Video voyeur

Toronto-based artist Luis Jacob explores the way we interact with one another

Jacob’s destabilizing and transformative exhibit has a new home on the walls of Union Gallery.
Jacob’s destabilizing and transformative exhibit has a new home on the walls of Union Gallery.
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The Union Gallery has been engulfed by the voyeuristic work of Toronto-based artist Luis Jacob. His exhibit “Without Persons”, featured in Toronto’s Nuitblanche in 2008, may offer sharp contrast with the blasé relaxation of summer student life, but it’s one that probes a deeply challenging take on social interaction.

Born in Peru, Jacob moved to Toronto at the age of 10. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto, and has recently whisked his way onto the international art scene with his innovative social consciousness. Through his art, Jacob has developed a reputation for challenging what he deems to be a product of capitalism—the estranged way that humans interact with each other.

As a member of the anarchist community in Toronto, Jacob advocates for a non-hierarchical correspondence between people in Western culture. Through his own art, collaborative work with other artistic minds, he also advocates for the construction of a shared space in Canada’s urban cities. Jacob aims to drive meaningful social interaction through his work.

Jacob’s projects often incorporate amalgamations of found, collected and reused materials. “Without Persons” employs a dialogue that was recorded for a previous project. In the exhibit, the recycled words are relayed under the guise of harsh robotic voices. They speak ominously, conducting the movements of milky, blobbed images that are projected onto opposite walls –vaguely resembling mouth or anus-like shapes.

The fearfully calming desperation in the voices speaks of “our country,” a place that is disconcertingly identifiable as our own Western culture.

In between the domineering projectors, four fold-up chairs face each other on either side of a scarce room, like something out of George Orwell’s 1984. The industrial minimalism that might have seemed trendy in a modern home instead offers a chillingly destabilizing effect.

Taking on the creative challenge of the exhibit takes time. First attempts to breathe in Jacob’s creativity can be stunted by overwhelmed senses that nervously dart from left to right and left again, as though they were audience to some tennis match of fate.

However, the initial tension slowly recedes, and unveiled is the mastery with which Jacob has toyed with perceptions of familiarity. The effect is as destabilizing as the initial challenge of Jacob’s installation.

As one cedes into the lair of “Without Persons”, the original dictatorial resemblance of the voices take on a poignant tone. What’s strange about the experience is how quickly civilized life can become foreign.

Senses settle and listen to the voices who speak of city life where people are constantly surrounded by each other but make little real contact. They infuse hostility into a world where, “everyone arrives on time to answer phone calls and pick up messages,” saying that “there is something missing while everyone else walks around.”

Jacob’s work puts forth an understanding of a world that already exists. In his artistic vision, he laments that it is never our own. The projections on the wall enhance this perspective. It is the pseudo-human voices speaking of a nonsensical society that make them tense. Yet in silence, the opaque mud relaxes as if tortured by the strains of conformity and its unnatural opposition to the true human state.

Taking in “Without Persons” requires patience and drive as it is an exercise of the mind in which accepted realities become as hostile as the exhibit initially seems. As ears, eyes and emotions dart back and forth to track the tennis ball of Jacob’s remarkable creativity, this exhibit brings a transformative enlightenment.

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