Hyper Spaces gallery show explores merging of real and virtual space

[From The Toronto Star]

[Image: A video still from Lynne Marsh’s “Stadium,” a video work currently on display as part of “Hyper Spaces” Oakville Galleries.]

Review: Oakville Gallery’s Hyper Spaces

Oakville Gallery’s Hyper Spaces conjures up the strange things that occur when real and virtual space collide

By Murray Whyte
Dec 22, 2011

“We have entered the future,” or so says the intro blurb to Hyper Spaces, the current show at Oakville Galleries, and it’s an ambitious, if literally impossible, declaration (the future, being the future, can’t be inhabited or seen until it becomes the present, at which point it’s no longer the future, is it?)

But never mind all that. A little introductory drama is warranted for a show that looks to grapple with architectural virtuality — not exactly a blockbuster sales pitch, you might say. But thanks to ever-more transporting technology, we’re able to imagine and experience space simultaneously, almost seamlessly, and the possibilities and implications of that merging reality/unreality is tantalizing indeed.

Of course, little imagination is required these days. These kinds of things are at all of our fingertips. On a recent trip to Edinburgh, I used Google Street View to preview a tour of the old city, step by step and block by block, pausing to pivot my view to observe a storefront here, a cathedral there. In retrospect, it’s now hard to separate those images from my actual stroll — I was walking through somewhere I had never been before, but in my odd, disembodied way, knew nonetheless.

That co-mingling of the actual and virtual is more depressing than it is extraordinary, though it’s definitely both; either way, whether through virtual mapping technology, the gamut of flickr-like sites that agglomerate thousands of images from the remote to the mundane, to increasingly realistic computer modeling software, such experiences are here to stay, not to mention becoming more accessible, elaborate and pervasive. So deal with it.

Dealing with it is what Hyper Spaces aims to do, and on this fraught journey we’re guided by three artists: An Te Liu, Jose Manuel Ballester and Lynne Marsh. Ballester, a photographer from Brazil, serves as the entry point to the exhibition, and it’s as straightforward an introduction as a show like Hyper Spaces can muster. There’s a constant undercurrent of perceptual subversion here; Ballester’s images, of construction projects, buildings and infrastructure, are straight and unmanipulated, but you’d swear otherwise as you look at a wood-slat ceiling flexed in a taut arch over blocky concrete walls, or sweeping curls of white staircase carving the crisp, right-angled modernism of a concrete building into disproportionate decorative whimsy.

Ballester’s images play with a quickly-developing part of all our brains that so expects trickery in our images that it simply assumes it; but what the pictures help to underscore is that technology, in its creation of virtual spaces, has also helped us to build actual structures of a scale, form and proportion that we could previously only imagine. Computer rendering renders the impossible at the same time as it helps nudge it closer to the possible; Ballester’s pictures capture these strange fruits as they ripen.

Lynne Marsh’s Stadium brings this relationship into sharp focus. The video begins as a virtual fly-over of a virtual rendering Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in close-up, skimming the billowy fabric roof, down one of its concrete ribs and finally between its narrow columns and into the heart of the vast, cavernous space.

From that virtual experience, we land hard on solid ground as Marsh, a Canadian living in Berlin, drops us among the hard plastic seats and concrete of the stadium itself. It is vacant, and stripped of its purpose, has the slightly ominous sense of a colossal human storage unit, all the seats arranged in long, arcing rows of perfect uniformity.

Stadium is worth the trip to the gallery all on its own. Marsh plays on that sense of foreboding with Hitchcockian glee, shifting from a slow-pan close up to wide, sweeping shots of an empty, concrete-and-plastic wasteland.

As she does this, the low rumble of a portentous soundtrack gathers and builds. She uses jump-cuts and shifting perspective to throw the viewer off balance (Hitchcock would be proud) until a white-clad figure strides into view, subverting the rigid order by jumping the seats, clambering up and down against the building’s structural will.

Marsh poses a clear question about the odd prescriptions of monumental purpose-built architecture — when it’s not doing the one thing it was meant to do, in this case, seat tens of thousands, what on earth is it, anyway? — at the same time as she challenges the notion of real and virtual. Space, after all, is defined by human negotiation of it; Marsh proposes a version of reality that challenges our taken-for-granted notion, of a structure that exists only in the extreme, in the context of mass spectacle. Minus the spectacle, it keeps on existing — most of the time, in fact — at the opposite extreme: quietly monolithic and disturbingly vacant.

Meanwhile, in a dark corner of the exhibition space is a beguiling one-liner from Toronto’s An Te Liu. Liu’s practice as an artist is tied tightly to his background as an architect — he teaches in the graduate program at the University of Toronto — and that helps make him a natural choice here. At the gallery, Liu dangles a huge, dark, vaguely threatening cube above a Le Corbusier daybed (quoting one of the high priests of architectural Modernism is too much for Liu to resist). Sit down, look up, and the black box appears to contain a shimmering tangle of shiny ductwork, curling and replicating upwards ad infinitum.

Each of these artists asks us to question the reality of the space we’re confronted with, but none so directly as Liu. Lining the dark structure’s interior are mirrors, the lowest-tech form of visual trickery, and Liu plys it well here, transforming a utilitarian object into an infinite, self-replicating system that hyperbolizes at Modernism’s priorities of mechanically ordered, modular form.

Liu also evokes the idea of a hall of mirrors, a decidedly old-fangled way to conjure a form of virtual reality, reminding us first that perceptual tricks are nothing new, and that these new-fangled things maybe better, more thorough and more convincing — but no less false.

It’s a reminder more of us seem to need, going forward, in our disembodied strolls through places we’ve never been, confusing memories with cobbled-together computer drive-bys and reams of other people’s online pictures. It’s all very nice, and helpful, and weird, but as someone once wisely said, ain’t nothing like the real thing.

Words to live by, I think.

Hyper Spaces continues at Oakville Galleries, Centennial Square, to March 4. www.oakvillegalleries.com.


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