Damian Moppett, The Bells (2014), installation view at SFU Gallery. Photo: Blaine Campbell
Damian Moppett’s new installation at the SFU Gallery in Burnaby, B.C. could be characterized as marking a beginning and an end. Entitled The Bells, the exhibition is a Canadian debut and a chance to view Moppet’s work in video—only the second time that the versatile, Vancouver-based artist has produced work in that medium.
But as SFU Galleries Director Melanie O’Brian recently told NGC Magazine, The Bells is also meant to be the last iteration of an ongoing investigation. Over the past several years, Moppett has been mining images of his own studio—as a site of process, experimentation and performance for art making—and frequently incorporating them into his work. It’s part of a larger exploration into the representation of the act of creation, and the “layered site of the studio as a space—both Moppett’s own studio, and historically, the artist’s studio over time,” says O’Brian.
In The Bells, an unseen Moppett presents still photographs of his studio and its contents to the video camera, all to a soundtrack of bells. As O’Brian notes, bells are markers of time, calling people to commemorate events, or signaling the beginning or end of work. In Moppett’s video, they seem to “toll for this process around the investigation of the studio,” she adds. Adjacent to the video installation, the exhibition also presents related watercolours, maquettes and studies.
In recent years, the National Gallery of Canada has acquired works by Moppett and another renowned, Vancouver-based artist whose work is also on display at one of the SFU Galleries: Althea Thauberger. Her video installation Marat Sade Bohnice—an edition of which is in the NGC’s collection—is currently at the Audain Gallery at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts in Vancouver.
Althea Thauberger, Marat Sade Bohnice (detail), 2012. Theatrical production and high-definition video, 47:12. Production photographs by Jan Faukner
Drawing on multiple historical and cultural references, Marat Sade Bohnice documents the staging of Peter Weiss’ 1963 play Marat/Sade (itself a “play within a play”) at the Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital in Prague. In Marat Sade Bohnice, Thauberger—who has often explored the political through art—raises questions about mental illness, deinstitutionalization, and the role of art within therapy.
But Marat Sade Bohnice is also defined by Thauberger’s collaboration with a seemingly marginal community, part of her ongoing practice of bringing people together to develop performances, and collectively investigate art’s ability to reveal. The video presentation of the play—which the artist produced in collaboration with the experimental theatre company Akanda—is interspersed with interviews with Bohnice’s staff and patients.
Discussing both Marat Sade Bohnice and The Bells, O’Brian notes that the two exhibitions weren’t programmed thematically. However, she suggests that Thauberger’s and Moppett’s respective explorations of performance and the stage—whether it’s the video as stage, or the studio as stage—make for some interesting parallels. Indeed, there is much for viewers to contemplate in these distinct, yet equally engaging, installations.
Robyn Jeffrey is a writer and editor based in Wakefield, Quebec.
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