Laurel Woodcock’s “Jump Cuts” opened Season Two at the University of Waterloo Art Gallery, as part of a new series of exhibitions curated by director Ivan Jurakic following the gallery’s major 2010 renovations. Presented in conjunction with the Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener + Area, the show was a delight. untitled (quotation) highlighter orange (2005), located at the gallery’s entrance, immediately set a wry tone. In it, a pair of oversized laser-cut quotation marks hung on a blank wall behind gallery reception, framing the front desk and its staff in a comic tableau.
Woodcock’s sophisticated understanding of language and semantics allows her to play with words. untitled (playlist for Bas Jan Ader) (2007) is a carefully curated list of song titles with which the artist has developed a compelling syntax: repeated title words in different iterations (“fall,” “falling,” “fallin’”) form a word chain. Woodcock creates a clever game in which viewers must guess at the hidden framework that governs this set. As the game goes on, however, viewers realize they cannot assign one meaning to the work. There are infinite ways to interpret this list. two love songs (2008) is an emotional play on words. One line of text flashes in neon, alternating between two titles that share words without sharing sentiment: “don’t tell me/tell me everything.”
Language is more than inspiration for Woodcock: it is raw material, awaiting manipulation and reinterpretation. Rather than invent new phrases or author original prose and poetry, Woodcock explores the ability of common language to become layered with multiple and unexpected meanings; when presented in new contexts, familiar words, symbols and sayings acquire new significance while retaining reference to their primary definitions.
Woodcock treats words as ready-made or found objects, often lifting phrases from songs and screenplays. on a clear day (2010), four sky-blue aluminum panels originally produced for the Toronto Now space at the Art Gallery of Ontario, borrows its title phrase from two films: Gaby Dellal’s On a Clear Day (2005) and Vincente Minnelli’s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970). wish you were here (2003), a series of aerial-banner letters, references the popular postcard message. Woodcock draws our attention to ubiquitous phrases and words whose definition we take at face value, and we are happy to find that in a contemporary context, old phrases can be given new life. With her characteristic wit, the artist reveals that nothing is static.
This is a review from the Spring 2012 issue of Canadian Art. To read more from this issue, please visit its table of contents.