This season, the Walter Phillips Gallery in Banff features the first Canadian presentation of London-based artist Melanie Gilligan’s Popular Unrest. After more than a decade away from her native country (Gilligan was born in Toronto) the artist is well established in Europe. Accordingly, Popular Unrest, shot in London with a main cast of 12, is an ambitious international co-commission by Chisenhale Gallery, Kolnischer Kunstverein, Presentation House Gallery and the Walter Phillips Gallery. When this Banff show is over, Popular Unrest will travel to Presentation House in Vancouver for its second—but hopefully not last—Canadian exhibition.
This multi-episode narrative fiction takes place in an alternate present or near future where all transactions and exchanges are overseen by a system known as “the Spirit.” Five intertwining episodes probe a transforming social and political landscape that is being shaped by an ongoing financial crisis. The result is a surreal and disconcerting parable—a world where a person is perceived merely as a biological entity to be subjugated to the needs of capital.
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The first episode begins soon after a global outburst of unexplained murders. Despite the fact that these killings happen in crowded public places, nobody seems to see any assailants. Meanwhile, groups of unrelated people from all walks of life are coming together everywhere to form inexplicable clusters of increasing number. The members of these congregations feel a profound sense of connection with each other. At first, these groups seem to offer a way out of the lonely and isolated existence associated with mortgages, medical bills and family obligations, but the situation becomes far more complicated before the reasons for these events are unveiled. Ultimately, however, the entire story is open to interpretation, leaving the viewer with many unanswered questions.
Popular Unrest builds on Gilligan’s Crisis in the Credit System, which was released in 2008. That earlier work, a four-part film about the credit crunch, was made for Internet viewing and distribution and was commissioned by Artangel Interaction. For Popular Unrest, the artist uses the same simple yet innovative distribution solution. The physical exhibitions of Popular Unrest are accompanied by a specially designed website that allows viewers to watch all episodes online. Since the entire film is around 80 minutes long, Internet viewing is good solution, especially as the Walter Phillips Gallery has a relatively remote location in the Rockies.
Overall, Melanie Gilligan’s first exhibition in Canada is an impressive undertaking which keeps me wanting to see more—whether online or at the galleries.
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