment. Her sister Rosey has provided Surreal, retro-Edwardian illustrations. 

Finally, Dallas V. Duobaitis has reproduced the dizzyingly inventive structure of his recent show at the Fifty-Fifty Arts Collective, Ad-Hoc Trajectories. Less a rehash than the continuity of an ongoing, seeking series of questions, his site-specific sculpture connect the rudimentary and the sophisticated, repetitive handwork to sweeping scale, while at the same time suggesting an invasive growth principal reminiscent of a virus. To become involved in these bridges and fretworks is to entertain a romance of domination and isolation, undercut by a persistent humility of means. A practicing Buddhist, Duobaitis argues that the fragile, contingent nature of his structures causes viewers to reconsider their own biases and expectations as to stability and storytelling.

The purpose of Fantasy Island is not to organize a central statement or aesthetic but qualify atmosphere-as-activity, like a mood or variety of weather, slightly inert but also definitively unstable. Perhaps it is symptomatic of both the works involved and their organization in the space that the show was largely organized through social media. The trust that poetry can manifest itself through such networking is an investment in localized sensations travelling great distances (think here of Colin Wilson’s definition of authorship as a spider feeling tremors at the center of a web1.); a kind of magic, an occult character that roots the show’s more absurd banalities and high-minded constructions in perpetual ritual.

  1. 1.        Colin Wilson, The Occult (New York: Vintage Books, 1973) 22.

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