Skip to content

May we suggest

Reviews / November 11, 2010

Allyson Clay: Literature in Stereo

Allyson Clay Stereo Library: Double twice with cadmium yellow 2010 Courtesy Leo Kamen Gallery / photo Cheryl O'Brien

During a 1996 research residency in Paris, Vancouver artist Allyson Clay used a stereo camera to shoot a number of photographs of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, which she later photocopied and enlarged. Recently, she re-examined the photocopies and noted a rupture in the continuity of the image introduced by the two views of the stereo lens, a rupture which suggested “the pages of an open book folding into its binding.” The architectural space between the four corner towers of the Bibliothèque nationale plaza was read by Clay as a pedestrian site, one that signifies the thought process or time interval involved in the processes of discovery and learning. Clay also noted that the towers appear to be placed like “open books” at each corner of the plaza.

The results of Clay’s renewed investigations of this space and its documentation formed the exhibition “Stereo Library,” shown this fall at Leo Kamen Gallery in Toronto.

In her work in general, Clay plays with material signifiers of knowledge in public spaces. Everywhere in the cities she explores she sees an urban architecture of built structures and public institutions for disseminating and storing knowledge. These sites—national libraries and archives—remind her of the lasting material presence of books together with the transitory nature of their contents.

Clay’s previous work also evidences her concern with urban spaces as places for walking. Walking through this exhibition reminded me of narratives from her 2001 text Loci: Two Walking Performances in a City, except that here it was her viewer who was performing, walking a perimeter of visceral tissue in the city surfaces of Four buildings with caucasian flesh tone & black.

What Clay observes about the mediation of knowledge in city spaces and about the play of surfaces and the perception of light—reflected, refracted and ricocheted—mediated her viewer’s process of reading and finding meaning in “Stereo Library.” Clay mixes media intuitively, yet her careful attention to technologies and materials builds on her recent experimentation with geometric paintings. Plaza with deep magenta strip, for example, combines the clean, mirrored surface of steel with oil paint and photo-based Cibachrome prints.

Evidently, Clay sees the process of thinking as wandering and ethereal. Walking through the spaces framed by urban structures, she questions how knowledge is gathered and where learning occurs. In this exhibition, the viewer was suspended in the space outlined by a perimeter of paintings at eye level. The permeable and transparent surfaces of “Stereo Library,” like those of much urban architecture, effectively defined the boundaries of public and private space—but they also, similarly, separated people from one another.