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Chronicles of a Disappearance: On the Affirmation of Absence

How do you portray absence, human or otherwise, in a tangible work of art? Opening this week at DHC/ART in Montreal, “Chronicles of a Disappearance” makes an attempt towards this difficult project, featuring international artists Philippe Parreno, Taryn Simon, Omer Fast, Teresa Margolles and José Toirac as they engage in aesthetic approaches that propel the viewer’s mind towards the act of disappearing.

The most recently created work in the show is 5000 Feet is the Best, a film by Berlin-based artist Omer Fast which speaks of the disjunction of modern armed conflict, in particular as it arises in aerial Predator drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These planes are staffed remotely from a location in America, so that the presence of military and civilian targets often becomes nebulous to their operators. The film, based on interviews with both a real and a fictional Predator pilot, takes a morbid, dehumanized tone when the pilots’ words coincide with aerial footage of targeted individuals being bombed—a perspective that looks hauntingly like that of a video game.

The other four works in this exhibition relate to similarly disconcerting material: New York artist Taryn Simon’s An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar is a photo-and-text catalogue of American occurrences and artifacts that are, for the most part, unknown and unseen—from secret storage sites for nuclear waste to the contraband room at JFK Airport. Havana-based artist José Toirac exhibits Opus, a video of a Fidel Castro speech with much of the audio removed, save for Castro’s passionate pronouncement of numbers; as such, Opus points to the rhetorical fog behind political gain. Mexican artist Teresa Margolles, who has worked previously in morgues, displays a sinister minimalist sculpture, Plancha, meant to evoke thoughts of the autopsy process and the transition from being to having been. Finally, Philippe Parreno presents June 8, 1968, a 70mm-shot film reimagining the train journey that carried Senator Robert Kennedy’s coffin from New York to Washington.

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