Michel de Broin, Lost Object (2003–13), rubber, pump, pressure controller, tubing, wiring, talcum powder, dimensions variable. Photo: courtesy of the artist
Picture this: an inflatable latex tube, approximately 1.2 metres long, emerges from a hole in the wall when no one is present. Minutes later, when a viewer approaches to get a better look, the tube retreats back into its hiding spot.
“One of the ironic or paradoxical things at play is that it’s a visual work of art that hides as soon as you try to view it,” says Blair Fornwald, Assistant Curator at Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina. “It’s like catching a mouse.”
The kinetic sculpture, titled Lost Object (2003–2013), is one of several by 2007 Sobey Art Award-winner Michel de Broin displayed in the Tragedy Plus Time exhibition at Dunlop Art Gallery. The exhibition combines a variety of mediums — video, photography, sculpture, signage, performance, painting, and textiles — to explore the intersection of comedy and tragedy. Reminiscent of a certain reproductive organ, Lost Object is suggestively comedic and simultaneously tragic: “It behaves as if it’s ashamed of being seen,” Fornwald says.
Many of the works in the exhibition use comedy to address difficult subjects and the feelings associated with them. “The exhibition examines the public function of humour as a coping mechanism,” Fornwald explains. From childhood to death and the afterlife, from capitalism to poverty and class identity, nothing is off limits, and the range of subjects mirrors the range of humour. “Some are closer to the tragedy side of the spectrum, and some are closer to the comedy side of the spectrum,” Fornwald says.
Mark Clintberg, Not over you (2014), LED channel letters, housing, 177.8 x 157.5 cm. Commissioned by Regina Public Library and Dunlop Art Gallery, 2014. Photo: Eagleclaw Thom
Not over you (2014) falls somewhere in the middle. The work is an illuminated white sign that reads “NOT OVER YOU.” Installed on the roof of Regina Public Library, the sign is a clever pun about emotional and physical states — it conveys a sense of longing and is literally over its viewers, despite its claim.
Dunlop Art Gallery commissioned the work from Mark Clintberg specifically for the Tragedy Plus Time exhibition. Not over you is typical of Clintberg’s work, which is included in the National Gallery of Canada’s permanent collection and often expresses private thoughts through text displayed in public venues.
“During the day it’s pretty subtle, but at night it glows like the moon,” Fornwald says. “I think it’s a comment on relationships, public space, and private emotion — sentiments that aren’t normally expressed publically.”
The exhibition also explores the relationship between humour and culture. This is perhaps best illustrated by Kim Dorland’s painting Wooded Area (2nd View) (2006) which depicts teenagers at a bush party in rural Alberta. “Humour arises and is transmitted because we have a shared history and context,” Fornwald says.
Kim Dorland, Wooded Area (2nd View) , oil and acrylic on canvas over wood panel, 152.4 x 121.9 cm
Originally conceived as a much smaller exhibition, the show drastically expanded in scope as it came together. Tragedy Plus Time is the first exhibition curated by Dunlop Art Gallery’s entire curatorial team: Fornwald, Jennifer Matotek, and Wendy Peart. The initial concept was guided by the statement “Comedy is tragedy plus time,” which has been attributed to several comedians, including Mark Twain, Steve Allen, Carol Burnett, Lenny Bruce, and Woody Allen.
The exhibition’s comedic angle provides a point of entry for diverse audiences. “Artists use humour as another tool to provoke audiences in a way that nonetheless engages them,” Fornwald says. “I think humour can be truly useful for addressing difficult content and trauma in a way that invites dialogue and critical thinking, but has a hook.”
Tragedy Plus Time is sure to make viewers think, look twice, and — perhaps most importantly — laugh out loud.
The exhibition is on display at Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina until August 27, 2014. Please click here for more information. Michel de Broin’s monumental sculpture Majestic (2011), constructed from streetlamps damaged during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, can be seen behind the National Gallery of Canada on Nepean Point, where it is permanently installed.
Ariana Armstrong has a Bachelor's Degree in Public Affairs and Policy Management, with honours, and is currently in her second year of the Master's program in Journalism at Carleton University. She interned at Muse Magazine and Global National before joining NGC Magazine.
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