Sandra Semchuk and Carol Itter
555 Hamilton St
Let us begin by making some distinctions regarding the material nature of the works we have before us, and by establishing an approximate position for these works within Vancouver artistic practice, both in terms of the stereotypes relating to that practice and the realities of the current proliferation of artistic intentions. Carole Itter’s Western Blue Rampage is a floor sculpture composed of discrete objects assembled into a seemingly aleatory mass that on closer inspection displays a graduated sequence of scale. The actual wooden objects are cultural detritus, in the form of surplus goods such as gift shop bowls, beaded curtains, boxes, and drawers, and various industrial and domestic “utensils.” These objects have been stained with both black and green paint, treated with varnish, and then placed in front of a sky blue rectangle painted on the wall behind the assemblage. Sandra Semchuk’s four photographic works in this show consist of non-linear sequences of framed 11 inch by 14 inch Cibachrome photographs. Each work documents a particular event represented as a sequence of moments which are arranged so as to reconstruct the spatial form of the original site.
Position. An interesting aspect of Vancouver visual art practice over the past twenty years has to do with the way that certain tendencies that have existed in nascent form throughout the global village have been developed and thought through in Vancouver prior to their distribution as genesis for these activities, it is easy to establish that the following artworks were “discovered” and encouraged here quite early on: new media explorations, anti-commodity stance, photo-based installations, multi-media performance work, arte povera works, text works, and various manifestations of conceptualist/minimalist practice. These activities could be seen as the background to the situation as it exists in 1990, which I would describe as one in which Vancouver artists may either identified with one of these precursor activities, or by negating these local histories be seen to be working in an internationalist form while retaining the local subject. Two stereotypes appear to have developed from this plethora of activity; firstly the view from Eastern Canada that work is “West Coast'' if it exhibits certain hippyish qualities, and secondly, the view from Europe that characteristic Vancouver work is vaguely photo-conceptualist. These views exist, one hears them expressed, but they are of interest only because they are so utterly useless for the description of the continuum along which intelligence and knowledge function within Vancouver visual art today. I refer her to the tacit and cognitive acceptance of the truth that “alternate” knowledges form the basis of any opportunity our culture possesses for correcting itself and its crises. Carole Itter and Sandra Semchuk have both embraced a non-Western world-view, and it is therefore possible to position their work in a place that is epistemologically heuristic, and rooted in a local context.
Sandra Semchuk’s photo-work has been described as a kind of reversal of the conventional idea that photography is a “recorder of objective reality.” As she document the events that she calls “spontaneous rituals” she engages in a complex of subjectivities; beginning with the intuitive choice of the event to be recorded, she proceeds to engage in work that is at once autobiographical, anthropological, socio-psychological, subjective perceptual, and subjectively axiomatic. She attacks some aspects of “documentary” without attempting to subvert the idea of documentary. In her search for “self-knowledge'' she has developed a system of picture making that is perhaps unique, but is in any event a complex set of individual techniques that operate simultaneously to provide the raw photo material from which the work will be made. I understand the process to be a kind of spatially reciprocal interaction with the subject(s) at the time of the shooting, which then becomes the basis for the narrative she contains in the reconstructed space of the image. She has taken on the anthropologist's burden of observing without interfering, while accepting that this is an impossible task.
Semchuk calls this recording process “moving parallel” (to the subject), and she equates her camera movements to the type of gestural action in the brushstrokes of Chinese painting. It is possible then to see the resulting images as non-referential contour maps, as bent planes with no orientation to any cardinal points save those represented by the actors in her theatrical landscape. The transformation of picture space resulting from these machinations provide Semchuk with a voice to represent her view of meaningful lived experience, and reinforces her idea that the realm of the personal is also the proper realm of the political.
Carole Itter’s Western Blue Rampage is a contour map of a very different sort — a view from the air perhaps, of a landscape in which the woods are transmuted into their products, or a beach share the flotsam emanates from the wreckage of over-production and the jetsam appears to result from a ritualistic catharsis of wooden bowls. Itter made this horizontal work after a ten day visit to the Moresby Island chain in the Queen Charlottes during the summer of 1998. The tonality of the work is the tonality of the Charlottes and the ten photographs included in the piece are images she made on the Charlottes during that trip. The blue wall behind the assembled part of the work is the blue of a summer sky, and as such it provides one reading of this work that of a landscape fragment in a treeless environment having the eternal return has taken the form of wood returning to wood.
This work grows from an outrage toward the dominant white/European culture that has invaded North America, and in that way it is unlike her rattles which have been seen in several exhibitions since 1984. The act of gathering material for these works has become an avocation that precedes the vocation of making the work. But it is this gathering of materials that provides a direct connection to the results of excess production, through which the artist recycles “waste,” and steps out of the dominant culture and into that of the oppressed. As Itter has pointed out (in the Fall 1989 Cap Review) assemblage artists work with a constantly changing grammar of found-materials, and that this gathering and reworking “runs against consumerism/capitalism.” This work, perhaps more than her rattles, speaks of a respect for the landscape, and refers back to her 1972 project that resulted in the book The Log's Log which documents the transit of a British Columbia log to Lockport, Nova Scotia.
- Bill Jeffries