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Jeremy Shaw’s Variation FQ on display at the NGC

By Apartment613 on December 16, 2014

Post by Nicole Hurtubise.

I can recall a significant part of my childhood when my sister and I were left to the company of the television. Hours spent in the glow of its presence, watched or unwatched as we played, fought or just passed the time staring into its light. Ubiquitous within those long glowing Winnipeg afternoons were NFB shorts, the Log Driver’s Waltz, The Sweater, Canada Vignettes and the short films of Norman McLaren. These came to us in the moments between TV shows. Waiting for Degrassi or the King of Kensington, we watched as they signaled the start of the upcoming program. Yet, as Canadians of a certain age, these little films have been filed away quietly in the archive of our memory.

Recently returned from overseas, I find myself endlessly retrieving lost moments from this archive. Jeremy Shaw’s Variation FQ, currently on exhibit at the National Gallery’s biennial exhibition Shine a Light/Surgir de l’ombre, offers entry into such a moment. Perhaps not only for myself but also for the many who sat and watched and waited through those moments in between.

Expanding on the form, sound and aesthetic of McLaren’s Pas de deux (1968), Shaw presents a solitary dancer in white leotard and stiletto heels lit in sharp contrast against a black background. The dancer is Leiomy Maldonado, a transgender woman of colour best known for her dance appearances in popular music videos and as a key figure of Vogue dance culture. She dances to a light piano étude broken up with quiet pulses of house and trance, a composition by Shaw, through which he has woven the club music that features in Maldonado’s most popular YouTube clips. Her body moving with a combined grace and force that evokes the violent disruption of aesthetic and cultural boundaries configured within Shaw’s frame.

Like much of Shaw’s work, Variation FQ, invites the viewer into a subcultural world. Exploring liminal spaces, just beyond the margins, where social codes, aesthetics and identity are re-imagined and reconstructed. In Variation FQ the shadows of McLaren’s modernist project are drawn over but not erased as Shaw folds within McLaren’s visual landscape new possibilities of gender, culture and identity, confronting viewers with notions that may have their roots in modernist sensibilities but that have long transcended its limitations and boundaries.

Drawing on future possibilities constructed from the formal constraints of our cultural past, Shaw provokes a sense of shifting philosophical and temporal moments, drawing us in to consider the pauses, flickering back to memories of those distant afternoons, signaling the possibilities that can be found when we stop to look at the moments in between.

Shine a Light is on at the National Gallery of Canada until March 8, 2015.

The Ottawa Art Gallery’s Articulation: Critical art writing workshop series is intended to offer participants the support, skills, and editorial assistance they need to establish or expand their critical art writing practice. Each workshop is designed and led by a leading Canadian expert in the field of art. Apt613 is publishing select articles produced from the workshops. This project was made possible with the support of the Access Copyright Foundation.