Nadine Norman’s recent exhibition, “Re collections,” comprised three multi-media installations. One could be described as a wall-paper-like pattern drawn with ash and various stencils which covered an entire wall in the back room of the gallery. When observed for some time, the graphic texture of the pattern would dissolve into many small swastikas which seemed to be emerging from the surface. In the adjacent room, seven cakes of soap baked with ash and cast from common soaps were mounted on small dishes at about the same height one would expect to find a soap dish in a bathroom. Displayed on the walls of the third room (which is, in fact, the one entered into first on visiting the gallery) was a series of thirty digitally enlarged polaroids divided into five- and two-foot squares, and one single picture; each depicting a couronne funeraire, i.e., one of those small porcelain wreaths often found in French cemeteries.

Unfortunately, this exhibition has been subjected to a very linear and literal-minded reading. Focusing on the one installation where a swastika actually appeared as the means or, to be more precise, as the material of representation as well as its object, many viewers and critics could only discuss the exhibition in terms of “for” or “against.” (That is, they were commenting on it in about the same way any swastika drawn on a wall in a public space – or part of a space open to the public – would be commented on.) As it is indeed hard to imagine any contemporary work that speaks “for it” and demands at the same time to be taken seriously as a work of art, it should not be too surprising that Norman’s work has been immediately acknowledged for being “against it.”

The questionable way of privileging one work out of three is notable. What matters more, however, is that by trying to translate this exhibition into a direct political statement, we forfeit the opportunity to consider its formal and conceptual peculiarities and to see these works for what they are: a partly ironic and decidedly blasphemous discourse on certain modes of representation which figure quite prominently in the contemporary culture of Holocaust-Memorials. Regarded as a commentary that refers to a specific “art of memory,” they have a lot of esprit and an impact which is at least partly political.

As an introduction to the topic of mourning and memory, the polaroids functioned on at least two levels. On the one hand, they alluded to a practice which, if unfolded on the political platform, has become one of the most ostentatious and effective performances of mourning we know. To lay down a wreath at a memorial, be it for an unknown soldier or for the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, has become an inseparable part of the ritual of many state visits. There is something essentially theatrical about every act of mourning once it directs itself outwards and becomes manifestnot as a ritual but rather as a kind of mise-en-scene that requires a specific range of props and poses.

More importantly, the very arrangement of these pictures helps to drawl a line between memory and remembrance, or at least, to get a little closer to the latter. Because, literally, remembrance is remembrance, an artifact built from scattered fragments which have been (re-)collected to constitute a simulacrum of intactness. And, of course, this describes a process which produces its own margins and leftovers – as expressed in the tripartite piece. What presents itself as a testimony to memory is often nothing but a work of remembrance – a product so thoroughly processed that both its origin and references have been obliterated. What is more, the process of re-membrance, as a re-working of material(s), always involves a certain disfigurement. This was evident in the soap series where the different stages of production became visible upon scrutiny, revealing that what at first sight seemed so solid was actually highly fragile (“to be handled with care,” and certainly not to be used as a touchstone).

It has frequently been suggested that in the age of virtual images a monument might offer the one alternative of solidity and permanence, both guaranteed by the very materiality of the object; and when it comes to Holocaust Memorials, these suggestions will, for their own self-legitimation, draw on the necessity of constantly maintaining the memory of what happened. Norman, on the contrary, lets temporality inscribe itself into each of the small objects she has produced. The soaps and the wall-pattern are falling apart under our very eyes, although this is a process which covers a period of time that is much longer than the time usually spent in contemplation of the exhibits. Not only does this comment on the futility of any attempt to construct a lasting representation of what was there to be remembered, it also points out that temporality might be the decisive quality that describes every true act of memory; that more than anything else, memory is subjected to temporality, but in this it can be trusted.

