Volume 96, Issue 58
Tuesday, January 14, 2003

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Television slides & feathers fixed in time

By Brian Wong
Gazette Staff

Judy Bryant and David Merritt
Ephemeral Affinities
McIntosh Gallery (Western)

Some things are fleeting and insignificant – but maybe those things are only perceived as insignificant because we don't pay enough attention to them.

That's the premise of the works by two London artists featured in the Ephemeral Affinities exhibit at McIntosh Gallery. Judy Bryant presents her piece "At Large," which complements four pieces by David Merritt, who is also a visual arts teacher at Western. In these works, both artists manipulate and depict materials that are usually considered discards – and no, none of it involves feces.

Take Bryant's "At Large" for instance – in one room of the gallery, multiple rows of white chicken and duck feathers are meticulously strung together and hung from the ceiling to create a fluffy shower of plumage that slightly sways in the air. The sight is made even more surreal with only two track lights illuminating the piece, creating a stark contrast between dark and light. Viewers are free to walk both around the piece and between the rows of feathers.

But while "At Large," at first glance, looks like the movie-style pillow fight you never had, a closer look reveals that the feathers are actually strung together with wire – suggesting a scene more sinister than it initially appears.

Although viewers will find the work inviting enough to enter the piece and surround themselves in the beautiful rows of feathers, there is also a dizzying sense of fogginess that is somewhat threatening – perhaps reminiscent of wintry January weather and the possibilities it holds for both delight and disaster? The success of "At Large" comes from both Bryant's ability to create this dual atmosphere – likely informed by her experience in architectural and set design – and her use of something as simple as feathers to form a grand wonderland with an underlying grotesqueness.

The Merritt pieces similarly employ things that are often treated as short-term blips. In one standout work, the ephemeral subject is time. Smartly titled "Drawn from life #1-15," the piece is a video installation, shown through a credit card-sized window, cut through the centre of a gallery wall. It depicts a close-up of some black and white line drawings arranged into a flipbook. However, instead of the continuity one would expect from an animation flipbook, each page depicts a scene or object entirely different from the image before it.

The result of this "de-animation" is an intimidating rapid flow of images. If you're compelled to try to connect these images into a story, go ahead – but you probably won't be too successful. While some of the images – which include human figures, cars, fish and a cigarette – stay on screen longer than others, they still move too fast for the viewer to think about what he or she has just seen since another (seemingly unrelated) image has already been flipped over it. Sound similar to a certain 20th-century invention?

Through these works, both Bryant and Merritt have taken things with an ephemeral nature and made them linger in the brain for a few moments longer. Just think about Merritt's video flipbook: scenes drawn from life, drawn in pictures, pictures flipped to simulate channel-changing on a TV screen, all videotaped and shown on a screen... whoa.

Ephemeral Affinities runs until Feb. 9 at McIntosh Gallery.


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