25 January 1983 - 12 February 1983
Opening Reception 25 January 1981 8pm
Shore, Off Shore
Montreal artist Eva Brandl will be presenting a large scale installation entitled “Shore, off Shore”. The installation is composed of four objects and one large image projected onto a screen.
What appears on the screen is the following tableau: the blurred outline of what could be a garden house or shelter engulfed in a blaze of light, the image of a still child oblivious to the flaming background. The lights in the exhibition area are dimmed. The whole room is immersed in a cold blue haze emanating from three of the objects placed on a black shiny floor. These are:
– the same shelter/structure as seen on the screen, elevated on glass blocks
– a scaled down house also made of glass lit from within
– a 20 ft. long metal arc covered with overlapping sheets of glass (a blue argon light traces its edge)
The light from the surrounding elements enables a fourth object to be revealed. A large transparent boat faces one corner of the room, placed as if meant to cross the space diagonally. The image of a light explosion is projected partially on the shelter, partially on the wall behind. The atmosphere is of troubling calm.
The work is further extended by confronting the viewer directly with the scale of the elements and the reflective qualities of the materials used. (The objects seem to own the space they inhabit, yet these are fleeting properties engendered by the play of light. ) “As one assumes fixity, one’s relationship with them is ever-changing”. Another paradox also points to the question of meaning within the objects, their autonomy although defies narrative unity. Situated in a common environment, they co-exist without necessarily building on one another. What is evidenced is a strong personal vision used to engage the viewer into a play of free associations.”
– E. Brandl
Vanguard, March 1983
On the threshold of the studio, a place usually closed to onlookers, we are greeted by an image in a window near the doorway, of a little girl, standing immobile near a shelter in flames. A kind of invitation to enter, drawing us across the threshold into the work itself, the greeting also serves as a sign of the weakening link with the real, announced by the spatial and temporal insubstantiality of the slide. It is almost a metaphorical statement of the demarcation between the real space of the anteroom of the studio and the space of the work, signalling the passage between them, from the shore into the stream, as it were.
Each of the five elements in Brandl’s installation, Shore, Off Shore, possesses qualities belonging to a different artistic genre, namely architecture (house with moving shadow; floating shelter), sculpture (paper boat; glass jetty) and photography (window, blaze, still child). The whole is closely dependent on real space, a dependence necessary to allow the articulation of the two levels which make up the governing principal of the work, that is, the limits or boundaries between dream and reality. Real space acts as an introduction, a frame, in the form of the door to the studio and the window on which the slide is projected, for our passage into the space of the representation.
At the beginning, from the outer edge of the work, we are struck by its stage like quality. We may justly speak of a stage because the work is structured in terms of a situation; the highly connotative value of each element obliges us to see them as a topographical whole. It is, in effect, a natural place, the nighttime, since everything takes place in darkness. So united are the elements of the scene, one might almost think oneself before a tableau. But this stage is unusual, in that the viewer soon finds himself at the centre, his movement a concrete sign of his possible “role” in the piece. This is the stage as the theatrical, as Michael Fried has described it (Absorption and Theatricality, Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot ), a place open to narrative and the fictional. As in theatre, the spectator opens up this stage in creating new referents. Will the waves not take him wherever he wishes (the ground is entirely covered by a sheet of plastic), to the heart of an apparently unbounded space? And the symbolic freight of the materials (the evanescent glass, the glowing neon), their fragility (the boat and the little house of paper), as well as the interaction of their physical properties (the neon shining on the reflecting surface of the steel), all tend to minimize the materiality of the structures, encouraging the play of the imagination. Thus. from the shore, the scene, almost disembodied by the effects of light (the use of neon and glass bricks), is seductive. Given shape almost for its own sake and for its power of evocation, it is offered as a floating sign, to support a fiction.
But now the enchantment changes to puzzlement, for in mid-passage, we sense a deliberate interference with the lines. To find the jetty facing the shore rather than onto the open sea upsets our perceptual expectations. and indicates the chance element of all perception. Do I really see what I think I see? One thing is established: beyond the banks of the known, the certainty of mimesis no longer exists. Our physical experience of the space proves this to us in confronting us with the arbitrariness of scale, of perspective, and of the laws of physics. Do this tiny inverted jetty and human scale shelter allow us still to see in them only structures forming a certain landscape? Contrary to expectation, our involvement in the scene does not tend to enlarge the space of the representation, but rather to cast doubt on it, setting up a discursive field, or more precisely, a questioning of illusion. The nature of the space is altered.
The fascination which Eva Brandl shows for boundaries and their occurrence in our experience of spaces lends a historical pertinence to her work. The debate about illusionism in painting, centred on the eye, profits from this complete involvement of the body in the space of the representation. The artist has also enriched her inquiry by throwing light onto the temporarily and ephemeral nature of perception through the exploitation of shadow; fleeting, lying shadow, dimming the outlines of things. The shelter projects its own shadow onto the wall, joined there by that of a house ablaze, creating an impression of danger. Is it also as a warning against our own illusions, against the freebie certainty of our perceptions, that the dream of shelter is consumed in a pitiless return to the real?
Similarly off-putting is the little house, which, though near the boat is perceived as if from afar on another shore. This house without visible exit gives me no means to approach it. Closed in every way, it remains aloof inviolable, offering only its outer envelope, just as the boat presents only its interior, its skeleton. At length our wandering is cut short by the studio wall, through whose windows we can see the lights in the buildings outside. With a glance, the real world reasserts itself. The stars of the sky only dislocate us further, marking the gap between dream and reality.
Shore or off shore; we cannot occupy both positions at once, but must go back and forth between them. The material aspect of the piece is immediately seductive, although this effect is undermined when the viewer becomes actively engaged in the space and comes face to face with each element. However, the topographical character of the installation remains too marked to exclude the representational power of the work in favour of its critical aspect. The strong iconic presence of the elements – think only of the way in which the waves engulf the space – renders us all but deaf to any discourse on art, in spite of the artist’s desire to throw us off the scent. In the end, the trap does not work; the magic persists, brushing aside the didactic spirit.