There is something else to be said about the form Norman has chosen to present her soap series. In a way, she has re-enacted the whole process of mounting and exposing which has taken place every time a statue or monument has been erected before the eyes of the public (one could just as well say that this also applies to the set-up of many exhibitions and museums); but she has re-enacted it on a much smaller, life-size, scale. With regard to public monuments, this can probably be read as some kind of travesty, an ironization of a practice which definitely has a pompous and ridiculous side to it. What may be more interesting is that we learn how the effort of bringing something closer (“making it life-size,” so to speak) turns into a trivialization of the very thing it strives to represent. Norman is well aware of this, but that does not make things any more bearable once the full implications of this installation have been recognized.

Finally, each of the three works can be seen as a perceptive paraphrase of a mode of representation that can be found in various Holocaust museums such as the Auschwitz museum. By re-collecting the property (shoes, glasses, photographs, etc.) of Holocaust victims and arranging them in large heaps, the curators have certainly intended to give an impression of multitude. But multitude is transformed into mass, and the single object vanishes within a shapeless bulk of things that have lost all their significance except that of being added to something that is already too large to be grasped. When Norman was adapting her work to the conditions of the space, she was working to create a sense of having, at the same time, too much and too little to see. The pervading feeling is one of lacking; still it needs all the work Norman has done to make this lacking present – to memorize it – this time not as the lack of representability but as the lack which arises from the representing activity.

For the exhibition “Fabrications,” curator Kim Fullerton brought together the work of queer photographers Catherine Opie of Los Angeles and David Rasmus and Hamish Buchanan of Toronto. Fullerton’s catalog essay locates their work firmly within the performative school of gender studies, a discourse that has focused on the process by which sexual identities are enacted, performed, fabricated. In different ways, and with different degrees of success, all three photographers attempt to challenge normative categories of gender, sexuality and sexual identity through their work. Their shared interest in locating the terrain of the corporeal as a site of social inscription and cultural meaning, opens new territory for the active, productive and decidedly “queer” subject.

All the works in “Fabrications” foreground the body as a terrain of competing meanings, and none moreso than Opie’s diptych Dyke and Self Portrait (1993). The first of these two photographs presents the nude back of a woman with a tattoo of the word “dyke” on her neck. The second is Opie herself, with a stick-figure drawing of two women in a scene of lesbian domesticity scratched into the flesh on her back. Here, Opie transforms the corporeal into the textual, underscoring Elizabeth Grosz’ assertion that the embodied subject is always “marked, scarred, transformed, and written upon or constructed by the various regimes of institutional, discursive, and non-discursive power” (Space, Time, and Perversion, 1995). While marked by and within culture, these subjects have foregrounded their own agency through signs of their own making. Such strategies of self-definition offer the possibility of subversion, contestation and reconstruction of the meanings ascribed to one’s own body.

Opie’s work problematizes preconceived assumptions of lesbian identity, opting for representations of lesbian experience that are honest, direct and provocative. For the series Being and Having (1991), Opie photographed several of her dyke friends and cropped the portraits close enough to see the mesh of the conspicuously false mustaches. At a distance, the faces read as male, but with closer examination they can be seen to be female. These works go beyond simply exposing constructed expectations of what constitutes femininity and masculinity. These photos offer glimpses into modes of self-identification that are fluid, shifting and mutable.

Instead of marking or revealing the body, Hamish Buchanan’s Veiled Men series (1995) enmeshes the figure behind the translucent fabric of the veil, a trope traditionally associated with the “feminine.” By posing his subjects with the “unmasculine” symbol of the veil, Buchanan codes his subjects as queer, disallowing recuperation of the images into a heterosexual economy of looking. The constructions of Opie and Buchanan are ambiguous, but in destabilizing expectations of sexual identification, their works privilege queer readings.

