Selves Obsessed: Gilbert & George, 2Fik, Paul Wong @ SAW
World-renowned artists Laurie Anderson, Gilbert & George, showcased at Ottawa’s SAW Gallery with Montréal trickster 2fik and video veteran Paul Wong. “Extreme Self”, Oct 4 – Nov 24.
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Something exciting is happening at Ottawa’s SAW Gallery. Known across Canada since their 2003 Scatalogue (30 years of Crap in Contemporary Art), the capital’s première non-museum art centre is putting on a fall show with content that your average viewer might actually be able to understand. Extreme Self, on display from October 4 to November 24, will feature a dizzying array of artists who are engaged in making work that is all about them.
Curator Jason St-Laurent – who took over the position at the gallery from his twin brother Stefan – has assembled an exhibit of photo, video, and multidisciplinary works that embody that most postmodern of themes, self-referentiality. Beyond the notion of self-portraiture, the artworks in this neo-narcissistic SAW show are about exposing the egotistical nature of art itself, while claiming a space in the art object for underrepresented bodies: older bodies, non-white bodies, queer bodies.
Self-referentiality has been a significant trend in visual art since the 1980′s, the equivalent of a radical “I statement” in literature. For feminists like Laurie Anderson, the performance art mega-star whose video “What You Mean We?” gets a rare inclusion in the show, turning the lens on the female self is inherently a rejection of the male gaze, and of masculine control of art production and commerce. British Warholians Gilbert & George, maybe the oldest continually operated gay couple in contemporary art, are known for their magnificent graphic work, influenced by poster and pop art. Perhaps as a nod to his brother’s controversial “shit show,” Jason St-Laurent has included the duo’s Shitted (1983), which elevated a self-portrait of the couple to the realm of stained glass, with giant blow-ups of their own stools. Literally the artist’s bodily product, poo could be the nihilist edge of the self-obsessed spectrum.
At the other extreme, Montréal gender trouble-maker and multiple personality queen 2fik will make his first foray into the Ottawa gallery scene with “Fagger Rangers Vs. Musulmen” and “Arabesque.” As in all of the brave French-Moroccan artist’s photo and video work, the subject(s) is/are his sometimes divided, sometimes united selves. Like a diptych on the psychology of the racialized queer other, “Fagger Rangers” shows the gender/culture binaries in which 2fik the artist is forced to operate; “Arabesque,” by contrast, is a fantasy of integration, a joyful thesis against worrying about what people think of you. For 2fik, self-sufficiency is the new narcissism.
Extreme Self represents a delightful reprieve from the dour video and visual art that is too often made for an anointed and hyper-educated audience. In its place, a new chapter starts appropriately where all art begins: with the artist “themself” brought to the fore. Not 2B missed.
Vernissage: Thursday, Oct 4
67 Nicholas Street, Ottawa
Banner image: “60 Units Bruise” (1976) by Paul Wong. Image courtesy of VTape (Toronto)