Award-winning filmmaker and artist Laura Taler’s exhibition The soft and pliable will defeat the hard and the strong at Gallery 101 is an introspective exploration of themes relating to movement and conceptions of being still. In a world where everything is so fast-paced, Taler’s work allowed me to take a step back and be present, to set aside my worries and be absorbed in the ideas she puts forth, many of which are influenced by Eastern philosophies, such as the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (where the title of the exhibition is drawn from).
The work in the exhibition largely repeats imagery from Taler’s film, Carry the Tiger to the Mountain (2017), which follows the artist’s doppelganger (a longer haired version of Taler) as she practices Tai Chi on a beach. The film emphasizes the meditative quality of Tai Chi, some scenes focusing on the doppelganger’s face, torso, or hands. While I viewed the film, I also found myself experiencing a kind of meditative state, one where I was still and lost in her relaxed movements and able to reflect on how to be fully present in that moment – something that I struggle to do on a daily basis.
This was further explored in the her other film in the main exhibition space, Experiments with Carry the Tiger (2017), where Taler collaged elements of film together to remix Carry the Tiger to the Mountain. The artist also took stills from the films and made collages out of them in the series of works entitled Brush Dust Against the Wind.
These collages explore movement in different ways. The film is a sequential collage which overlays scenes on top of each other using transparencies and/or splices footage together for different effect; while the paper collages present a different view of movement as a series of smaller movements that are all part of a larger whole, which can most acutely be seen in Brush Dust Against the Wind no. 1856 (hand spiral) (2017).
The focus on movement in Taler’s work is an influence of her past career as a dancer and a choreographer. Taler says, “movement is a way for me to communicate when I don’t know what is going on. I come at movement quite honestly. It’s something I use to understand the world.”
“Movement is a way for me to communicate when I don’t know what is going on. I come at movement quite honestly. It’s something I use to understand the world.”
Furthermore, discussing the meditative quality of the movements depicted in her work, the artist described how she felt “more movement when [she] was still.” Referring to an awareness of movement in her surroundings or the internal movement of knowledge and self-awareness that can be a result of meditation.
In addition to exploring movement through stillness, Taler’s work also draws on two very distinct fighting styles: Tai Chi and boxing, one style more passive and the other more forceful. Boxing is explored in the multichannel film, The Boxer (1997/2009), and features Bill Coleman preparing for a fight in a practice arena. Only later in the film is it revealed that he is preparing for a fight against himself – a fight that he loses. Taler’s exploration of the two fighting styles perhaps suggests that there are multiple ways to “fight” one’s way to self-knowledge and presence.
This notion of fighting for something was further extended in my conversation with Taler, where she mentioned that she believes that there are many different things to fight for in today’s social and political climate worldwide – including basic human rights, issues related to gender, and famine, among others. So perhaps, what the exhibition is really saying is that we all need to slow down and find a sense of presence in relation to others in order to effect change in the world.
Taler’s exhibition The soft and pliable will defeat the hard and the strong will be on view at Gallery 101 (51 Young St) from March 4 – April 1, 2017. The gallery will also be hosting an Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon this Saturday, March 11, 2017 from 2–5pm, a wonderful initiative to improve the presence of women and feminist topics on Wikipedia, in conjunction with the exhibition.