Text by: Donna Wawzonek
A meditation on the mind and works of Clark Ferguson
This is not the first time I have written about Clark Ferguson’s work while still in progress. It is like getting to decide what I think the work will be like before it is finished, almost believing that I am manipulating the work itself. It allows me to imagine how the work would best be edited, all the while hoping Ferguson doesn’t change something that will make me look like I don’t know what I am writing about. So, as I have been visiting his studio and watching rough cuts of Dead Meat, I have been wondering what you will ultimately see in the final form of the work.
I am picturing you at the opening of the show. You are sitting in the darkened basement of Stride while a crowd of gallery-goers stomps and laughs its way around the show upstairs. I picture you asking yourself, “What the hell is this?” I imagine this reaction because the artist sets up certain expectations in his work and then disrupts them so completely that you are left wondering what he is trying to get at.
The content of Ferguson’s single channel videos is bizarre, bordering on fantastical nonsense. In Ratspectacla, a hapless film crew is chased around a building by a giant rat. In Dead Meat, a young man goes on a vision quest/psychedelic trip through the desert and as he strips down in the heat, his clothes turn into desert creatures. In Teenage Wasteland, the artist hangs upside down in his underwear. For me, it is not the plot of his work that is of interest, it is its cinematic duality. For instance, the production values related to lighting, sound and picture quality are of great concern to Ferguson and are made evident in the crisp, vivid images he projects. Yet at the same time, the hand of the artist is often present in the work, upsetting any sense of cinematic distance. And although his subject matter is truly spectacular, Ferguson leans toward a rather classical approach to storytelling. There is a linearity to both Ratspectacla and Dead Meat that insists on—and leads you to—a conclusion. Even though the story unfolds into a rather solid conclusion, it is so bizarre and inconceivable that it is difficult to discern a message from it as you might from most stories. In this way, the artist’s storytelling reminds me of that of the Monty Python movies, wherein the sketches take such absurd directions it seems the writers had an inability or unwillingness to write endings.
In the case of Ferguson’s videos, absurdity is evident in every scene. What I admire is his ability to be refreshingly fanciful without being sentimental. His techniques are revealed in the work itself, disrupting any Hollywood expectations of cinematic magic. The actors in his work are terrible and the jokes, even worse. Sitting on the edge of juvenility (or, in the case of Teenage Wasteland, diving in head first), his works force the viewer to accept the absurdity, enjoy in the craft of Ferguson’s art, and delight in getting to see the wizard behind the curtain. This is like watching ‘Supermarionation’: you can see the fishing line, but you are still charmed by the puppetry’s attempts at realism.
You have to giggle at Ferguson’s efforts to persuade us that cotton balls are clouds, and to outright chuckle when the actor accidentally knocks them with his jacket in Dead Meat.
Musical Scoring of Dead Meat and The Ratspectacla done by Gilles Zolty of Saskatoon.
Donna Wawzonek is an independent curator and writer who has exhibited shows at the Dunlop Art Gallery, The College Building Galleries in Saskatoon, AKA Gallery, Latitude 53 and the Owens Art Gallery, among others.
She has written for many magazines and art galleries including Truck Gallery, Fuse, C magazine and Black Flash.
Clark Ferguson is a Saskatchewan based visual artist interested in the spectacle, humour, and issues of gender and sexuality. His practice utilizes video, photography, performance, print-media, and installation to create experimental, eccentric projects. Ferguson is also interested in working within self-imposed limitations that define in what manner work is developed and produced. These ‘impositions’ mirror the conceptual interests that he is exploring. This process not only effects the final product becomes part of the research and is in effect, a performative aspect of the work.