Canadian Art

Steve Bates: On Memory’s Machines

Maison de la Culture Notre Dame-de-Grâce, Montreal Nov 10 2011 to Jan 22 2012
Steve Bates <em>Roadmovie</em> 2011 Detail © Steve Bates  Steve Bates Roadmovie 2011 Detail © Steve Bates

Steve Bates <em>Roadmovie</em> 2011 Detail © Steve Bates

The exhibition "For me the noise of time is not sad” presented two new sound- and video-based works by Steve Bates produced during a special residency co-hosted by Productions et Réalisations Indépendantes de Montréal and Dazibao. Though perceptually and structurally different, these pieces jointly stressed the theme of memory. They also continued Bates’ exploration of social forms—especially forms of communication—and how they shape our sensuous and conscious transactions with the landscape.

Bates’ hub-like projection and sound piece (also titled For me the noise of time is not sad) may be described as a digital and expanded slideshow. Three video projectors and two speakers placed low to the ground in the middle of the gallery carried the action. Sometimes there was only silence and the empty dark outlines cast by the idling projectors; but then, a speaker would emit a slowed-down recording of a camera shutter: Tr-clung! … Trr. Richly textured and highly detailed, these sounds were not “clicks” but abrupt, mechanical, spring-loaded rattlings. When quickly followed by a projection, they seemed to trigger the appearance of the image. The pictures were colourful snapshots of manicured natural scenes, mountain peaks and horizons; there were no portraits. These scenes flashed up so briefly (sometimes for a mere fraction of a second) and so randomly (they might appear on any of the three walls allotted) that they frustrated narrative expectations. They consistently caught you looking at the wrong spot—live training in listening’s pleasures and the frailties of sight.

Nearby, the poetic single-channel video Roadmovie documented Bates’ foray into the conventions of narrative cinema. Juxtaposing the artist’s thoughts on radio and territory with the story of a son’s drive across the continent to visit a grandfather suffering from Alzheimer’s, it encouraged free passage between the domains of memory and history. Fixed shots taken through the windshield of a car as it travelled down a night road evoked, in a minor key, the tremendous historical tax levied by single-point perspective on cultural imaginaries of the nation and the landscape. At the same time, intermittent cuts to a patchwork of greys and to curves on a road, experienced along with the surrounding darkness and the warm, crackling sound of radio frequencies, appealed to the limits of such visions. But like the nearby samplings of camera shutters, and like the stray field monitor discreetly screening an image of a satellite behind the viewer, these wayward signals appeared neither sad nor empty. Rather, they testified to something like the thought of alternative possibilities.

This article was first published online on March 15, 2012.

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