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Shows on at Mercer Union

Front Gallery: Kevin Schmidt, Fog
Back Gallery: Matthew Suib, Cocked

Mercer Union has two shows on right now - a video projection in the backroom, and the front space is showing two photographs. The front space show is one of these self-indulgent pieces that demand patience from the viewer. Frankly Kevin Schmidt thought more about his show than you will. But, is that a problem? Should you want something that's immediate and clear all the time? If you understood everything effortlessly all the time, wouldn't that get kind of boring?

The front gallery has been painted black to accommodate the wall-size projections of 'dvd stills' (since slides are so 20th Century). I don't know if this is just an innovative use of that format or if it's a film put on pause ... but the subject here is that Schmidt got a hold of some dry ice, dragged it into the woods and took pictures of the resulting fog-like effect. The point of this is supposed to be some kind of inquiry into the nature of film, and of movie making, and influenced by the Vancouver school of conceptual photography, not to mention that fact that Vancouver is the home of many television productions, especially those that want to be a bit creepy.

All I can say is go to Mercer Union, stand in the dark, stare at the pictures of the woods, and then and have your conceptual epiphanies, go home, and tell your friends that the show is great, because that's what all parties involved would like you to do. Personally, the show made me uncomfortable because I didn't want to suspend my judgement and be coddled into believing all this is worth my attention just because Mercer Union thinks it is, and because Schmidt found this interesting enough to do in the first place. Part of me did find it a little delightful, but at the same time, that element was drowned out by the overarching appearance of manipulation.

By that I mean, this type of work questions how the gallery and the artist collaborate into trying to make you think something is great when by all appearances it's rather mundane. The biggest problem I have with Schmidt's show is not quality nor the idea - all of which is fine - but the overblown execution - wall size work, painting the gallery black, there for 6 weeks - such demands for so little effect. It plays into the ideas of the heroic artist, the person whose demands are met to satisfy ambition and ego.

While I'm suggesting the Schmidt is a self-indulgent egotist, whose work plays off the back room's video very well as a reminder of masculine energy, I need to say that this is what artist-run-centres are for. They exist so that artists can be self-indulgent and take risks. They aren't meant to create cannons - that's what the AGO is for. Get into the AGO - yeah, you're part of this slender stream of an Art History - get a show at Mercer, you're just another artist whose experiment has been allowed to be shown. My subjective response is that I'd rather Mercer'd shown another artist's studio experiments in the front gallery, but that's not to say that you might not get something out of it. The idea of staring at these photographs in order to appreciate the falsity of film is to me ridiculous. We know film is fake, so what's the point of this?

I appreciated the back room's video for it's clever editing to delimitate a stereotype that (with luck) we are increasingly moving away from. This video by Matthew Suib, called Cocked is seen to be a good pairing with the front room, perhaps because of the fact that the front gallery, painted black and pitch dark, allows for the cinematic quality of the images to come through, with its samples the scenes from Cowboy Westerns around the classic dual. Lots of squints, shifty eyes, the hand hovering over the gun. Watching it, I thought of my own father's appreciation for this genre, one that is deeply rooted in the 1950s. Given all the discussion over the past 15 years around gender and identity politics, you can't help watch all these cold stares and stone faces and not see how much the Western not only embodied, but communicated the manly ideal to a generation of men. Especially all this nonsense of being heroic, of not taking crap, of taking yourself so seriously that you not only demand a gallery's 6 weeks for your photographs, but want to shoot someone who looks at you funny over the spittoon. The title here is a obviously, a double-entendre referring to the cocking back of the revolver's hammer, as much as it refers to the cocky bravado of the men strutting their peacock's anatomy in the brothel, later that evening, after the pigeons have flown and some dusty fellow has ridden off into the sunset.

The shows at Mercer run until April 16th
Kevin Schmidt will give a talk on Friday, 08 April at 7:30 PM
37 Lisgar St, Tues-Sat 11-6


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