It will come as no surprise that I don’t always behave in the prescribed manner in gallery spaces (perhaps this is because, at an early age, I absorbed Atwood’s idea about how galleries are such serious, dour spaces that seem too sanitary, like someone’s gone around spraying air freshener to eliminate the smell of blood..and I’m not referencing Istvan Kantor, if that means anything to you).
At the last In The Soil Fest (2018) Rhizomes may have been the most successful I’ve experienced in exploiting the physical space to benefit the art / artists. One of these was an installation by Avery Mikolič- O’Rourke intended to explore “the mediating effect of personal documentation on the experience of memory and self-identity”, evocatively titled This Here Proves: We Are Fiction Non-Fiction. Ushered into a more comfortably domestic scene than others in Silver Spire, I found myself in a small kitchen space with several people, amid numerous small televisions, and, to my discovery, a camera that was filming and showing us “in real time” on another monitor, in the space. The video loops weren’t immediately accessible or interpolated as “art” by the several women in the space with me, and they began to talk among themselves about everything BUT the art. I decided to watch the videos, but also watch them interacting, or choosing not to interact, with the videos. It was also a fascinating experiment in how none of us thought to open the door and leave the cramped space (okay, I did, but I was being #artcriticvoyeur), and we waited for Avery to return to “let us out.”
The descriptor regarding Fiction Non-Fiction: this “is the most recent iteration of an ongoing series of video installations that mine personal and family home-video as a way to explore the complex and labyrinthine concepts of memory and identity, as filtered through- and effected by- our attempts to capture and record our lives…This project aims to provide viewers with a new perspective on the genre of home-video as well as their own practices of self-documentation and presentation. Through the sharing of parallel familial histories, as seen captured on film- a simultaneous mix of both the candid and performed- viewers are invited to engage with these unfiltered memories, to look into these lives and reflect on their own histories. The work questions, in a confrontational albeit roundabout way, the function of memory in an age of photographic and video documentation, the role of this documentation in the performance and construction of identity, and asks: how has the camera changed your life?”
This wasn’t the first time I’d encountered Mikolič- O’Rourke’s work (a recent performance by Fourth Way, at Warehouse, was enjoyable aurally but with the masks worn by himself and his bandmates it transgressed into Georges Franju Eyes Without A Face territory, fascinatingly horrifying…and I’ve joked in the past that another endeavour, Senegal AstroTurf, may have given me audio rug-burn, ahem). An artist who can be described as multimedia – or interdisciplinary, as both terms are appropriately vague and inclusive – Avery “has…since 2012 [been] producing work that combines performance with documentary [and] the artist is interested in exploring the many perspectives within singular moments, the relationship between memory and documentation, and the complex beauty of the banal.”
I sat down to chat with him this past month, though it seemed a bit funny, as Mikolič- O’Rourke and I have had many conversations, encompassing the frustratingly ahistorical nature of much cultural production / consumption, how artworks work – or don’t – from one media format to another, and he has, on occasion, soothed your intrepid #artcriticfromhell with the assurance that what we were about to experience is “neither performance, nor art.”
When I asked him, as a point of beginning, to describe his work briefly, perhaps with less an eye to detail than language designed to intrigue, he spoke of how he’s often examining the detritus and minutia of daily culture, both as it pertains to “pop culture” but also within our surroundings (average daily life acknowledging his demographic and how who we are is often defined by these things). We revisited his piece in ITS, but also another work – TMBS_remix003/511 – that shared aesthetics / formal concerns, and even some of his painted works, such as Refuge Triptych or Smoke Break.
