Text by: Kim Simon
Milutin Gubash: Near and Far
The complex sphere that constitutes Near and Far, an ongoing series of video and photographic works by Milutin Gubash, is an arena of serious play. A former Calgary resident, Gubash’s earlier work was based on an obsessive interest in a range of bizarre, tragic or violent news stories from the Calgary Herald. This never ending source of material remains a touchstone for the artist but the references to such stories have become increasingly less direct. With Near and Far, Gubash is compelled by a lifetime of stories of a world gone mad in the face of his own aging and reflections on relationships and being in the world. The performative experiments of Near and Far are the embodiment of repeated improvisational collaborations between the artist, his mother, his father (who recently passed away), Gubash’s partner and a various friends. Moved or haunted by the kind of news items that make one conscious of their own desires, regrets, and hoped for connectedness, Gubash locates his own absurdist narratives in select physical locales from other people’s stories. Together the Gubash family and friends create a dreamscape of funny and sincere gestures while experimenting with their own relational identities.
Visitors to Stride Gallery first encounter four portrait photographs together picturing simultaneity of experience. Life-size images of the artist and members of his family give us the satisfying detail one wants from a narrative portrait while clearly showing the experience of a shared temporal and physical space, a moment together. Set in an urban rooftop parking lot at night, each character in the group looks out of the frame at some invisible event about to occur. With great detail the subjects reveal varying but subtle states of anticipation, mom seems to be crying, Gubash himself looks calm but bored, what they’re waiting for, we never know. A fifth smaller image separated from the group shows a broader shot of a woman on the same rooftop as the others. However, the sun has started to come up and it seems as though she is too late. With a sense that something has occurred here, she looks intently into the sky, seemingly wondering what happened to the others. An ambiguous beginning to the exhibition experience, one might eventually refer back to this moment as an epigraphic fable in relation to other elements of Near and Far.
In Stride’s Project Space plays six looped videos where the same characters from the photographs are featured in surreal mini-dramas of absurd acts and anxious relating. The narratives, for the most part, have no dialogue; the characters remain silent focusing attention on their actions towards each other, their relationships, and the subtle variations in their mostly blank facial expressions.
Gubash appears in every work of Near and Far dressed in a black suit and tie, and white shirt. As such, one might recall American artist Robert Longo’s classic series Men in the Cities, images of young men in black suits striking irreverent poses of enrapture or abandon. The image of the suit codes Gubash’s work with inquiry into expressions of masculinity, power and corporate notions of professionalism – and then we watch and get to laugh in the face of such codes broken by Gubash’s ludicrous behavior and quirky storytelling.
In Birds, the artist’s parents stand at the edge of a wooded park area and with calm seriousness they whistle accomplished birdcalls into the bushes and trees. Gubash waits, hiding in the foliage as though it is he they are trying to call out.
Several of the videos feature this game like behavior amongst the family. If this were a younger group with a toddler these games might not seem so odd but Gubash is an adult and in the videos his parents are getting on in age, dad walks with a cane. No one ever really smiles or laughs and yet they don’t seem unhappy either.
In River’s Edge, with signature silence and calm intent, the family splits up to walk around a wooded area. Dad has his camera and is taking the occasional picture. Dad comes upon Gubash standing by a river and then mom shows up a bit downstream. They quietly watch while their son, in suit and tie, walks into the river, lies down in the water and begins to drift along with the current towards mom. Dad takes a picture; mom somehow looks proud and waits. Gubash reaches the point where mom is on the riverbank and stops just as dad arrives via walking to the same point. Gubash gets up, soaking, and looks understatedly surprised and perhaps disappointed that dad seemed to get there first.
Gubash often insists on creating multiple contexts within which to engage his series of mini-narratives. For his Stride exhibition, in multiple locations across the city of Calgary: projected in the gallery window all night long for passersby; in a local church; on a transit system platform; and coming to you on your local community cable station; teasers or commercial spot versions of the Near and Far videos play for unsuspecting viewers. Between the considered engagement of stories inside the gallery walls and the off-site, after-hours happenings, Gubash strategically presents his experiments in ways that punctuate our distracted and mundane realities, soliciting a re-consideration our own relational behavior in the world.
