DIVE, a calculated risk
Just off the side of the road, in a dusty gravel lot beside the remains of a scraggly thicket of trees, flutter the red and white awnings of a scaled-down version of a big top. A loonie pays your way into the spotlight and its one attraction, the Highdive. The odds seem stacked against anyone willing to ascend the seemingly infinite ladder rungs to the platform. One deep breath draws the crowd breathless before flight. Plunge. The diver’s reflection comes sharply into focus as he plummets towards an image of himself in the sky. A fleeting moment of clarity is shattered as his body breaks the mirror surface and he sinks into the darkness. Release, he rises. The sides of the shallow tank bulge and waver under the pressure of containment. You are safe.
We live in a world defined by unmanageable risk. War, terrorism, pandemics, global warming and genocide threaten each of us, but seem too big and abstract to be tackled by any of us. Modern man attempts to manage risk by means of rational thinking, knowledge, history, progress and technology. Yet risk persists, and our failure to control it corrodes this former optimism to reveal an underlying cynicism and impotence.
The recent boom in risk management demonstrates a need to cope with this fear and cynicism. It has resulted in a burgeoning litigious bureaucracy that defines democracy through law, not social responsibility, and curtails our civil liberties under the guise of protection. In a world where increasingly complex risks impact our survival, we are sold an illusion of control through modern capitalist rhetoric which packages risk with success. The hegemonic masculine structures of organized and extreme sport simulate risk yet they are highly controlled and made relatively safe through social conditioning and ideological containment, two recurring themes in David Diviney and Craig Le Blanc’s practices. Here, risk is a measurable uncertainty, something to be calculated, commodified and contained.1 Risk is managed through its commodification and consumers are falsely reassured of their freedom by their ability to choose what they consume, but not if they consume. Consumption itself is never challenged. The goal of this consumption is to manage risk and maintain control.
“…power does not move,” writes French philosopher Michel Serres; “When it does, it strides on a red carpet. Thus reason never discovers, beneath it feet, anything but its own rule.”2 Serres’ Hermes plays a part in unseating this power by creatively translating between domains in his world. Here risk is productive, an intermediate state between that which is known and that which is unknown and potentially uncontrollable. This process of experience and learning requires encounters with Otherness that leads to a translation of self.
PLAYING CATCH 3
It all started innocently about 6 hours, 4015 catches, and a full bladder ago. There was Wilson lying in the gutter. We, meaning Steve and I, thought it was funny to call that brand new baseball Wilson at the time, but not so much now. Steve threw me Wilson and I threw it back. We talked about things, separated by the manly distance of a ball toss punctuated by momentary concentrations, as Wilson arced softly, falling through the evening light. Somewhere along the way one of us, probably Steve, realized that we hadn’t dropped the ball yet. So we made one of those boyhood pacts to not stop going until someone failed. Wilson had us trapped. We had given up talking about 3 hours in and started counting. He kept us there ‘til late, spinning through the streetlights, refusing to go anywhere but into our hands, refusing to let us go. It’s funny, but the part I remember best was the end. In slow motion I saw him bounce off my palm and careen towards my head where he popped me in the nose. When I looked down through watering eyes there he was lying in the gutter under the soft acid green light, and that was where we left him.
PLAYING WITH THINGS
As sculptors, both Diviney and Le Blanc play with things. Heidegger differentiated between objects and things, “whereby an object becomes a thing when it is somehow made to stand out against the backdrop of the world it exists in.”4 Bill Brown, author of “Thing Theory,” differentiates “the history of things” or “the commodity’s ‘social life’” from “the history in things” which he describes as “the crystallization of the anxieties and aspirations that linger there in the material object.”5 He goes on to suggest that things have little to do with the “unalterably given material object world” and that “[t]hings and the history in things become conspicuous in the irregularities of exchange…things compel our attention and elicit our questions only in their animation, their alteration between one thing and another.”6 Brown’s “story of objects asserting themselves as things, then, is the story of a changed relation to the human subject and thus the story of how the thing really names less an object that a particular subject-object relation.”7 Thingness cannot be named, but only described as “that enigma that can only be encircled and which the object (by its presence) necessarily negates.”8 Making things lead one to think about things. In thinking about thingness — the reciprocal constitution of subjects and objects through their interactions in the world — Diviney and Le Blanc create what Serres might call “quasi-objects and quasi-subjects”9 to examine Modernity’s subject/object dichotomy and its expressions of possession, control and power.
Diviney uses the most ordinary objects, buckets, corks, shingles and ski balaclavas to make uncanny things. His works teeter between sculptural tradition and garage-bricolage hobby culture. Diviney’s DIY vernacular constructions also allude to props and sets that fix one’s attention on a staged sign, appearance or illusion. Decoy (Canadian) diverts us from the objects themselves — an upturned duck decoy in a bucket — to reveal its hollowness, its falseness, its artificiality and perhaps, our relationship to these things. Untitled (Diptych) slips between image and object as one inverted galvanized bucket — a container of social and cultural narratives — forms the reflection of (an)other.
True to their thingness, these objects are simultaneously visible and invisible, identifiable and unidentifiable, nameable and unnamable. They are visual puns, exercises in psychological induction that require apperceiving subjects to complete incomplete puzzles and images — silhouettes, shadows, traces, voids — to form and reshape their subjective relations in the world.
Blind, Diviney’s menacing and humorous “paranoid object,” refers to some thing that lurks here. The thingness of this sculpture borrows from Heidegger’s definition of the English word ”thing” which he traced back to the original Roman word “res” and “its capacity to designate a case, an affair, an event.”10 Some rubber boots, old shingles and some fluorescent lights slip back and forth between the inanimate and the animate. These things animate the reciprocal formation between subject and object in such a way that it is less possible to see just objects and to discount or ignore our place in the world of things. Only then can we start to understand to whom and to what we are blind.
