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2006 11 29
Angle of Incident #32: Caretaker
imageBy Gary Michael Dault
Antonia Lancaster is both an artist and, at the same time, the director of a small, out of the way, unheated, concrete-block art gallery out behind her house called the OFF-THE-MAP-GALLERY, located at 712 Lansdowne Avenue (The Back Building).

The OFF-THE-MAP-GALLERY, though small and chilly, nevertheless offers some very inventive, challenging and important shows—one of them, mounted a few months ago, having been a sculptural installation called Urban Reflection by the artist who calls himself simply Rupen (Rupen’s Urban Reflection was, in fact, the subject of Angle of Incident #24).

Like Antonia Lancaster, Rupen (whose full name is Rupen Kunugus), is a gallery owner as well as an artist. His gallery, Natural Light Window, is even smaller than Lancaster’s OFFTHEMAPGALLERY, consisting of only two storefront windows (72 cubic feet of space) at 506 Adelaide West (at Portland). Rupen’s micro-galley has been in operation since 1997.Now, as you can tell from the photo above, the building has been sold. Happy rumour has it, however, that Rupen is going to be reopening soon, apparently in the Lansdowne-Dupont area.

At any rate, the final exhibition at Natural Light Window, in its current incarnation, is Antonia Lancaster’s Caretaker.

Caretaker underscores the symmetrical arrangement of Rupen’s storefront windows by having centered within each of them (only one of the windows is available in the photograph) a large dying potted palm, its once glossy, tropically green leaves now turned so rusty brown they actually look as if they might be snipped from sheet metal of some kind—copper maybe.

While ruefully acknowledging the wayward beauty of these dead, brittle leaves (or is the term “fronds”?), Lancaster’s point has not been to exhibit a pair of dead though still morphologically attractive plants, but, rather, to emblematize what she says is her discomfiture at seeing so many dead or dying plants in store windows. It’s got so she can’t bear the neglect indexed by the plight of the derelict plants. I know what she means because I, in turn, find myself disturbed—to an off-putting degree—by the sight of browning plants and yellowed, fallen leaves in restaurants. I know it probably sounds a tad neurotic (I guess), but I figure if a restauranteur can’t bother to dust and water his decorative plants, and sweep up their fallen leaves, then how much care can he possibly be investing in the food he provides? Anyhow, dead plants in live places do distinctly put me off.

Lancaster, for her part, sees the abandoned plants as images indicative of a kind of cultural somnambulance. “I wanted to extend the idea of invisibility and of disregard”, she writes, in her rather breathless, Armageddon-like exhibition statement, “to the much broader issue of that of denial that our planet is dying and with it our humanity. It is not”, she continues, “that any of us are not aware. We just stop seeing and noticing”. Sad words. And true, I guess.

Lancaster has amplified her metaphorically-imbued ex-palms with a few contextualizing objects. Behind each plant, fur example, are raggedly pinned up photographs—found photographs—of a teeming crowd scene, the crowd exemplifying in, in Lancaster’s windows, our mass heedlessness, our flight from our responsibilities as caretakers. In the pot of each of the two distressed plants, furthermore, the artist has placed a stake emblazoned with a colour-photo of a bright, healthy, thriving palm: a palm before and after neglect (Lancaster is not subtle in driving home her point, nor, I suppose, ought she to be).

I keep thinking of the title of that posthumous collection of the poems by Wallace Stevens: The Palm at the End of the Mind from 1971, and of the brief poem in it called Of Mere Being, that ends the book and lends it its title: “The palm at the end of the mind, / Beyond the last thought, rises / In the bronze décor….” Adding to all this—and here Lancaster goes a step or two beyond what seems strictly necessary—she has placed on the floor of the shop windows, near the plants, and leaning against the walls, a half dozen handsome but rusting tools. These tools are a bit of a puzzle. I mentioned that I didn’t recognize them specifically as garden tools. “They’re not”, she told me. “But they are tools in a more general sense, and they are unused”. They are, I suppose the point is, talismans of the caretaker—who has abandoned them, and who is now lamentably absent.

[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 11/29 at 01:42 PM

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