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2006 11 08
Angle of Incident #29: Reed

Gary Michael Dault

This is a still from a video titled Reed by Montreal-based artist Sylvia Safdie. The video is one of three new video works that, along with one installation-scaled sculpture (Line) and four large new drawings on Mylar, make up her current exhibition at Toronto’s Peak Gallery.

I wrote about the exhibition in The Globe & Mail last Saturday.

I began the piece, rather jauntily, I thought, by stating that “If Montreal-based artist Sylvia Safdie gets any more exquisite, she’s going to dematerialize.” It’s possible that Safdie felt this dandified assertion made her seem less present-to-the-world than she actually is. I hope not. We emailed each other afterwards—we’ve been friends for years—and the tremulous dematerialization was never mentioned. I did tell her, in the email, however, that if I’d had the space, I would have written a lot more about Reed—which I love.

So here is more. Reed is one of those delicious video-works in which nothing much seems to be happening. And we all know how relentlessly untrue that always turns out to be.

The 30 minute video loop shows a stick (or “reed”) in the water. The stick rises at—what? A thirty degree angle?—from the surface of the water, which gently brims and flows past it (and the camera) and beneath it. The stick, of course, generates a reflection, which heads off across the water at the same angle, but in “negative “ space, heading downwards—or rather across the water towards the viewer.

So there are two “lines” that meet at the surface of the water: two “lines” inhabiting two mediums—the upper one being a line in air, the lower one, a line in water.

The upper line, the stick (or reed), stays still—because it is a stick (or reed). The upper line doesn’t move, and the water flows sweetly past it (or around it). The lower line is “in” the water, is ”made” of water, and therefore—regardless of its conventional ambitions as a reflection—moves. It ripples, heaves, bobs and gurgles, and generally carries on like the morphologically insubstantial thing it is. If the upper reed—the real one—is a thinking reed, the lower reed—its reflection—is a feeling reed. The upper one is Will. The lower one is Idea.

The dichotomies pile up. The fact that the real reed inhabits the upper air of the screen allows it to function as a meaningful diagonal, as a structural element (the beginnings of the architectural?)—as something to depend on (or from). The fact that the fictive or illusory reed inhabits (or is drawn across or projected upon) the watery lower half of the screen, heads it towards some role as pure (and imperfect) concept—the yearning, ineffectual idea of a diagonal, an essay in attempted diagonality, in incompetent obliqueness.

The upper or real reed has graphic authority. The lower or fictive reed incarnates tentativeness, imprecision, approximation, estimation, possibility; it possesses a fleeting presentness.

Here’s the thing: is the upper reed some surrogate for us? For our there-ness, our resoluteness, our touching determination to be real (with attendant display)? Or is the wavering lower reed some surrogate for us? For our bounded, limited, poignant yearning to be as solid and as effectual as the “ideal” hard reed shooting up from the water’s surface and arcing out of the picture-plane?

Which—to use Blakean terms—is shadow, and which is emanation? Are we solid, musing upon poetic ethereality? Or are we insubstantial, musing upon Platonic perfection sited up there in another realm?

The Sylvia Safdie exhibition continues at Peak Galley, 23 Morrow Avenue, until November 25. 416-537-8108.

[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 11/08 at 07:38 AM

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