The Distance Between You and Me
While many long-term Vancouverites remember the fourth floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery as a shrine to Emily Carr, the past few years have seen a revitalization of this space, most recently with The Distance Between You and Me: 3 Artists from Vancouver, Los Angeles and Guadalajara, an exhibition featuring the work of local artist, Isabelle Pauwels, LA-based Kerry Tribe, and Gonzalo Lebrija from Mexico. Connecting the dots up and down the vertical axis of North America, these three artists working with photography, video and film, explore the complex ideas of place and location, revealing them to be multifaceted psychological constructions.
Perhaps the most difficult of the three artist’s work to come to terms with is Pauwels’ who appropriates footage shot by her grandfather during his time in the Belgian Congo. She has interspersed his film, which captures people in fields, with images of her family’s home in suburban Vancouver, as well as text. Her work raises questions about family, history, and memory and challenges the viewer’s assumptions by constantly disrupting any easy narrative. In viewing Pauwels’ work, the idea of home comes to mind, a concept loaded with meaning and often intertwining a geographic location, a physical structure, as well the people that comprise one’s family. Looking at footage of the artist’s family and its history brings these sometimes competing ideas to light, demonstrating that geographic location is often a layered concept combining multiple social and political histories.
Kerry Tribe’s two-channel video installation titled Here & Elsewhere presents a conversation between a father and his precocious ten-year-old daughter. Their conversation is combined with shots of LA, but they both speak with British accents, creating a strange sense of displacement. He poses to her a range of philosophical questions about memory, time and space, and body and being. He asks, for example, what it means to remember, whether she has been alive for a long or short time, and after asking her to move, he asks whether she has just moved in time or in space. These esoteric questions are made disarmingly real when answered by a child who struggles to make sense of both the questions and her answers. Her responses point to the difficulty inherent in understanding our present and making sense of our existence.
Guadalajara-based artist Gonzalo Lebrija’s series The Distance Between You and Me, combines 4 projected films with black and white photographs, all of which feature the artist running away from the lens after setting the timer on his camera. He runs into varied landscapes, some mountainous, some sandy or snowy with his footprints still visible, and still others barren. Lebrija’s solitary figure – sometimes recognizable and other times barely a speck in the distance – acts as a ruler of sorts, creating a sense of scale and making visible the sublime grandeur of the landscape around him. When this exercise is repeated as a film, the absurdity of his action of running into the distance is made more apparent and is somehow simultaneously entertaining, disconcerting and hypnotic. Lebrija’s work and this exhibition suggests that it is only when you are elsewhere that you can really see what defines a site and a situation – that distance is a necessary part of understanding.
Front Image Credit: Installation view of The Distance Between You and Me at the Vancouver Art Gallery, September 24, 2011 – January 8, 2012. Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery
Full Disclosure: the contributors to Here and Elsewhere are employed by the Vancouver Art Gallery