The Performative Lens

The Performative Lens

The Performative Lens

Evergon (Montreal) and Bart Gazzola (Saskatoon)

March 15 – April 20, 2013

“People always venerate the wrong thing,” write Louis Armand, in his recent novel Breakfast at Midnight. In a discussion about the ubiquity of suffering, Armand punctuates the acid noir landscape, remarking “The crucifixion’s beautiful because it’s ordinary.” I am given to thinking about this quotation for the manner in which life engenders rituals into our everyday processes, in which the performative gesture is unified with the origins of the act. In Paved Art’s exhibition ‘The Performative Lens’ the viewer can begin to question the rituals and the origins of the act of creation in apperceptive bodies of work from Montreal’s Evergon and Saskatoon-based critic and artist Bart Gazzola.  The works are apperceptive in that they seek to create a defined intersubjectivity which is constructed through the presence of an absent other in the body of the work. ‘The Performative Lens’  combines three viscerally compelling images from Gazzola and eight photographs from Evergon, all of which demand that the viewer confront gradations of scale, a polyvalent layering of meaning, and the jouissance of bodily perforce, violence, and the queer politic enlivened by and captured as the commonality of flesh.

The only of Evergon’s photographs in the show which is not a self-portrait is titled ‘Dickie Doo (Michael Venus)’, an image realized with impeccable formal constraints and which plays on the concepts of performed and assimilative masculinity. The image’s character broods while clutching a worn teddy-bear, sitting awkwardly upon a child’s yolk-coloured, “Power Wheels” car, which is balanced on two wooden platforms at the image’s lower level. The intentionality of highlighting the staging of the car, and the man within it, sitting as he is in crocheted shorts, performs a blending of masculine and feminine, and forces the viewer to begin to address what must be a common criticism of Evergon’s work, that he is intentionally staging an infantalised version of desires. But moving beyond this, the photograph speaks more to the acquisition of social and sexual roles, wills and gestures. The abraded constructs of social roles in the image reflect a defiant criticism of masculinity as performed and hetero-normative, highlighting the acceptance and transgression of the assimilative modalities of masculinity in growth and development.

Five of the remaining images by Evergon stem from a series titled ‘Crossing the Equator, Going South, Pacific Rim #01-05.’ In this series Evergon himself dominates the frame, wearing a grass skirt, often with a garland around his waist. Below a textured and toyed-with beard, a mermaid has been drawn across his chest and stomach, whose tail flits ponderously onto Evergon’s right leg, which occasionally and flamboyantly parts the weathered grass skirt. The copulative embrace of the mermaid painted over Evergon’s body, the garland, and the sailor’s hat all have connotations which speak to the plurality of identity, and preconceptions of socio-sexual roles and characteristics of myth in image-making. The bodily contortions in the images reflect the eroticism of the camera, and the dominance of the gaze; they reflect an identity as repetition con différance, a gesture which is performatively instantiated, and which cuts across surface and deep agencies, performed and deferred subjectivities. The images collated for ‘The Performative Lens’, and specifically ‘Bottom Post Titania’ and ‘Bully Bottom’ bespeak of the artificiality and bestial revelry of the erotic gesture, a carnivalesque envisioning of the queer body politic.

The surface play in Bart Gazzola’s three untitled photographs ‘From the Prophet Series’ return to terrain familiar to Gazzola. They refract notions of both the substantive and the consumptive, and express concepts of bodily wounding and the excesses of corporeality, intrinsic to Gazzola’s work from ‘Adam’s Second Wife’ (1999) to the present. The monumentality of these three, untitled self-portraits, depict the naked body of the artist glistening, exposed, and vulnerable, luridly draped in incarnadine flesh which reflects a sardonic bestiality. The images speak to notions of loss, of wounding, and of a reverence for loss which the artist tries to amend with lineated and wrapped compresses; pieces of dead animal skin are draped over, or pulled taunt against his body. The embodiment of animal flesh is at once a version of visceral armour and, at the same time, a return to animality as a means to govern the depth of loss recorded. The return to a state of animality is expressed through the contiguities of animal flesh lying on human, the prevalence of hair, discord and scarring. The disseminated subject, cut mostly from the frame, leaves an open mouth expressing the wounded utterance of a loss of control, perceptive of and expressing the pain of belief.

Reflecting on the images’ title, ‘From the Prophet Series’ has the artist poised as John the Baptist, “A voice of one crying in the wilderness”, in a position where he must bear the wilderness of sacral names. Stemming from the prophetic title is a precarious uncertainty, a bodily corporeality dealing with ontological loss. The images confront the viewer with a marked body: pierced, branded, wrapped in animal flesh– which has also been marked, disseminated, torn from another body. The sensuality of the flesh-wrapped right arm, with its pleats and folds, luridly coloured and held across the chest, marks the images with the gravitas of a strained Catholicism. The concordant darkening of the genital in all but one image, expresses the pain of the performative gesture. The carnality of wrapping oneself in dead flesh– and the ethic that an act of this type must entail– shows the artist dealing with the materiality of familiar constraints, and expresses a groping interrogation of, and an incarceration within, performed acts of creation.

In ‘The Prophet Series’ the prominence of the open mouth, and the protrusion of the throat are details of the photographs that demand attention, and connote an apperceptive gaze on the failings and delimitations of subjective expression. The lesions on the mouth, the inexpressible words on the lips, bespeak of a performance of the wounded utterance. This unfulfilled evocation is matched in weight by the colouration, porosity, and immediacy of the hands in the images; hands which are grasping for remains, for armour, for a suture, for flesh. The title and the constraints of expression contain the deep play at work in the photographs by casting a self-interrogative eye on Gazzola’s role as artistic and cultural critic within the community, and may even speak to the loss of officialdom found in his exit from the local university. It is not without pain and tempered reflection that Gazzola enacts this performance; it is the act of binding flesh on flesh with which he seeks to find redemption, a suture for the wounded utterance, which remains the most haunting characteristic of his latest body of work.

~Text by Matthew Hall

 

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