Judith Barry, James Coleman and Rebecca Garrett

Curated by: Elke Towne

11 November 1986 - 13 December 1986
Opening Reception 11 November 1986 8pm

Project Installations:


Dark/ Light, an international exhibition featuring projection installations by Judith Barry, James Coleman and Rebecca Garrett, will open at Mercer Union Tuesday, November 11, 1986. Organized for Mercer Union by independent curator Elke Town, Dark/Light will feature the work of three artists concerned with the nature and effect of photographic and filmic representation. Due to the complexities involved in presenting and traveling exhibitions of this nature, Dark/Light will create a rare opportunity to view important work which finds few venues for presentation.

Contemporary art works involving film and slide projection as well as narrative or audio components have received increasing attention over the past years. Such works have been featured prominently in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Biennial and the Long Beach Museum of Art’s major exhibition, A Passage Repeated. Works incorporating film and slide projection elements point to the continuing fascination for new technologies of representation and the photographic apparatus by 20th century artists.

In describing the works to be included in Dark/Light, curator Elke Town has stated: “Beyond their most obvious use of the transparent filmic image, the artists have in common a concern for its referentiality to the nature and meaning of photographic and cinematic representation. They are interested in the role of narrative in the construction of cultural myth and also consider the role of the spectator in decoding constructed cultural representations. James Coleman deals with the cumulative means and methods of representation by language and image. His concern is with what is retained, altered and restored as an object or subject passes in representation through time. Judith Barry deals with the architecture and the spectacle of representation as a display, a spectacle in itself. She constructs a small spectacle to portray a much larger and more encompassing one. Rebecca Garrett’s work is concerned with the subjective effects of cinematic representation on the individual, specifically female, subject.”

Judith Barry, born in 1949 in Columbus, Ohio, is an American artist living and working in New York City. Barry’s primary media is photography, video and installation formats. The artist’s work has been represented throughout the United States and Europe. Her film and slide installation works have recently been included in exhibitions at The New Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Long Beach Museum of Art in Long Beach, California. For this exhibition Judith Barry will contribute a slide and film projection work entitled In the shadow of the city… vamp r y….

James Coleman, born in 1941 in Ballaghaderreen, Ireland, is currently living and working in Dublin and Milan. Coleman, whose primary media include photography, film and slide projections, video and theatrical formats, has exhibited extensively throughout Great Britain and Europe. Recently, a fifteen year perspective of his work was mounted as a joint venture between the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London and the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. In this exhibition at Mercer Union, James Coleman will be represented by a new work entitled Living and Presumed Dead (1983-85). This work, which incorporates 160 slides and a half-hour audio track, was produced in its final colour slide format at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. This presentation at Mercer Union will comprise its premiere Canadian showing.

Rebecca Garrett, born in 1956, is a Canadian artist living and working in Toronto. Garrett works primarily in photography, film and multi-media installation. Her work has been featured in solo exhibitions at YYZ and Gallery 76 in Toronto, and in group exhibitions at P.S. 1 in New York and the (N)on Commercial Gallery in Vancouver. For this exhibition at Mercer Union, Rebecca Garrett is completing a new film installation work, Crazy Jane and the Torrent Men, which will be on view at YYZ, 116 Spadina Ave., 2nd floor.

Elke Town is an independent curator and critic living and working in Toronto. She is the former Special Projects Officer of the Art Gallery of Ontario and Director of Video Distribution at Art Metropole. Elke Town has organized travelling exhibitions of Canadian and American art, most notably the exhibitions entitled Fiction and Subjects and Subject Matter. and is a frequent contributor to Canadian art periodicals such as Parachute, Vanguard and C magazine.

Dark/Light will be accompanied by a catalogue detailing the curatorial thesis and providing documentation on the artists and the installations. To augment the exhibition, a panel discussion with the curator and the participating artists is scheduled to take place at 8pm, Thursday, November 13, at The Rivoli, 334 Queen Street West.

Mercer Union and YYZ, Toronto
Peggy Gale
Canadian Art, Spring 1987

Dark/Light was an exhibition of “projection installations” about memory and the nature of experience, organized by independent curator Elke Town for Mercer Union. The physical size and equipment requirements of such installation pieces have tended to give pause to galleries and museums, and this work is rarely presented. But in this rewarding show, photography, with all its intellectual baggage, was extended to incorporate literal time and space, yielding a new poignancy.

At YYZ, Rebecca Garrett’s Crazy Jane and the Torrent Men, a 16mm colour projection with soundtrack, was presented on two facing screens of a specially constructed 2.4 m x 3.6 m enclosure in the gallery. In the opening segment of the piece, the viewer stood in midstream, one screen filled by a rushing river flowing towards the foreground, the opposite screen showing the same stream hurtling away into the distance. A voice-over quoting from Arthur Koestler’s The Age of Longing compared the “bridge men”, who stand above the flow with views of past and future, with the “torrent men”, who are in a forever rushing present, borne along by the current. The middle segment projected two images of the man-made mountain at Canada’s Wonderland amusement park, each filmed at different shutter speeds over the course of a late afternoon and evening. The projection closed with Garrett herself on screen singing a country-and-western classic into a microphone, all plaintive desire and love remembered. While acknowledging the flow of time and events, the film seemed to point to the future, perhaps to a magic mountain, and to experience yet to come.

