Saturday, February 20, 2010

Olympic bodies.

The Olympics don't just bring sport to a city, they bring an array of other exciting activities including those that are part of the Cultural Olympiad.  And the Vancouver Art Gallery located at Robson Square (a major downtown Olympic space) offered several presentations that were part of the celebration.  I already mentioned Michael Lin's spectacular Modest Vail that adorned the outside of the building. Inside, the gallery hosted a temporary exhibition that was part of the Cultural Olympiad called Visceral Bodies.  (Interestingly, there was another temporary exhibit called Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Man that wasn't part of the Cultural Olympiad.  It featured anatomical drawings from da Vinci's journals and was a perfect intro to the more abstract nature of Visceral Bodies.)

Visceral Bodies was a first rate show with some first rate artists who explored the changing perceptions of the human body, often contemplating how science has changed our ideas about ourselves.  Many of the works were surprisingly powerful and I was caught off guard by how much emotion they inspired.  The exhibit lived up to its name by forcing some truly visceral reactions.

Here are just a few of the many stand out works.  (Note: Photography was not allowed.  So these photos are taken from the Internet and do not represent installation views.)

The show featured two works by one of my favorite artists, Marc Quinn.  Both were spectacular.  First up, Carl Whittaker - Amiodarone, Aspirin, Ciclosporin (Heart Transplant) (2005, polimer wax, drugs).  As is frequently the case with Quinn's work, this cast of an actual heart transplant patient asks lots of questions about the thin line between life and death.  The sculpture is cast with a mixture of wax and the drugs that help to keep the patient alive.  And while the cast was made from a living person, the final scultpture evokes death.

Also on display was Quinn's Early Self Portrait (2007, rose marble).  There were lots of things that make this work interesting.  Quinn is known for making self portraits including a work cast from his own blood and maintained in a frozen state.  The marble sculpture at the Vancouver Art Gallery responds to some of the artist's earlier work.  Several years ago Quinn created a series of marble portraits of athletes with missing limbs.  The works elicited a fair amount of outrage and disgust.  As a response, Quinn created this sculpture created from actual MRI images of a developing fetus.  The strange creature has yet to develop arms and legs. I was surprised at how much this looked like a Cubist sculpture.

Another artist known for making casts of his own body is Antony Gormley. His large installation works can feature hundreds of casts of himself.  Other works use the artist's body as a starting point but then abstract the information to the point of non-recognition.  Drift II (2007, 2mm square section stainless steel bar) is one such work.

One of my favorite works in the show was Memoria I, 24.10.07 (2007, calcium sulfate with cianacrilate application, resin base, and stainless still supports) by Mexican artist Gabriel de la Mora.  I knew nothing about Mora before this show but I'll definitely be on the look out for more of his work in the future.  This family portrait consists of exact replicas of the family members' skulls.  The skulls are made by rendering in three dimensions the MRI images taken of each family members' skull. Mora even got permission to exhume the bodies of his dead grandfather and still born sister to complete the portrait.  It was hauntingly beautiful.

I'll mention one last work that was so disturbing I couldn't experience it as intended by the artist. Teresa Margolles is another Mexican artists whose work I didn't know.  Her art explores the unnecessary and rampant violence that has overtaken her country.  Vaho (No. 1 - 3) (2006, acrylic, organic material) is a work that begins with the autoposy of a Mexican murder victim.  The art on display in Vancouver consisted of acrylic boxes splattered with organic material released during the autopsy.  Near these boxes was a pair of headphones where visitors could listen to the sounds of the autopsy victim being cut open.  I couldn't bring myself to put on the headphones. I suppose some might find this work gratuitous.  But sometimes, the only way to break through the noise of modern life and get people to pay attention to the attrocities that surround us, is to shock. And few things are better suited to accomplish that than art.

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