Buchanan’s work also acts as an expression of grief and loss. The artist uses the veil for its multiple associations with allure of the hidden, the promise of discovery, the potential for transformation, and the shadow of mourning. These associations are used to create a space for mourning in the midst of AIDS while simultaneously rendering the male nude as sexual and desirable. Buchanan’s deliberately sexualized representations of gay men are meant to counter the anxiety associated with sex experienced by an entire generation since the arrival of AIDS.

The series entitled Legacy (1993) by David Rasmus is both playful and confrontational. Replete with smeared lipstick and unkempt wigs, the women and men in Rasmus’ photos gaze directly out at the viewer. The humour at play here is heightened by the deadpan, serious expression on the face of each subject. The hairy chests of the males further emphasizes the ironic tone of the work. The series attempts to play havoc with stable conceptions of gendered identification. However, in failing to articulate any difference between the positions occupied by its male and female subjects, Legacy stops short of transgressing the normative hierarchies it attempts to critique.

Scholars Molly Anne Rothenberg and Joseph Valente have argued that such parodic deconstructive approaches run the risk of reinscribing the hegemonic discursive systems they attempt to undo by their very dependence on those “operative structures” against which they define themselves. “[I]n formally freeing postmodern theory of its residual essentialism, this new trend risks consolidating that essentialism in less visible but more substantive terms.” (Critical Inquiry, Winter 1996). In other words, do the performative strategies in “Fabrications” go beyond polarized notions of masculine vs. feminine, or do they actually further entrench binary opposite categories of gender? Can one go about describing what queer is without falling into essentialist traps?

All three photographers in “Fabrications” are overt in staging their work, in creating, fabricating realities. They play off of the veracity and (once held) belief in the “transparency” of the photographic medium. Far from revealing some underlying truth about the constructed “nature” of sexuality and gender, these works add to the uncertainty, complexity and richness of (queer) subjectivity. The works of Opie and Buchanan serve to explore located identities that are consciously constructed and self-determined. While all three artists poke fun at normative gender constructs, Buchanan goes the farthest in creating his own queer vocabulary.

“Fabrications” is one of several recent exhibitions by lesbians and gay artists whose shared practices form the basis of their collective work. Leaving behind identity politics, much of this work focuses on representations of the self based on the performed, the enacted, on what one does instead of simply what one is. The growing amount of recent queer scholarship concerning the performed points to a shift in interest defining a queer praxis. In the catalog for the 1995 exhibition “In A Different Light: Visual Culture, Sexual Identity, Queer Practice,” artist and curator Lawrence Rinder has argued that queerness “is a term which subverts or confuses group identification rather than fostering it,” suggesting that it is precisely the current “crisis” in lesbian and gay identity which may be the driving force behind the wealth and richness of art being produced by queers today.

The works in “Fabrications” posit queer subjectivity in ways that are political and transgressive. Elizabeth Grosz has argued that we are always bound up and implicated within the systems of privilege and regimes of power that we contest. This does not imply that we are complicit with or supportive of those same oppressive structures. What “Fabrications” succeeds in doing is foregrounding queer practices that assume agency in the face of a patriarchal, homophobic and heterocentric society. If these works cannot dispense with “masculine” and “feminine” signifiers, then at least they rewrite the script of gendered identification on their own terms and with their own lexicon.

Dans la foulee de l’exposition <<Crimes passionnels: cinq faits divers photographiques>> qu’il presentait a Montreal en 1992, le photographe et ecrivain Andre Martin nous offre, avec <<Darlinghurst Heroes>>, une nouvelle serie d’oeuvres ayant comme toile de fond desir et mort. Dans cette mise en scene ou le meurtrier a deja ete identifie, nous quittons toutefois le role d’enqueteur pour devenir le temoin visuel d’une mort annoncee.

Lartiste arrime, depuis ses tout debuts, l’univers de l’ecriture a celui de la photographie. Par de nombreux chasses-croises entre les deux disciplines, il questionne a la fois leur ecart et leur rapprochement, creant une zone hybride ou les deux entrent en dependance. Cela dit, si la production artistique de Martin est indissociable de la litterature – que ce soit par la presence de texte, de fiction, de narration ou meme d’enigme -, elle ne s’affirme et ne se developpe veritablement que par la photographie et par le photographique.

