Dominika Jakubiec

Upon viewing the two current exhibitions at the McMaster Museum of Art (MMA), Liminal Disturbance and Unfallen, I was immediately filled with wonder at the ideas posed by Canadian artists Greg Staats and Ramona Ramlochand. Both exhibitions are an artful array of photographs and interactive
pieces that comment on the complexities and wonders of our society.

Greg Staats is a photographer and video artist whose work focuses on the concepts of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) culture. Despite having Mohawk heritage, Staat’s wasn’t raised in the Mohawk culture, and has always felt disconnected from its traditions and rituals. His art expresses this disconnect through the haunting portrayal of the indigenous ritual ceremony of condolence and repair; a ceremony which focuses on the loss of a loved one.

Liminal Disturbance is framed by two series of photographs: “Auto Mnemonic Six Nations” and “Six Nations Condolence,” as well as an installation entitled “Dark String Repeat.” These photographs represent the artist’s internal memory; images he’s seen, places he’s been, and the objects that represent his culture.

“Auto Mnemonic Six Nations” is made up of abstract photographs including a chair, trees, a forest and a wall. These black and white images are eerie, like images out of a horror movie, yet manage to express why the artist feels disconnected from his culture; the photographs bring with them a sense of loneliness. By viewing these photographs, the artist encourages us to interpret, experience, and respond to his work.

During his “Artist’s Talk” on November 24 at the MMA, Staats spoke of his displayed pieces. He expressed the importance of allowing people to experience the condolence ceremony through his work, even if they know very little about its history and rituals. Staats explained the significance in coming together to take part in an exhibition of works that display a culture that has witnessed so much change and loss.

The second exhibition is that of Ramona Ramlochand, whose work reflects the rapidly changing environment in which we live. Unfallen centres around a new kinetic work titled “Élan Vital.” This unusual piece is a tornado contained within a fishbowl, which holds a swirl of colourful hand-painted miniature figures including different people, a fire hydrant, bicycles, street signs, a variety of different animals, as well as many other figurines. This is by far my favourite piece of work from the exhibition. The swirling figures are mesmerizing, and instill a sense of tranquility in viewers. “Élan Vital” is whimsical, a child-like projection of the world.

“Élan Vital” is surrounded by a cluster of photographs taken by the artist over a long period of work and travel. Rather than representing a single place, the photographs represent movement, space, and
displacement. One of the main images, titled “unfallen (boys)” depicts two young boys attempting to do headstands on the beach. When turned upside-down, the boys appear to be holding up the world. When looking at the work, I imaged the young boys struggling to rise above the responsibilities put on us by society; the effect of this image is very powerful.

Ramlochand uses various techniques to re-order space by placing the photographs upside-down, and playing with the natural way of viewing images. In doing this, the artist explores the experience of simultaneously belonging to nowhere and everywhere. By this, I mean, that although there are people present in the photographs, the place itself almost becomes more significant, more important. I had to adjust the way in which I viewed the images, and rather than paying attention to the people in the photograph, I began to focus more on how distorted the world looks upside-down. Through the manipulation of space, the artist identifies with multiple geographic and ethnic sites, commenting on globalization and our technologically enhanced world.

As a student, I would highly recommend this exhibition to anyone who is interested in viewing the world from a slightly different angle. Liminal Disturbance forced me think of how isolated we can be, specifically living in Canada – a country so diverse without one particular cultural way of life. For me, this also translated to the feeling of isolation we can feel in foreign places, or in groups of people we do not necessarily know.

Ramona Ramlochand’s Unfallen reminded me of my own childhood - a point in my life during which I had no responsibilities and the world was as colourful and bright as I wanted it to be. As suggested by Haema Sivanesan, the Executive Director of Centre A in Vancouver, Ramlochand’s work can only be described as “toy-like, playful and hypnotic.”

Liminal Disturbance and Unfallen– despite being separate – complement one another, making this one of the most interactive museum exhibitions I have seen in quite some time.
Liminal Disturbance and Unfallen are on view at the McMaster Museum of Art (MMA) until January 28, 2012.

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