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2006 07 05
By Gary Michael Dault

It’s boiling, even in the shade, and everyone you meet scowls at you as if the humidity is all your fault.

Yesterday, noon, and I’m trudging from gallery to gallery looking for something to write about for my nexf Globe & Mail column, and, expecting to see the show next door which wasn’t ready yet, I swing instead into the deep refrigerator cool of the Corkin Shopland Gallery in the Distillery District, where my gritty, sun-seared eyes fall directly upon a video-monitor slung from the great catwalk-like bridge slung over the far end of the atrium of the gallery.

It’s a work by Toronto-based artist Sharon Switzer called Gravity, from her exhibition Falling From Grace. The thing is simplicity itself—or so it would appear: the monitor depicts a clearly mechanical waterfall (it may well be Niagara Falls): one of those kitschy, mass-produced, “lighted moving photographs” you can buy in gift shops of a lower order and souvenir stores, where the picture, lit from within, seems to be in perpetual movement—or at least one part of it seems to be in perpetual movement. Here, for example, the green the water flows and flows and flows and flows, always in the same way, over and over and over, hypnotically, maddeningly.

This machined banality would remain banality merely, were it not for the fact that the cunning ms.Switzer has then superimposed on her robotic waterfall a stupendous, stupefying list of life-cliches which gently descend on the screen from top to bottom: homilies and home-truths so achingly true and therefore so emptied-out they make your teeth hurt. There I stood, watching Switzer’s endless paradisiacal waterfall, and reading the Deep Thoughts that floated down the screen, one after another, like offering after offering—an inundation of amelioration:

You Need a Holiday
I Worry About You
We All Make Mistakes
A New Hairdo Will Help
Maybe Try Meditation
You Don’t Seem Happy
Take it Easy for a While
You Could Smile More
Make Time for a Walk
Try Not to Dwell on It
Work Will Do You Good
Yoga Does Wonders
Take Care of Yourself
It’s an Important Time
You Should Slow Down
Try to be More Careful

And no doubt innumerable others (I got tired of copying them out).

As Switzer says of her waterfall of platitudes it in her gallery-statement, “Individually, these friendly remarks seem innocuous, but their insidious nature emerges when experienced as a relentlessly flowing list. The effect is both amusing and degrading. As if getting through the day wasn’t hard enough”.

True, true. But you know, as I stood there, refugee from the burning heat outside, basking now in the dappled light of Switzer’s muster of heartening thoughts, I began to feel a strange calm stealing over me. For after all, each shopworn bromide passing with majestic slowness down the face of Switzer’s clunky waterfall held within its over-familiarity, a heart-warming core of truth. Except for the bit about the New Hairdo—which didn’t come sufficiently close to my needs to move me deeply—everything seemed true and, well…sort of essentially kind.

I know what Switzer means about how glutinously demonizing all this good sense can seem in aggregate, but it all came to me yesterday as a kind of lunatic balm.
[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 07/05 at 12:01 PM

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