La presente exposition s’annonce comme la <<version photographique>> du plus recent roman de Martin. La lecture de celui-ci n’est pas un prealable a l’appreciation de l’exposition tant le langage photographique y parle de lui-meme; elle aide neanmoins a mieux saisir le propos general. Le recit raconte l’histoire d’un photographe quebecois partant pour l’Australie dans le but de parfaire son art, mais aussi pour revoir un amant medecin qu’il y avait quitte six ans plus tot. Pour ce qui est du titre du roman et de l’exposition, il renvoie plus precisement a un quartier malfame de Sydney, Darlinghurst, ou ce meme medecin oeuvre aupres de groupes marginaux qui frequentent de si pres la mort qu’ils <<marchent a la verticale>>: sideens, junkies, prostitues.

La premiere salle propose une serie de dix photographies presentees sous forme de diptyques. Chacune des paires fonctionne ici comme un miroir deformant ou l’image photographique de gauche, d’un traitement et d’une teinte qui evoquent un univers tegumentaire ou tellurique, se repete mais de facon tramee et en noir et blanc dans celle de droite. L’objet photographie restant difficile a identifier, on peut s’imaginer soit devant un tatouage, une irruption cutanee ou une topographie quelconque, soit devant une vue microscopique ou telescopique. Grace au titre des oeuvres mais surtout avec l’aide du roman, on apprend qu’il s’agit en realite de gros plans sur un rivage sablonneux, dans lesquels les points noirs representent les trous creuses par des crabes et les granules tout autour des portions de sable excavees.

Reprenant la meme formule dyadique, on retrouve entre autres dans la deuxieme salle deux diptyques construits a partir d’un motif de forme curviligne present dans une des oeuvres de la salle precedente. Le premier, intitule L’Enveloppe (version papier), repete dans sa partie droite la photographie de gauche mais en transformant les grains par des pages pliees en boulettes du roman Darlinghurst Heroes. Il faut noter les yeux imprimes qui emergent de celles-ci, comme pour nous rappeler notre role de temoin et de voyeur dans le recit. Cette reference a l’acte de voir semble d’autant plus importante qu’elle se repete dans L’Enveloppe (version metal). Ici, toutefois, la partie gauche du diptyque se trouve substitutee dans sa partie attenante par un systeme optique compose de courts cylindres de metal. Scrutant l’interieur de ces objets, le visiteur decouvre des photographies de logements vides et anonymes, comme si son regard trop froid et trop mecanique avait fait fuir, ou pis encore, tuer les habitants.

On peut sans doute voir l’importance du double dans <<Darlinghurst Heroes>> comme un echo de l’approche de l’artiste, qui fusionne deux disciplines. Vu le support utilise, il est cependant difficile de ne pas aussi lier cette presence au role de la photographie qui a longtemps ete de servir (<<la tres humble servante>>, disait a son sujet Baudelaire) de preuve ou de double du reel. Dans la presente production comme dans les precedentes, la position d’Andre Martin est certes de rejeter cette vision mythique et passive du reflet, pour plutot mettre l’accent sur le photographique et sur le decalage (ou la fente) entre la photographie et le reel.

