/Mindy Yan Miller — Canopy
This work begins with a lump of clay in the centre of my hand. I slowly model the features of a face: nose, lips, cheeks — ears are hardest. Each one is a portrait: a new, imaginary, little friend.
/MINDY YAN MILLER'S sculptural installations combine potent found materials such as hair, used clothing and recyclable soda cans with artistic mediums including drawing, photography, video and sculpting. Her work explores themes of labour, identity, representation, and dwelling. She has shown across North America and Europe since the mid 1980s.
/MINDY YAN MILLER — MAGICIEN DE LA TERRE
They’re like taunts: little heads strewn about the gallery floor. They say, “Kick me.” Too small to claim real sculptural space, they are nevertheless and stubbornly there, in the way. Walk through the gallery and your body loses delicacy. You’re a brute, an ogre, surveying the residue from a strange event you may have had a hand in.
Maybe it’s the aftermath of a terrible battle, except this scene isn’t a smoking field of gore and waste. It’s the next chapter. The heads aren’t dead: some are sleeping, some waking, most of them just look. They’re old. They know something–something bad, something big. They’re looking, following me around like that picture of Jesus. No, they’re just hunks of clay. It’s me, I’m paranoid and giant. I spray my id around and it comes back alive.
Artists can make that happen: they refashion the earth into catalysts for the imagination. They enable fantasy, and in this role, they’re close cousins to magicians. Of course, viewers do most of the heavy work. Faith and desire are at the centre of the game. The artist sets out the rules and the viewer agrees, as in seduction. It takes two.
Dreams and desires have no ethical value in themselves. Some are wonderful; others, awful–they need management. We call on artists to make idols, and then condemn them for deception. We ask them to see things, and denounce them as charlatans. They are scapegoats for dreams.
Primitives—the repressed elixirs of post-colonialist Modernism—couldn’t remain silent forever. They come back too, talking, singing, making TV all by themselves. Remember: for every kick, there’s an equal and opposite kickback.
The backdrop is wet, temperate and fecund. All signs of rot are smothered by new growth and the super-saturated green of the forest–a familiar place, the womb of fairies, dwarves and others. But this ruse is over the top. It’s too familiar. It’s condensed, digitally intensified, and mechanically reproduced. This version of nature is a pacifier, and it stands in for home.
Bandaged in turbans of baby clothes, some of the heads peer out from modular units (repair units, incubators, hospitals?). They invoke memories of emergence and trauma, life and death. What more do you need? That’s it, there’s nothing bigger than that. Canopy is a space to ponder–a mirror.
Magiciens de la terre was a large exhibition organized by Jean-Hubert Martin at the Centre Pompidou in 1989 as a response to the Museum of Modern Art’s maligned 1984 exhibition, “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern. Martin’s idea was to correct the post-colonial tradition of representing non-Western culture as the simple, mute inspiration for Modern art. His solution was to adhere to a strict 50-50 split between industrialized and marginalized cultures. Curatorial choices were made “intuitively,” and ritual/functional objects were freely juxtaposed with contemporary art. The exhibition attempted to upset problematic art-historical assumptions and re-manage unconscious desires emanating from unbalanced power relations.
The apparently stark figure-ground relation between the fabricated heads and their forest backdrop is entangled and complex from the start. Here in this mass-produced, overly lush picture, nature is an obvious and familiar sign. But even as an ironic and self-conscious parody, it isn’t entirely stripped of seductive power. It hovers in a grey zone between a desire for (knowledge of, or return to) origins, and the experienced awareness that the real source for this image is impoverished and endlessly repeatable: kitsch.
Still, even as a sign, the forest backdrop signals a wish—not exactly unfulfilled, except as a desire for return (which is real enough), but rather a wish for perfect continuity. This is a deep wish for an undisrupted, seamless connection to the beginning, back home, to the source. The backdrop evokes an irreparable chasm, a violent and traumatic separation from origins, no matter how fantastic. The battle is part memory, part knowledge, part wish.
I was there
The heads are the survivors of this battle.
/MARCUS MILLER is Assistant Curator at the Art Gallery of Alberta. There his exhibitions include: flat, unflat (with David Cantine), small, REAL and a survey of Sylvain Voyer. In the fall of 2009 The New Flâneurs: Contemporary Urban Practice and the Picturesque mashed street photography, historical woodblocks of ruins, graffiti art, parkour and psychogeography to explore new urbanisms.