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Contemporary Art Gallery

555 Nelson Street
Vancouver, Canada
Admission always free

Today's hours
12 pm - 6 pm
14 Dec 96until1 Feb 97

Carol Sawyer


555 Hamilton St

A detail of an artwork installed in a dimly-lit gallery space. A small slide installed in front of the light projects the enlarged image onto a gallery wall. The projected is a black and white image of a person in a dress.

Carol Sawyer is a Vancouver-based artist who has been exhibiting since 1986. Her work from the early 1990s explored how the shapes and forms of objects assume a gendered reading. During the past three years she has developed a series of installations that employ opera as a point of departure for an investigation of nineteenth-century representations of women, and how aspects of these representations persist in the present. Sawyer's own training in music and voice has contributed to her interest in this particular field.

The installation Ophelia is a theatrical environment dominated by images of female dementia as represented in opera. The images are composed of film transparencies depicting operatic singers in the role of mad characters  — either sleepwalkers, murderers or sufferers of delusions. In the centre of the gallery an oscilloscope and tape deck with headphones are placed on a table. The oscilloscope, a scientific measuring device, displays the fluctuations of an electric current caused by an aural collage of singing, speaking and other sounds. A continuous soundtrack, built around an excerpt of Ophelia's mad cadenza from Thomas' opera Hamlet, also plays from speakers placed in the gallery.

Sawyer's exploration of nineteenth century opera unveils a subtext that madness or hysteria are characteristics perceived as particularly female, an attitude that continues to exist today. The exaggerated form of opera presents this condition as a possible scenario for women to vent frustration, anger or grief within a social system of constriction and control. Sawyer's approach is suggestive rather than didactic. She uses the sensual and pleasurable appeal of the operatic medium as an entry point for a re-examination of female stereotypes that have negatively affected real women.

Carol Sawyer's work has been exhibited at the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; Or Gallery, Vancouver; Gallery 44, Toronto; G. Gibson Gallery, Seattle; and New Gallery, Calgary.

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