At Mercer Union, Judith Barry’s In the Shadow of the City…vamp r y . . incorporated pairs of looped super-8 films and alternating pairs of slides projected onto both sides of a wall-size double-sided screen. A brooding sound-track combining electronic and choral fragments gave a sense of dread and growing dismay. Yet along with the menace of an inner city at night there was also tension and excitement, rewards for living dangerously and on the urban edge.

James Coleman’s Living and Presumed Dead consisted of a quirky and mischievous taped narrative unwinding over a 30-minute projection along the length of the gallery wall. The projection consisted of 160 slides showing a panorama of 20 life-size costumed figures, each slide dissolving into the next to produce an illusion of movement. Coleman’s tale bespoke the artist’s Irish roots both through the broad brogue of the narrator and in the blend of magic and ancient memory characteristic of the Irish folk tradition. Yet the narrator’s story of love lost and found, the search for father and for self, and the fleeting quality of identity, memory and event over a lifetime are both universal and never-changing.

To experience these works takes time; “getting the point” required both the viewer’s personal presence and close attention. Still, we can all delight in being told a story, for all the necessary clues are given. These works are about intellectual constructs, but they constitute personal experience, personal pleasure, individual discovery.

Dark/ Light
Mercer Union
YYZ Toronto, November 11 to December 13
William Wood
Vanguard, February/March 1987

It is all too confirming of the urban rivalry we have heard of before…. Just after Lumieres goes out in Montreal, Toronto comes up with Dark/ Light, another exhibit of light-based imagery. It is not the reprise that is striking, but how two essentially similar exhibits could project such different characters. Hence, ClAC’s extravaganza of 42 artists is reduced to curator Elke Town’s selection of three, and the variety of media available in Montreal is likewise reduced to cinematic and photographic projections of films and slides. With this, the tone changes as well: from high technology sublime to narrational fantasy, from carnival-like contemporaneity to nostalgic meandering.

The sombre duality of the Dark/ Light title was further inflected by a ‘projection schedule’ that made viewing the pieces into a 90-minute investment. Only James Coleman’s piece, Living and Presumed Dead, required a full half-hour to see, but the galleries held out for time so that machines could cool down, projector lamps be replaced, tapes rewound. This choreographed viewing – artificially heightening the importance of spending time with the pieces – perhaps had the aim of insuring that each projection became internalized and reflected upon. Yet such a system proposes a potential disruption, for the projector switch can easily be come the on/off switch of the pernicious spectator’s attention.

The Coleman piece was definitely on, for he provided a fair entertainment where script and image continually reflect and deflect from each other in a texture of lost grandeur woven with comic flair. The slide images portray a cast of characters from historical and popular sources lined up across a stage, periodically acting out parts of the audio text and periodically changing places in no particular order. This proved a stunning tableau, even as the compositional alterations merely excited the eye so that one felt a multi-media experience was taking place. The text is the meat of the piece, a crumpled tale of epic potential, of lost loves and gruesome murders, sword tricks and massive betrayals, all read in a melodramatic Irish lilt broken up by a plaintive, resigned flute and the narrator’s shattered rendition of Green sleeves. The richness of the language and Coleman’s deft control of the narrative – breaking parts up, splitting recognition so that the whole becomes misconstrued – led lo saddening as well as comic effect. For the tale is structured lo lead the spectator gently but repeatedly towards that projected edge where narrative emerges as an erasable product of desire’s fleeting mis-recognition of its object – whether that object be father, rival, lover or imposter.

In contrast to such control, Judith Barry’s and Rebecca Garrett’s contributions belied their purposes. Barry’s In the Shadow of the City… vampry…, reflects a number of concerns with built and fabulated environments through slides, film and audio loops projected on a double sided screen. Concepts of interior space and ’empty’ spaces, and empty actions as well, are brought together, but with no particular emphasis. Filmed ‘windows’ incorrupt slide backdrops, industrial ambient sound is overlaid with choric refrains, actions repeat and slides shift – yet all his noise remains noise articulated through the spectacular relation. Equivalence seems all-encompassing, determining a desiccated space where only compulsion is lacking (when the compelling seems to be what is pertinently under question in the spectacle). This may reproduce a lethargy in reception, but it does so at the cost of appearing complicit with the dullness of its conceits.

Plain indifference towards the projected imagery dogged Garrett’s Crazy Jane and the Torrent Men. Where Barry used a double-sided screen to imply equivalence, Garrett constructed a thin corridor for viewers, with rear-projections on either side. This placed us in the action, and the gist of the piece concerned illustrating three variations on the position. Thus we are in a river at the Heraclitean moment of watching the flow approach and recede; we see a fairy tale castle from the same view at dusk and daylight; we see Garrett mouth syncing to Patsi Kline and Kline reacting self-consciously to the country tune. Each scene went on for about four minutes, with the viewer reduced to watching the grainy patterns of the film once the simplistic point was made. Even if one thought deeply about the development from nature to culture through wishy-washy fantasy – the time-scale and intrinsic disinterest of the representations sank the work to murky depths.

As a curatorial venture, Dark/ Light eludes consideration. The small selection and the required separate viewing worked against a complex understanding of relations between the installations, and between the ‘high’ art use and mass culture’s investments in projection. Similarly, the works did not lend themselves to fascinatory involvement, but dealt with discontinuous and refiled narratives, with effects that demand reflection rather than projection on the spectator’s part. This demand provoked desire for more ambitious projects, for different spaces for viewing and for stronger curatorial direction in the enterprise. A larger grouping of works, and one of consistent quality, might have delivered such a perspective. As it stands, the dark was but slightly invaded by the light, and the exhibit was hard to see as a result.