Cette approche critique de la photographie, interessante en soi, meme si elle tend dans plusieurs productions contemporaines a s’essouffler, a ici l’interet d’etre liee a un procede metaphorique ou le photographique se melange de facon singuliere et originale a l’erotique, voire a l’homoerotique. Sans mettre en scene des corps entierement nus, les oeuvres mettent cependant l’accent – et ce, de facon on ne peut plus suggestive et erotisante – sur la rousseur de la pilosite (et sans doute aussi de l’epiderme) du medecin. Cette couleur rousse est aussi presente dans la plupart des oeuvres de l’exposition, allant jusqu’a couvrir les murs et le plancher de la troisieme et derniere salle. Celleci n’est cependant pas la seule a rappeler un peu partout le corps de l’homme desire, il y a aussi la forte presence du grain – tantot evoque par le traitement photographique (le <<grain photographique>>), tantot present sous la forme plus palpable (et mangeable) de sucre et de sel. Tout cet univers granuleux, s’il rappelle parfois la fameuse <<poudre blanche>> dont semble raffoler les habitants de Darlinghurst, nous renvoie une fois de plus a la surface tegumentaire – au grain de le peau – de cet homme scrute et desire, a telle enseigne que l’exposition ressemble finalement a une mise a nu, ou plutot a une mise a peau du rouquin.

Mais le desir, comme on l’a annonce plus haut, est dans <<Darlinghurst Heroes>> indissociable de la mort. Si on peut sentir la presence de celle-ci dans la vacuite des logements de l’oeuvre L’Enveloppe (version metal) et dans tous ces paysages sablonneux qui rappellent a la limite certains problemes cutanes entraines par le sida, elle semble tenir le de dans la salle qui cloture l’exposition. C’est en fait dans cette <<salle tombale>> qu’on nous presente la fin tragique du medecin, lequel aura lache ou perdu prise devant le syndrome immunodeficitaire acquis qui lui avait derobe un apres l’autre ses patients. Le malheureux incident est ici evoque par l’exposition de sa letre de suicide, photographiee et magnifiee. Dans un geste qui semble marquer l’espoir et transcender la mort, cette lettre renonce toutefois ici a la forme du diptyque, pour former un Tout avec une couche granuleuse qui la recouvre sans jamais la faire disparaitre.

En terminant, tout porte a croire que si toutes ces oeuvres oscillant entre le desir et la mort renvoient a la realite des marginaux de Darlinghurst, elles parlent aussi, voire peut-etre surtout, de tous ces <<heros>> qui, de plus en plus pres de nous, luttent contre l’horrible maladie qu’est le sida. Pour cette raison, une des forces de l’exposition serait sans doute de nous rappeler le role de temoin passif et de voyeur blase que l’on adopte trop souvent devant cette maladie derangeante que l’on persiste a croire etre celle des autres. Le sida ne concerne pourtant pas seulement les personnes atteintes, surtout pas quand on sait que c’est notre ignorance et notre intolerance qui leur sont les plus douloureuses et devastatrices.

<<L’art peut-il sauver des vies?>>, demandait recemment Douglas Crimp. Non, semble repondre Andre Martin, mais il peut nous faire reflechir a la fragilite de la condition humaine et nous rappeler l’importance de l’empathie, de la compassion et de la solidarite. Voila pourquoi <<Darlinghurst Heroes>> tient finalement un discours social et politique, bien qu’elle ne crie pas son message, comme le font souvent les expositions qui abordent la meme thematique, a en perdre la voix.

It is the red of these images that most directly alludes to the interiority of the body, a landscape made up of tendons, veins, nerves. Goodwin’s retrospective “Signs of Life,” featuring mixed-media works, sculptures, drawings and an installation, is an extended and eloquent meditation on that dense layer of discourse uniting consciousness and the passions that the artist uses to define humanity.

Two series created over the past five years are presented, La memoire du corps and Nerves. Goodwin employs a critical vocabulary of forms whose shapes frequently derive from baths, beds and clothing – elements intimating that the body is a place of existence. The attraction of these images lies, precisely, in their relation to the corporeal/viewing subject. Like the writings of Franz Kafka, Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel and Antonin Artaud that serve as its literary inspiration, with the practices of Joseph Beuys and Bruce Nauman, the human scale of the representation elicits issues of response. Goodwin’s La memoire du corps XX (1994), with its dense layering of tree-roots (or perhaps veins) on a sanguine ground, for example, invites participation as a contract of total attentiveness. In its engulfment of the field of vision, and with the overlap of concrete materiality denoted by the work’s saturated pigmentation contrasting with its translucent mylar support, what is disclosed is a public gesture of vulnerability and a private landscape of affections.

