Liz Magor (1999)

“Liz Magor,” C Magazine, no. 63 (September – November 1999), p.33.

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Liz Magor
Equinox Gallery, Vancouver

Beyond the window of the gallery storefront lies a world we can see, but not with the impunity gallery viewing offers. The gallery offers us security. Most of our expectations there are met. A painting on the wall is a painting and not its threatening content, for instance. An object lying on the floor usually is a sculpture. On the street, too frequently that thing is the bedding or body of a homeless person.

Sleeping bodies or their prone traces provide the content of Liz Magor’s exhibition ‘Sleeping Rough,’ which raises conflicted feelings about shelter and security. The larger of these sculptures, Burrow and Hollow, are cast tree trunks that house sleeping bags. Through them Magor shifts the associations we might have of naked exposure to the urban conditions outside the door of the gallery, where a sleeping bag signifies homelessness, to sensations of refuge in nature.

The return to nature is an idealistic impulse, whether it occurs in the myth of Rousseauism, the fantasies of children, or the whole earth, back-to-the-land ideology of hippies (to which Magor, by the way, is no stranger). These invoke the benevolence of nature and posit the deep woods a natural retreat. But as Magor writes in her statement, such retreats ‘also suggest the condition of last resort: for the fugitive, the misanthrope, and the disenfranchised.’ Thus, the deep woods shelters of the most makeshift character that Magor’s accompanying photographs show could also be camouflaged, criminal hideaways. If we saw shelters like Burrow or Hollow in the forest, we might be prying into something private or potentially threatening.

Magor is no advocate of retreat: her material is cultural. Even in their making these sculptures are hybrid. The large sculptures are made in polymerized alpha gypsum cast from latex moulds of actual trees and, in the case of Hollow, lined with the type of dapple coloured foam underlay that is used in art crates. Her sculpture is at home in an art gallery.

The private quests Magor addresses are purely cultural and belong to estranged historical moments when, for instance, the unabomber’s remote cabin is transported whole to a city as criminal evidence or the anti-abortion murder fugitive successfully hides out in the mountains of a densely populated corner of the United States. (Magor’s previous work includes a log cabin, outfitted for a survivalist, along with photographic portraits of people who, for recreation, re-enact scenes from the American Civil War.) 

Sleepers, the other component of the exhibition, are pod-like objects scattered around the gallery. Made from tiny dolls that have been tightly wrapped in blankets and then cast in silicone so that the pattern and colour of the fabric is retained and only the blond or dark hair protrudes, each is snug in its bedding and oblivious to onlookers. Alien in their presence in our space, yet uncannily familiar in their basic needs, Magor’s Sleepers pull at our sense of well-being, but also remind us of the uneasy social realities outside our doors.