Saturday, May 12, 2007

Gordon Laurin at the RCA Gallery

One of the best things to have ever happened to the St. John's visual art community was having Gordon Laurin get hired as the Director of the Art Gallery at the Rooms back in the day. One of the things that must have made that corporate body nervous was Laurin's open door policy when it came to proposals from the community. I remember there being a real sense of excitement about Laurin's willingness to try anything anywhere in that behemoth of a building, with any little cubbyhole or unused storage space being open to projects from whatever artist, musician, dancer or whatever that had the gumption to pitch something.

As we all know, it didn't last, but ironically, the arts community here in town has almost been better served by Laurin since his abrupt dismissal a couple years ago. Not only in terms of his work with Eastern Edge, RCAV, Neighbourhood Dance Works and a host of other groups, but with his stubborn decision to dedicate himself to his art practice here in the province. A lot of other people would have fled this place as soon as the ax had dropped on them.

Laurin's Recent Work at RCA Gallery is the continuation of the artist's exploration of abstracted landscape through decidedly toxic material components: crushed mica, pigments, and resin (amongst numerous other things) are used in a kind of mad scientist's experiment played out on 1' x 1' panels. That Laurin has removed his own hand and intention from these works is vital to how they operate as explorations of landscape: the remnants of the chemical reaction we see on the picture plane is a metaphor for the chaotic indifference of the universe to humankind's own wishes or desires.

Furthermore, Laurin's openness of approach is reflected in the viewer's relationship with the work, as it's ambiguous what feature of the landscape one is actually viewing. There is a tension between the macro and microscopic that suggests what we are observing could be the blistering aftermath of a supernova, or the tiniest workings of an atom, and everything in between.

That the materials themselves are toxic shouldn't be lost on the viewer, since it suggests a quintessentially Canadian take on how we interact with the natural world. That is (and Margaret Atwood and Northrope Frye would tend to agree), that the landscape, perhaps even the universe, is by its nature seen to be harmful to us, rather than as something to be conquered and defeated a la an American Magisterial Gaze. This idea is further complicated by the fact that when one stands in front of a panel, the viewer's own murky silhouette is reflected back at them in the resin, implicating them in the toxicity and potential destruction being presented in the images themselves.
My only complaint is the presentation of the works, which, in a line around the gallery space, and given their small size, are considerably less dramatic than how they'd look in a grid format, or for that matter, in any kind of larger scale.

Otherwise, the RCAV has chosen to shut its doors for the Hall's much anticipated renovations on something of a high note with this show. Go see it.

Also: Good on the RCAVisual crew for getting their website updated and with images. Nice job.