Multiplicity in one-dimensional space

Modern Fuel Gallery’s latest exhibit examines our relationship with the spaces we live in

In Modern Fuel Gallery’s exhibit One-Dimensional Space
In Modern Fuel Gallery’s exhibit One-Dimensional Space

Walking into Modern Fuel Gallery’s One Dimensional Space, I experience a bit of a deer-in-the-headlights confusion. Upon entrance, I’m met with a series of groomed faces. All are unique faces, yet there is a certain element of banality.

This is Melanie MacDonald’s portrait series, The Realtors, created from many real estate ads around her hometown of St. Catherines. Some are smiling with their teeth bared, some are a bit stern. Almost all of the men are in suits. In the portraits I spot a potential toupee, an impressive handlebar mustache, and electric blue eye shadow. Even the younger faces look a little bit dated, a little too frozen in time

My eyes move down to the real centerpiece of the exhibit—a worn, secondhand table that used to be a door (its former life visible in the hole where the knob used to be). Orange plastic lawn chairs surround the table, colourfully contrasting with a black book placed on top. Entitled Robert’s Rules of Order, the book is written by a former soldier and features such sobering headlines as “Debate and Decorum” and “Committee.”

Peaceful organ chords, reminiscent of an old church, peacefully fill the room and then gradually ascend to a more ominous and solemn minor progression. This is Kathleen Ritter’s Call to Order: a musical score she wrote collaborating with composer James Maxwell, based on Modern Fuel’s Board of Directors minutes.

Turning my head to the left, I find June Pak’s Paint Job, small photographs with specific colour gradations next to them. This is an ongoing project for which Pak paints a coloured square at people’s houses from a ready-made “Algonquin Autumn” colour swatch. Each photograph shows a wall in a domestic place—be it a co-op house or a bachelor condo—with a square of colour painted on it. The text beside it explains the background of each of the homeowners, to whom the squares belong.

Finally, I notice a collection of seemingly random grids on the wall closest to me and on the further side of the right wall. Like any proud mother’s refrigerator with rows of her children’s masterpieces, pieces of white paper—each about the size of my palm—are displayed neatly on a yellow wall. These belong to Leigh Mayoh, whose mind-numbing office job led him to keep a periodical and secret art project that depicted his daily routine—each square segment on the paper represents a 15-minute segment of his workday. Some squares are blank—when Mayoh took his breaks—and some days just have blank grids, when he was on holidays.

Michael Davidge, Modern Fuel’s artistic director, said the show’s title refers to the book One Dimensional Space by German philosopher Herbert Marcuse, in which he talks about the futility of countercultural movements and revolutionary possibilities in the West. Taking cues from Marcuse, Davidge conceived the show as an institutional critique of the artist-run centres themselves.

“The last round of submissions included a number of artists whose work all seemed to revolve around workspace, or the bureaucratic structure of workspace,” he said. “I thought it’d be a good opportunity to bring the works together to let the works speak for themselves, but also in turn to comment upon the situation at the gallery space of artist-run centre.”

In order to broaden the show’s focus from just artist-run centres, Davidge said works such as Pak’s Paint Job blur the sense of who’s responsible for occupying what space.

“One of the things I’ve been thinking about is artistic self-determination. In artist-run centres, artists got to present the how, the what and the context of their works. The question about artist-run centres now is, to what extent do they do that? The directors are getting into more curatorial roles.”

Although Davidge said none of the artists knew their work was going to be shown together, I must say that the works themselves have more collective power than individual strength. Pak’s Paint Job has a cool premise of blending private and public space as she photographs people’s private homes for all to see. However, the description she writes about the people are neither detailed nor punchy enough to be interesting.

Mayoh’s drawings are amusing, though I wonder how original the concept of doodling at a dead-end job really is. Ritter’s audio piece was completely lost on me until it was explained, to which I ask: was it my fault for not getting it right away, or is it just too obscure?

I was underwhelmed by MacDonald’s portraits. For something that criticizes the ready-made culture of advertising the domestic space, her portraits did not seem glossy or exaggerated enough and the colours a little bit off or dull. However, as I stared at all 20 of intently businesslike faces, with Ritter’s organ chords quietly greeting me, I was filled with an uneasy feeling that continued on to the question: why am I here, and what does this place represent?

Davidge has done something right if the space has raised those questions out of me. After all, he said the title of the show is meant to make the viewer think.

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