In his practice, he often follows the concept, the idea, and that defines what medium is employed to fully realize the artwork. And, some pieces may stretch over several media before completion. TMBS_remix003/511 is a series of image transfers in a large wall work that originated as a small video clip, exported at 24 frames / second, then arranged digitally in a grid format. The “stills” are sized out and printed on standard sheets, in a monochromatic frame by frame rendering. This “silly, random” video shot behind the bus terminal shows a simple plastic bag blowing, floating in the wind. In some ways this was so cliched and uninteresting, but also quite stunning aesthetically (an amusing contradiction, “documenting” the irrelevant that becomes a rare unexpected moment of beauty and amusement to be examined, to be broken down into segments and “fractured” – not in a pejorative sense but more-so in terms of examining it second by second, “breaking it open” to try and understand why the scene entices and attracts).
The rows of the “same image” offer minute changes that are difficult to see (revealing everything in the end strips it of movement and is – again – contradictory), and despite the “fracturing” of the video into components more is concealed than revealed. By dissecting this memory into a visual autopsy, Avery is trying to determine why this is interesting to him. Returning to the work in Rhizomes, which was a series of unmediated, unedited video that is almost like a photo album that we examine later, searching for why we took that unimpressive, banal shot, these pieces were “intuitive shooting, intuitive responses, intuitive exploration of the video.”
Some of the footage in Fiction Non-Fiction was his own, some from his parents though he commented that there was a randomness in both “sources.” In some ways this filtered into the interactions in the smaller space in Rhizomes, where there was “repeat value” of the scenes looping, and also what Avery called a “choose your own adventure” quality (if you’re familiar with that youth book series) in how viewers might consume or construct the works. Alternately, a memory can also be said to change every time you access it (consider Susan Sontag’s idea that with photographs, we’ve externalized memory, made our memories “dependant” on an object outside ourselves. How does video “play” into that? If you’ve happened to see some of artist Sandy Middleton‘s photo collage works, where found photos are stitched together, based upon similarity of pose or scene, what does that say about an image – an object – we associate with “truth”? Returning to video, how many court cases – whether the infamous O.J. Simpson one, or many others – had what seemed “clear” video documentation, yet resulted in verdicts opposite what seemed to be “captured”?)
There’s something disconcertingly but undeniably erratic and perfunctory about the images, whether moving or still, or in the translation (with the suggestion that some things may not survive the process, or are changed, radically, in the steps) from one to the other. To come back to the musical performances that are also an intrinsic part of Mikolič- O’Rourke’s practice, and the aforementioned masks that are the latest example of performative gestures by different groups he’s collaborated with, I want to cite Jacques Attali’s theories of music. Essentially, Attali postulates that performances are unique, and more “true”, than a recording, which is codified, set, and dead: live performances shift with the musician and the audience, and exist more so in memory, in a personal “examination” of the event. That primacy, that privileging of a moment, no matter how facile and fleeting, is seen in both the fleeting ephemera of TMBS_remix003/511 but also in the oddly personal moments of Fiction Non-Fiction.
There’s a totemic, intensely referential nature of the image(s) employed by Avery, but there’s also an implicit degradation of the same image(s) as it / they are transferred into different forms: not so much factual as imaginative retelling.
The ideas that intersect in his work can also be seen in past installations, such as his work in Invasive Species (installed in the MIWSFP) or Site-Seer or Time and Space, both which were interventions in the STC downtown. Some of his video production work can be seen in Sweet T’ar or Last Night I Slept in My Car (you can find both on youtube, that space which has forever shifted video art, artists and consumption) to give you a further idea of his aesthetic and attitude. From there, you can see a few more things he’s done and is doing online, and engage further with Mikolič- O’Rourke’s unique, yet also strangely banal, aesthetic.
All images are courtesy of the artist and In The Soil, and are (in order of appearance) This Here Proves We Are Fiction Non Fiction (installation detail), TMBS_remix003/511, Refuge Triptych and 09_31_17.
Bart Gazzola (also known as #artcriticfromhell) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta Magazine, Canadian Art, New Art Gazette, Galleries West, PrairieSeen, Long Exposure and BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for 3 years). He is Assistant Editor at thesound.rocks and a frequent contributor to various cultural spaces in Niagara.