Le Blanc’s sculptures are memetic representations or models of things that also counter blindness. Cannons, submarines, sports’ gear, trophies and medals speak of dominance and winning, the desired end point in the socialization of boys into men.11 Yet Le Blanc recasts these objects to serve another purpose. Highdive exploits an absurdity of scale to draw spectacular attention to a distorted perspective. Medal Round plays on the anticipatory moment preceding the spectacular plunge as the oversized gold medal is precariously close to taking a dive itself. Cannon and Caught depict modern military inventions that now seem quaint and antiquated. They are also retarded in some way, a plugged cannon barrel or arrested by a net. Plunge offers a tool and suggests a risky course of action that might dislodge us from our current, inanimate situation.
Le Blanc digitally models and animates his objects for machine manufacture resulting in an extremely controlled working method. His process of conceptualization is a form of conditioning that is, at least, as important as the final sculptures. These objects reference (primarily) male social formations, but the process of making these sculptures also reveals a self-conscious subject in formation. Le Blanc’s sculptures exhibit their underlying structures and processes to address the ongoing process of individuation itself. There is an expression of agency and resistance in his self-conscious attempt to form something else.
Minimalism and Conceptualism tend to ameliorate risk through reduction, but Diviney and Le Blanc’s shared concern for craftsmanship, materiality and perception returns conceptualism to the world of things. Their work asks, “How do things affect the future?” And, as the makers of things, what are their roles in this? Dive recognizes the necessary, but tenuous relationship between creativity and risk. The art object’s power is in its thingness, its ability to animate a transition between states and to risk engaging us in something that we do not expect and may not fully comprehend. The artist is also reciprocally defined by the art object through its making and public presentation. You become what you do.12 In this sense, artists put themselves at risk by the things they make. If they succeed they may engage the potential for change. If they don’t they could be left with just objects — a punctured bucket, a fake gold medal, a toilet plunger — void of any transformative potential.
1 “Risk from Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.” Excerpt from Frank Knight, Risk, Uncertainty and Profit (1921) 26 April 2006 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk>.
2 Michel Serres, The Troubadour of Knowledge, translated by Sheila Faria Glaser with William Paulson. (Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1997) xiii.
3 Craig and David used the metaphor of playing catch to describe their collaboration for this exhibition. Interview with Craig, April 22, 2006. Another boy, Hutch Hutchinson, wrote this account. Also see D W Winnicott’s writings about the transitional object in Playing and Reality (1971) and Bill Brown’s note to Wilson in “Thing Theory,” 7.
4 ”Thing Theory from Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.”29 April 2006
5 Bill Brown, “How To Do Things with Things,” Critical Inquiry 24 (Summer 1998), 935.
6 Brown, 936/937.
7 Bill Brown, “Thing Theory,” Critical Inquiry 28 (Autumn 2001), 4.
8 Brown, 5.
9 Brown, 12.
10 Brown, 5.
11 David Garneau, curatorial statement for Making It Like a Man!, an exhibition at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, June 5 – August 22, 2004.
12 Thanks to Hutch Hutchinson for referring me to the Wizard’s famous rant in Taxi Driver (1976).
Calgary independent curator, Diana Sherlock, has worked as an artist, administrator and curator at various Canadian public art institutions including Calgary's New Gallery and Stride Gallery, and the Walter Phillips Gallery and the Media and Visual Arts Department at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Since 1999, Sherlock has worked as an independent curator of contemporary art and freelance writer. She has produced large group exhibitions including Trace for Calgary's Artwalk Festival 2000 and she co-curated, with Catherine Crowston, the Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art 2002 for the Edmonton Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Alberta) and Nickle Arts Museum. In 2003, Sherlock was a visiting curator at The Banff Centre's Walter Phillips Gallery for which she produced the group exhibition Super Modern World of Beauty. Currently she teaches in the Liberal Studies and Fine Arts Departments at the Alberta College of Art & Design. Sherlock writes about contemporary art for journals including Border Crossings, Canadian Art and FUSE, art catalogues and the Calgary Herald. She is currently an international correspondent for the Midwest Bugle, an online catalyst for creative thought and action in the visual arts based in the UK.
David Diviney received a MFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1998. He has shown his work in various contexts throughout North America and Europe including recent exhibitions at AXENÉO7, Gallery 101, Ottawa Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Calgary, Edmonton Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Walter Phillips Gallery, Listasafn ASÍ, Reykjavík, Iceland and Galerie Wildwechsel, Frankfurt, Germany.
Beyond his artistic practice he has served as Director of Eye Level Gallery, Halifax and Assistant Curator of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge. As well, he has taught sculpture and drawing at the Alberta College of Art and Design, University of Lethbridge, Thompson Rivers University and Sheridan Institute of Technology. He currently lives in Kamloops, British Columbia.
Craig Le Blanc received a BFA from NSCAD University, studying painting and sculpture. He spent a portion of this time in Paris studying with French sculptor Vincent Barr, a significant encounter which led to an absolute departure from painting to consider ideas within the idiom of sculpture.
Over the past decade Le Blanc’s practice has shaped a diverse collection of objects and installations investigating popular culture’s representation of athletes and the arts.
His practice has evolved from the relationship of sport, play and leisure to the exploration of concepts relating to artists, athletes, corporate involvement, mass media, the spectator and social identity. This progression has formed the work we see today, questioning the placements of sport and art within western social, economic, and cultural contexts.