Production/ReProduction (1984)

“Production/ReProduction,” Vanguard, 13:1 (February 1984), pp. 53-54.

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A Space Toronto November 19 to December 17

The title Production/ReProduction implies a working on something already worked upon, or already mediated. This reworking might be called “appropriation”, except by the letter of the title the emphasis is not on issues of representation, but production and re-production. What can this cluster allow into its concept? Can we be sure with a title like this that it does not concern representation and reproduction, without a hypen, both a mechanical and an ideological process? The too easy coincidence must be questioned at its word. In fact, all these terms or concepts—“production”, “reproduction”, “appropriation”—should be put in suspension. Are they merely ideological flashpoints, or do they have a constructive or descriptive relation to the work?

Without the title to this exhibition, one might think that the criteria of inclusion was something to do with war: three of the four artists make some reference to it. We can look to the work by the curator and also that of the designer of the catalogue for what this title might mean. But in the work by curator Jayce Salloum we have a fetishizing of the title—a proliferation of titles that attempts to buoy up the empty signifiers of the work, except that the titles are neither redundant to the images nor referential except to some vague intent that the work does not make clear. For instance, the title of the series presented here, which seem part of a larger series, is called . . . In the absence of heroes . . . ‘Part IV: Warfare/ A case for context. (Relentless verity), to which is added titles of the individual works ranging from 8 to 212, for example, number 15, Up from under (figure placement). St. John’s Nfld., May 30, 1943.  These war archive photographs do not sustain enlargement to 45”x65”, let alone the clumsy handicraft addition, the reworking of black, white or gold paint that block out figures: a too simple device for marking absence.

Gordon Lebredt institutes that absence through a text that maintains itself as a critique of presence. But he sets a misleading context to the exhibition and his own pre-text by also designing the catalogue. He plays on the ideological aspects of reproduction through placing an illustration of a father teaching a son on the cover (and poster) and one of a mother feeding a child on the back. While he refers to the cover image in his own work, it is only a pretext because he is not at all concerned with ideological reproduction or the social construction of the subject, but with idealist representations. Neither Lebredt nor any of the other artists here are so concerned. That image on the cover is only the name of the Father. What signature, event and context is being played upon here? In a name, Derrida. Or to double that name Blanchot through Derrida. Here we encounter the same problems as in phenomenological work made from Merleau-Ponty’s writings. Imitating rather than appropriating Derrida’s strategies, actual tactics, language and anti-phenomenological attitude ends in work of the same academic, illustrative idealism as phenomenological, temporalizing, sculpture, i.e., a sculpture of presence. No attempt is made at translation, only application in the “same” language in another “context”. If he could escape the name of this father and follow through from the images of the cover, Lebredt might find productive use of other analyses of copyright and naming, Marxist for instance.

Like Lebredt’s work, Janice Gurney’s is a remarking. But it is a re-marking of what is proper to her in history and artistic practice. Appropriation takes place here in what is first made by the artist and what makes her. Gurney has an interesting intention and practice as an artist, which in this instance she calls “reparation”. This entails treating the fabric and construction of painting as an “attack and a reparative gesture”. This double gesture is carried by the white marks of paint which are taken from a photograph or painting, which pre-exists the work, and then is overlaid on another which comes out of it. Painting practice is brought into alliance with historical and biological inheritance: in Cloud Study, a bandage from a postcard of the artist’s grandfather in World War I serves as a template. While this practice makes the work and the intention—it marks, obscures and retains what was there before it — is this gesture for the artist or us? The intention is not clarified in the work itself which has to be supplemented by the catalogue. Cloud Study is the title of the construction as a whole, but also refers to the painted sky of the photograph, one of the panels. We only find the significance of the gesture in the catalogue and then associate it somehow with the painting of swirling figures next to it. If this cloud study is painted on a photograph and achieves significance through the text, does painting as a whole become a signifier in the artist’s concept and practice? If so, it explains but does not excuse discrepancies of technique in the painting of the yearning basketball players.

The confusing rhetorical devices of Jayce Salloum’s work can be contrasted to Michael Mitchell’s Picture Stories: Three Tales from the Vernacular, where everything has a reason and place. All the works in this exhibition use photography, but Salloum and Mitchell are the only practising photographers. And in reworking something already worked upon, Mitchell is the only one who remains within a single medium, here photography, exploiting its resources, reworking it within its limitations. He uses a technique on a technique (which is a mechanical process and reproduction to start with), not merely to purify it in repetition, nor to play it against itself in deconstruction, but in order to create a narrative from within a single image. He does this three times, isolating details and stringing them together into a simple story. Rather than formally restricting itself by this reflection on itself, the print opens up to become a “picture story” of something historically and culturally detached from us but revealed in the print. These are simple, subtle and evocative works, which perhaps have something to say about our place here: the three images have their sources in Britain, America and Canada, respectively subtitled Making War, Making Movies, Making Light.