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Exponential Future

"Exponential Future" by Aaron Peck, Summer 2008, pp. 92-3

Exponential Future,” an exhibit of eight young Vancouver artists co-curated by Juan Gaitán and Scott Watson, provokes a very simple question: what kind of future is this?

Future here does not imply where these artists are going, but rather what past they are confronting: pasts that once imagined the future. The work, for the most part, examines legacies of utopian thought, the 1960s or constructivism. Take for example Elizabeth Zvonar’s Pelly’s Mission 2982 (2006), a digital lightjet print of the Expo 67-era Salle Wilfrid Pelletier concert hall in Montreal’s Place des Arts. Zvonar presents the image upside down, highlighting the ceiling’s acoustic panels and creating a vertiginous feeling. Pelly’s Mission 2982 is placed opposite Sign of the Times (2007), a black marble sculpture of a hand forming the V sign, indicating either the British equivalent of the middle finger or the peace sign, depending on which side of the work you are standing on.

Corin Sworn, through a series of drawings, recreates documents of the anarchist school Summerhill, while Tim Lee considers the remake in an infinite reimagining of himself as the Pink Panther throughout the character’s various incarnations past and future. Oddly enough, Althea Thauberger’s work Zivildienst =/ Kunstprojekt (2007), an allegorical black-and-white film featuring a group of Berlin youths who have participated in the film (performing choreographed pantomime on scaffolding) in lieu of military service, strikes me as politically ambivalent. I’m uncertain if I liked it, but it provoked a lot of germane questions.

Each of these pieces, and others in the show, deserve more critical discussion. What, for example, do these works see as the line between politics and art? Do they confront problems they have any means of addressing? I wonder about Alex Morrison’s photographs of a film shoot, Giving the Story a Treatment (Battle in Seattle) (2006). Morrison has photographed the set of Battle in Seattle, a film about the 1999 WTO protests that was shot in Vancouver and Seattle. Morrison’s piece seems to gain its power by evacuating the work of any significant content and resting on clichés about protesting and about Vancouver as a film set. Protest here becomes a style of art.

An important question arises. How does the exhibition’s thesis—roughly, or simply, the future—elide the presentation of “eight young Vancouver artists” with a desire for political efficacy as a style of art? What, then, does it mean to be a young Vancouver artist? Does this exhibition attempt to represent that?

The exhibition was installed well, and the relationships among the works in each room emerge subtly on repeated viewings. At its worst, “Exponential Future” loses focus and feels like a showcase. At its best, it provides a lens through which to view some current art practices in Vancouver. To endeavour to totalize Vancouver’s diverse art practices would have been folly, and for the most part Gaitán and Watson made no such attempt. True, the exhibition follows a specific group of artists, some of whom are perhaps overexposed (which can make it feel a bit like a dinner-party clique). And no doubt comparisons to “6: New Vancouver Modern,” an exhibit that Watson curated at the Belkin a decade ago, will abound. This exhibition has other aims but, at times, exceeds and transcends the framework under which it purports to be organized.

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