Included with the off-site teasers is the most recent video in the Near and Far series, Lots. A pinnacle moment of wonder and fantasy, Lots is also a gorgeous immortalization of unspoken connection. Located in the same rooftop parkade of Gubash’s photographs, one gets a look at the downtown glimmer of night lights in the city. Once again people seem to be waiting, mom and partner in the car, dad waits outside. Staring blankly up into a parking lot street lamp, dad goes into a beautiful daydream where he breaks into a fake musical number, serenading the women staring out from the car, his cane standing in for a guitar. Cut to Gubash in a lower level of the lot having just returned a shopping cart. He pauses, and seeming to have a fantasy parallel to that of his father, he looks up into a parkade light and (through Gubash’s clever framing and editing) we see the artist with an outstretched hand magically playing with what is now a dancing ball of light, like the sun, appearing and disappearing at will. Presented in their different contexts, one is unable to experience this cinematic dream at the same time as the earlier mentioned photographs. When imagined in relation to each other however, suddenly the anticipation in the family portraits and the wonderment of the women sensing something has happened takes on a decisively otherworldly feel, as though the family has finally been taken to some alternate reality together.
One might start to wonder if there is an obvious link between the rest of the stories of Near and Far, seemingly not so. However, the quiet inclusion in the gallery of a binder housing the fore mentioned newspaper clippings from the Calgary Herald, begins to suggest a connection. Taken as a whole, the binder paints a picture of the world as inexplicable, often senseless and overwhelming, perhaps an intrusion into the ivory tower of the gallery. If one reads the clippings closely enough, a connection can be made between the locations featured in the video works and the sites of some of these headline events. The locations are the link between the Gubash narratives. In one example of a freak accident, a homeless man, who was turned away from a Salvation Army facility after curfew, fell asleep against and was crushed by the building’s parkade garage door. It gets mentioned in the news that one of the few possessions the man had with him was a piece of paper written upon which was an out-of-service phone number for his sister. The story follows members of the man’s family trying to come to terms with losing touch with him and their regrets following news of his death. How can one not be touched on several levels by such a story? How are we touched and what is this man’s legacy? Is the site of this man’s death the same location of one of the Gubash experimental narratives?
Of course, Gubash’s work is far from the typically acceptable memorialization of lives lived. However, by locating his own performative gestures at the scenes of such events, Gubash dares to heighten his personal psychological inquiry and that of his collaborators. The results of this are perhaps unexpected, for instead of outwardly exhibiting solemn regard for the history of such sites, Gubash and company irreverently acknowledge the absurdity of life as they seem to truly experience it before our eyes: as a complex world of complex relationships, where a lot gets left unsaid between people. From this awakened state, the meeting of the psychological and the physical held within the gestures of Near and Far becomes a seriously playful proposition; in the full light of a world gone amok, are we able to dream, play or even test what might be more acceptable and meaningful ways of being in the world.
Kim Simon is an independent curator living in Toronto. Recent work includes projects for Oakville Galleries, Doris McCarthy Gallery and Mercer Union. She is part of the curatorial team for Nuit Blanche Toronto taking place in September 2006 and she is the Director of Programming at Gallery TPW.
Milutin Gubash is a mid-career artist, who currently lives and works in Montreal. He received his MFA from Concordia University in 2000, and has exhibited extensively since. Recent exhibitions include Gallery 44 (Toronto), Galerie VU (Quebec City, for Manif D'Art 3), and group exhibitions at Strand-On-Volta (Washington D.C.) and Dare-Dare (Montreal). Upcoming exhibitions include solo exhibitions at the Musee D'Art Contemporain de Montreal, YYZ (Toronto), and the Mendel Art Gallery (Saskatoon).