Screenings challenge concepts of identity and oppression

Available Light Screening Collective and Gallery 101 co-presented video programme Strange Representations, curated by Ulysses Castellanos and Theo Pelmus, at Club SAW July 17.

Available Light Screening Collective member Christopher Rhode introduced the screening with a warning, saying the audience would “probably have nightmares about [it] later.”

Strange Representations, which featured multiple short films, challenges pre-existing notions of cultural identity which curator Castellanos described as “a dichotomy of ‘us’ and ‘them:’ the white man, the establishment, and the corporations against me.”

“I started to see there’s different types of art being made about representations of identity that is a little more complex. . . it’s not about ‘I’m oppressed and you’re the oppressor’ but ‘I’m oppressed, but in relation to the processing of how I feel about this oppression, could I not be creating oppression for me and others?’” explained Castellanos.

In Julieta Maria’s Embrace, a close-up shot of a woman’s torso with a live fish held against her chest appears against a tender, ocean backdrop. The video becomes beautifully tragic as the viewer realizes that the fish is dying in her arms, gasping to survive.

Co-curator Theo Pelmus considers this uneasiness created by the actors a strength of the programming.

“Each actor tried to make you a little bit uncomfortable which I think is a very good thing because it immediately positions the role of ‘us’ in a different negotiation,” Pelmus said.

Castellanos sees Embrace as expressing the idea of the individual as both oppressed and oppressor.

“What the video’s saying is ‘I love you, but I’m fucking killing you, and that’s not the white man, fucking aliens, or Interpol. This is her. She went to the market, bought a fish and now she’s smothering the thing to death,” said Castellanos.

The videos use a modernist lens to destabilize the dichotomy of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and instead look at ‘me’—whether it be the jaded curator from Evan Tyler’s Fear, Irony and Curating in the 90s (2012), or the three straight guys who just wanted to have a shower together in Jalopy’s Just Three Guys, Having a Shower, Drinkin’ Beer and Smokin’ (2013).

In Fear, Irony and Curating in the 90s (2012), Evan Tyler creates a narrative about a bitter, retired curator from the perspective of his cat Miss Priss who has escaped to her Toronto Annex, contemplating whether she wants cheesecake or cocaine.

“I think about the 90s as a time when academia and intellectualism in contemporary art [were] sewn together in what seems like a really irreversible way now,” explained Tyler. “I was thinking about that in these progressive stages and the curator cat watching it happen during the height of her success.”

Miss Priss’ monologue is hilariously jaded as she comments on her experiences as a Manhattan curator during the 90s where at first she’s “hot shit, rubbing shoulders with Cindy Sherman” and then quickly becomes “fucking lost” in the wake of a new, developing urban landscape.

“Just like those classic Hollywood tales of rise and fall, it goes right to the top and bottoms out quickly for her,” Tyler said.

Gallery 101 opens the exhibition counterpart to Strange Representations featuring installation and performance work Aug. 30, since Pelmus said the show was too big and complex to fit into one show.

“We thought it would be a good idea to divide it into two,” Pelmus said. “This show would be almost like a prologue for what’s happening at Gallery 101.”