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Certain drawings even more evidently take on the quality of skin. Like corporeal archives, these works make visible the imprint of a series of relations with/in the world. By the process of smudging, tracing-over and erasing marks, La memoire du corps VI (1991-2) relates to the dermis as a corporeal surface formed and transformed by the incidents of cultural and social enactment. The image given is one of a bathtub, its red outline traced on a black ground. It is this graphic trace, so readily apparent, that admits the body’s history, both in its external aspect as the memory of the body’s attachment to historic time, and at the level of presenting its sensations. In this entwining, the sensuous transference of a presence (of an absent body) that paradoxically situates subjectivity as an open space, intimates that, as neither exteriority or interiority, neither part nor totality, neither full nor empty, Goodwin’s body-scapes are visible conduits for emotional ties.

Affect, in its Freudian formulation, refers to the passions and to impulse, defining a pre-OEdipal state. More simply, it admits an interconnectedness with others that still recognizes difference. This relational and fundamental quality is multiply configured in Goodwin’s work. The exquisite elliptical form of the plaster sculpture Sargasso Sea (1992) plays on the elasticity of signification. This sitz bath pushed together suggests the restorative comforts of water, its curative properties, its pleasures. Water containers and bodily fluids share the quality of letting things wash over us. But, at the same time, according to the legend privileged in the work’s title, anything that goes into the Sargasso Sea, an actual bed of seaweed, will become hopelessly entangled and disappear. Moving from one (cultural, physical) body to an other, the apprehended metaphor for this vessel is ambivalent. In the disjunction between the two representations the viewer’s position is set up such that the body-vessel traces a phantom passage within and among two orders of interpretation. Part-flotation device, part-sarcophagus, it operates in analogy to the self, that is, as an enigma, as the trace of an organic, biological and animate existence, and as the mystery of a constituent subjectivity unrecollectible, untellable, indissoluble.

At specific places the work is more than a transient structure. Descent (La memoire du corps VII) (1992), for instance, locates a humanistic geography written in the articulation of a large-scale rose-toned drawing and a suspended steel sculpture. Both images are simultaneously frail and powerful. The subtlety and richness of their exchange expresses something of an infusion of energies, since the drawing maps the making of a bodily junction, and the sculpture resembles a skeletal construction.

But it is also possible to interpret these works as the examination of the possibilities of relational (re)alignment. Certainly La memoire du corps I (1991-2), a mixed-media piece combining a sculpted pendulum with a drawing of a corporeal joint, would suggest this reading. And in like manner, the sculpture Spine (1993), a cast and plaster vertical of enormous semiotic strength and great formal simplicity, allows for the conceptualization of progressive linking between the dynamic of self-sufficiency and a more generalized cultural sensibility.

Goodwin’s theme, and curator Jessica Bradley’s by extension, is the tenuous confrontation between life and death. Bradley envisions it as life energy, referring to the fluid state of development to which biological entities are attached, and by which they are formed in the culture. Goodwin’s vision might itself be more cutting, and hence more poignant. Grieving Knife (1991), a mixed-media piece to which a real knife is attached, and the memorial tablet/sculpture Distorted Events (1995), that combines the sometimes partial impression of serial numbers with a shovel, for example, disquietingly call to mind the alienation (self-imposed or otherwise) of existence. As a representational paradigm, this crisis is particularly resonant. Are these works an attempt to screen out emotion, or to come to terms with it? In either case, they confront the viewer by raising the question of what is acceptable as public display. Such a personal and political decision is only possible, Goodwin intimates, through the absolute honesty of our address and an acceptance of the incomprehensible.