David Miller

5 November 1998 - 19 December 1998
Opening Reception 5 November 1998 8pm

Main Gallery:

Memorial for an Invisible Monument

Towards the end of the XXth century people are looking backwards, into the past, as did Angelus Novus in Klee’s painting interpreted by Walter Benjamin. If I remember well, the angel’s gaze froze as in a ‘flashback’ that momentarily shed light into the dark corridor of history.

“This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise- This storm is what we call progress.”

David Miller‘s works have been exhibited in Canada and in Europe. In August he contributed lasting site-works for the exhibition Yawning in Samorin, Slovakia.

Other past residencies and exhibitions include Center for Metamedia in Plasy, Czech Republic; W139 and Stichting Steim in Amsterdam, the Institute for Computer Studies, University of Amsterdam; Denkmalshmiede-Hofgen, Leipzig, Germany; Stichting Casco, Utrecht and the Oud Amelisweerd, Bunnik, Netherlands.

In March 1999, together with the St Mary’s University Art Gallery in Halifax, he will mount Collecting Shadows: Photographs, 1985-1999. David lives in Toronto.

Milos Vojtechovsk‡, Prague, September 1998

Milos Vojtechovsk‡ is a curator of contemporary art, director and founder of the Center for Metamedia in Plasy, Czech Republic.

Download the exhibition brochure

Walter Benjamin,
Theses on the Philosophy of History, 1940

The gaze of this non-human being — an angel — anticipates machine-vision which came to replace the omnipresent triangular vision of God. Objective, remote, cold and merciless, this way of seeing lacks sympathy, empathy and fear. Today the surveillance camera turns towards the past in an attempt to make whole what has been smashed. A mechanized device for scanning public and private space, for changing the past into presence, its images draw the outlines of history, a ‘theater-of-atrocity’ in close-up.

Our epoch is shaped by cinematic, cyber-memory, a prosthetics of memory that can atrophy human sight, wilt language and substitute remembrance with appearance. The stage for this mechanical theatre-of-memory was shaped in the mode of a panopticom that Michel Foucault described as a system for manipulation and control, a myth of a transparent society visible and legible in all its parts. The extension of this depersonalized cyber-environment to public and domestic space — shaped according to a utilitarian and ideological concept of control — has institutionalized and made homogenous our once living, intimate and sacred places.

One symptom of this new paradigm took root in European monumental sculpture. In the establishment of the Public Memorial we see a systemic degradation of the object/fetish’s magical function, the loss of its sanctity and today, the sanctuary itself is substituted by History for the public’s consumption. The practice of creating a monument in public space is based on this idea of the theatrical ‘flashback’; a wrenching forward of one constructed frame from the stream of time, bringing it out from the past to stand obstinately in the present, aspiring to eternity.

Contamination of memory can be seen in the wide-spread tendency to reconstruct historical buildings and environments into mere appearances or fictions of the past. Memorials. These sites are disengaged from their continuity, from their contexts and instead become mixed into the flux of the contemporary. Organic decay, oblivion, recuperation and personal reconciliation with the past, with missing persons or desecrated places is contradictory to this positivistic and monumental approach to memory-sites. This is manifest in the gradual museafication of personal experience, the pollution of our sensory environment with horizonless stacks of shelving that buckle under the weight of empty signs, old and new symbols, corporate idols and objects.

An alternative concept of the memorial seems to be appearing in the work of David Miller. He focuses on the phenomenology of places, the devalued histories encircling their periphery. By rejecting ready-made formula or the reflexive use of iconography, his site-works instead find their compassionate locus or ‘voice’ in the incompleteness, the openness of the library’s yet-to-be-written pages. Here it is possible to build upon creative acts begun before. Miller’s contextual practice begins in this ambivalent excess, where the forgotten, anonymous makers left off. In this way his works recall acts of piety or empathy and consequently reclaim and revitalize the sites he engages, the social residues that bind us to a place. Since every building, environment, space, ‘domesticated’ object or action can become a ‘witness’ and conceal traces of humanity, memory and meaning, each is a potential source for further scrutiny and interpretation. Miller’s process pays attention to these traces drawn in the shape and surface of these things, and listens to the minor testimonies and reports spinning around their time-axis. The artist’s personality becomes transparent to reveal an inner, latent memory — the enigma of the site.

Miller’s concern with processes of loss and recovery, with patterns of displacement result in interventions far from sentimental or artificial. His view of the artistic process as both meaningful and functional employs the substance of the object, not only its appearance. This approach informs much of Miller’s work and his installations at ruins, historical buildings in Bohemia and Slovakia.

A good example is Raj, (Paradise), a still-life composed from everyday objects and suspended as one of the weights of the old clockworks in the granary at Plasy Monastery. Miller ‘improved’ the functionality of the clock by replacing a rope tethered sack filled with rocks and old machine parts with an equal weight in cast-iron and chain. The objects are deployed not only as comment on the building’s former function –a hybrid place: at once a transcendent, sacred space, a sanctuary, symbol of technological mastery over the cosmos, a town clock and storehouse for grain – but become an intrinsic part of the old time machine, a gravity impulse for the rhythmic movement of the pendulum, the ringing of the bells and the marking of time’s passage.

Hromnicky, his piece at Klenová Castle, installed high above the subterranean dungeon below, repaired the castle towers’ lightning rods by replacing their missing conductors or finials with cast iron ‘candles’. The work links the former site of human power and surveillance (over the landscape) to the natural elements, to forces that over centuries and now erode the fortification and return its stone to the surrounding environment. The title, from Czech folklore, refers to tall candles lit during thunder and lightning storms to appease the fury of angry gods.

Miller’s recent installation for a sacred space — the ruined Synagogue in Samorin, Slovakia — consists of cast-iron objects placed within, around and on the building. The Synagogue was emptied during the Second World War when Samorin’s Jewish community was destroyed in Nazi death camps. Desecrated, eventually used as a warehouse and later abandoned altogether, the sanctuary lost its meaning. Miller’s process of reconciling, cleansing and reclaiming is enacted throughout the site using cast bottles of detergents or in Miller’s words ‘clean souls, [missing] figures’, cast bottles of beer, wine and liquor or ‘spirits’ as well as by cast hand tools fixed permanently to the building; as if the continuity, violated by history was by this act recreated.

The significance and piety evoked by these works is a form of redemption; a re-membering set in sharp contrast to classical monuments’ all too frequent retaliatory function, to their expressions of historical obscenity that conspire to suppress unacceptable or painful histories by obstructing personal and social memory.

Even if our history is full of rage, injustice and brutality, of unbearable details to which we are daily exposed and through which we become alienated, it can be possible to animate loss, history’s secrets and sanctity and give them new meaning within daily life.