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Still Films: Freeze Frames

The pervasive presence of digital photo technology—from mobile phone cameras to spy satellites—has created a seismic shift in the way we record and perceive the world around us. On a global scale this has enabled us to witness and react with an unprecedented immediacy, as recent events in Japan and the Middle East would attest. But in the thick of this digital hyper-stimulus, where images come fast and furious, what of the traditional narrative constructs of photography? What of the rich meanings and modes that lie at the root of image making?

These are some of the questions that come to mind when considering “Still Films,” an exhibition of historical and contemporary photo works that slows down the dynamics of image making in a bid to re-examine the narrative potential and fictive power of the still image. Guest curated for the Yukon Arts Centre by Lance Blomgren, “Still Films” focuses on sequential or serial treatments of photography, where meaning is built not only within the fixed frame but also in the spaces between images. Take for instance Two Men Wrestling, an excerpt from Eadweard Muybridge’s benchmark 1887 Animal Locomotion series that breaks the grappling movement of a pair of naked men into a dozen photos. Revolutionary for its rendering of anatomical detail, the precise, frame-by-frame composition offers a counterintuitive view of motion that is at once static and cinematic. In comparison, Chance Meeting, a 1970 photo sequence by New York artist Duane Michals, depicts two men passing in a narrow urban alleyway in a conceptual take on bodies in motion that, as Blomgren writes in the exhibition’s catalogue, “transposes the analytic concerns of Muybridge into a narrative expression of existential uncertainty.”

Charles Stankievech’s 2005 film installation Zeno’s Phantasies deconstructs film footage of the Lumière brothers’ 1895 L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, a piano interlude by Glenn Gould and nuclear bomb testing by the US military. By isolating and then digitally weaving the blank gaps between frames into his composite films, Stankievech uncovers latent narrative value in real and imagined histories and mechanical structures. That study swings to fully fictional degrees in NSCAD-trained, Austin, Texas–based artists Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler‘s photo series Falling Down. The duo is widely regarded for cinematic film works that often hinge on a Kafkaesque brand of storytelling. In this grid of eight photos, instances of psychological collapse are staged as a sequence of tightly framed film stills set, as Blomgren notes, in “a kind of middle North America of the mind.” This ambiguous physical/mental scene play continues in Rotterdam-based artist Yvette Poorter‘s ongoing photo series Wilderness of Elsewhere, which employs the everywhere-and-nowhere quality of anonymous travel snapshots and personal photos as a backdrop to her torn and collaged figurative works. In all, the narrative charge is in constant flux as images drift between fact, fantasy and frames. Works by Michael Snow, Holly Armishaw, Jennifer Crane, Mary Beth Edelson, Nate Larson, Chris Marker, Alain Paiement and others round out the bill. (300 College Dr, Whitehorse YK)

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