“Diabolique” is an ambitious two-part exhibition filled with images ranging from bombs to corpses and from fighter jets to, of course, penises. If the symbols seem all too familiar, that is in part the point of the show, which is as much about violence and war as about the iconographies and processes of their representation.
“Diabolique I” examined human aggression, hostility and the result- ing carnage as constants in the Grand Guignol of human history. Jake and Dinos Chapman’s death’s-head skull swarmed by maggots occupies a central thematic place. Yet the skull bears huge clown ears, suggesting that we’ve become so inured to nightly media portrayals of death and destruction that we can regard them as something almost comical and worthy of cool, distanced irony.
Much of the art makes its impression through visualizations of gruesome outcomes; the rest operates via poetic suggestion. Works by Nancy Spero made in the 1970s in response to the Vietnam War characteristically take an activist position and at the same time spin a time- less tale that has its roots in patriarchal power relations. Dana Claxton confronts the blanketed subject of female violence. Others, like Shirin Neshat and Rebecca Belmore, focus more critically on race.
The desire of the show’s curator, Amanda Cachia, to bring war closer to home prompts “Diabolique II,” which pays attention to current geopolitical relations and realities as they affect Canada directly. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Canada’s role in the latter are troubled by Wanda Koop, Althea Thauberger and Scott Waters; the work of Thauberger and Waters represents the results of their participation in the Canadian Forces Artists Program.
From button-pushing issues presented as if everything is black and white to contemplative reflection where nothing is, the work of the 22 artists in “Diabolique” teems with the realities of flesh and blood, power and aggression. If the disturbing show seems somewhat relentless and, because of that, one-sided, that is its intention: to limn a bleak and horrific human tale that challenges the foundations of our neutrality and our gaze. It is as if the Chapmans’ devilish one-eyed skull, staring idealistically upward as if awaiting redemption, is a reflection of us.