Leah Sandals (2007)

The Worn Identity

Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Saturday, December 29, 2007

Between punk-rock skating nights and Afrobeat outdoor concerts, yacht-swollen marinas and humble ferry docks, there are many kinds of fun to be had around Harbourfront. But as City Hall wrestles with the province and Ottawa on tourist vs. residential development, the area suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Accordingly, artwork in the vicinity this weekend shows transforming personae brought face to face. Together, these works make both the dull roar of the Gardiner and the sharp ding of the 510 streetcar seem part of a personal and mythical condition of liminality --not a bad paradigm for new year reflections and neighbourhood yearnings alike.

1. Jehad in Motion by Richard Fung at York Quay Gallery, 235 Queen's Quay W.

In this remarkable two-screen video doc, filmmaker Fung follows Palestinian Canadian activist Jehad Aliweiwi through the sights and sounds of life in Aliweiwi's adopted home of Toronto and a visit to his family home in Hebron. Contrasts between these two cities couldn't seem greater: A trip to a Middle Eastern-themed supermarket in a local suburban strip mall plays out next to a stroll through the dense outdoor markets of an ancient city. The clean, ubiquitous glass of Tdot's downtown contrasts with Hebron's bullet-pocked stone walls. Multi-faith seders in our laissez-faire metropolis meet homogenous, conservative weddings in a segregated society. When Aliweiwi says he feels like "two different people living in distinctly dissimilar worlds," you understand him--and, if you're an immigrant (or child of) like many Torontonians, you know he understands you, too.

2. David Then and Now by Micah Lexier at Service Canada Kiosk, just a few steps north of 231 Queen's Quay W.

It's not always location that's the main catalyst for identity changes; no matter where you go, the march of time manages to change all. Here, that point is deftly illustrated by conceptual artist Lexier, who pairs a 1993 photograph of a given person with a similar photograph of them from 2003. (All 75 subjects, who range initially in age from one to 75, share the name David -- hence the Richler-paraphrasing title.) Lexier's resulting array of then-and-nows reads as part anatomy textbook, part mathematical matrix: There are amazing changes of size and shape, as well as sad subtractions where the vacant space for a 2003 photograph reads "deceased." Still, such reductiveness hints at the unphotographed vastness of experience in those 10 years -- an experience sometimes etched in new muscles or wrinkles, but rarely well summarized by art or life.

3. Sea Goddess and Spirits by Felix Stanley at Museum of Inuit Art, 207 Queen's Quay W.

Themes of transformation aren't just post-millenial; they also stretch back centuries through ancient myth. Contemporary Inuit artist Felix Stanley hints at the intensity and importance of such myths in this amazing sculpture, carved out of a massive whalebone, which depicts multiple beings emerging from the same physical source. On one side of the whalebone, an owl figure rises like a phoenix as two humanoid faces howl in undefined agony or joy. On the other, a goddess's face forms the centre around which animal figures push from an unseen core. Terrific material contrasts between porous marrow and solid outer bone underlining the idea of duality as universal and timeless -- beyond secondlife.com into your first one, capisce?

Copyright © 2007 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.