Artist Talks / Curatorial

David Semeniuk: Perimeter

An exhibition that took place at the Gam Gallery from October 12 – November 20, 2013, for which we co-published our first art book with the artist. I wrote an introduction for the catalogue that details Semeniuk’s participation in the gallery over two exhibitions and the concept of liminality that is important to his work. The catalogue is available for purchase at the gallery for $20, and includes essays by Alice Campbell and Jeff O’Brien.

Introduction

The Gam Gallery is pleased to present Perimeter, David Semeniuk’s second solo exhibition with the gallery. Semeniuk’s work explores two core themes. It is concerned with histories of labour and capital, and how these mediate our use of and access to private and public spaces. It also examines our experience and memory of place through images that shift between real and imagined, private and public, domestic and natural spaces. His method skirts liminality, both in his choice of content and the form his works take, often imposing one image over another. In the case of the current exhibition, Perimeter, Semeniuk examines the liminal spaces of the City of Vancouver’s boundary, and juxtaposes images that have formal and/or historical affinity with one another.

For this exhibition, Semeniuk walked along the boundaries of the City of Vancouver with his partner Alice Campbell. This took place in nine separate trips between February 3 and April 7, 2013, the walks sometimes taking up to eight hours. Beginning in the northeast corner of the city at New Brighton Park, in view of the Port of Vancouver, the Iron Worker’s Memorial Bridge and the nearby Cascadia grain elevators, Semeniuk photographed the outer edges of the city, skirting places inaccessible to the public because of industry or private property. Other boundaries are less clear, such as the transition from Vancouver to the University Endowment Lands, or the small wooden stake demarcating the Musqueam Indian Reserve from the nearby multi-million dollar properties in the Southlands neighborhood. Issues of class, private property and accessibility in general circulate throughout Perimeter.

The transitional characteristic of the series parallels its subject matter, which focuses on the active process of defining urban spaces. This relation between the form and content of Semeniuk’s work is particularly well-suited to examining Vancouver, a city located in an intertidal zone, at the edge of a vast wildernesses. As discussed in the exhibition catalogue for Intertidal, a 2005 survey exhibition of contemporary Vancouver artists at M HKA, Antwerp, Vancouver – both as a city in general and as an art market specifically – is shaped by its shifting or peripheral relation to its surroundings and to other centres of the world (despite its location within an increasingly globalized system).

Semeniuk’s work is thoughtfully positioned both in relation to the history of photographic practice in Vancouver as well as to the Capture Photography Festival specifically. This is especially evident in his use of the plotter printer, a technology often employed in producing architectural floor plans because of its historically mechanical function (the use of a pen or other instrument to draw complex line art). The resulting images are somewhat crude but richly textured reproductions of the original photographs and stand in measured contrast to the large, richly coloured and glossy or backlit photographs of many post-conceptual photographic artists. Similar to Roy Arden’s photographs of detritus found in the streets of Terminal City, Semeniuk focuses on the socioeconomic conditions of his urban environment while moving away, at least in the plotter prints, from naturalistic representation and its relation to the history of painting. Instead, and similarly to other contemporary artists working with photography in Vancouver, Semeniuk challenges photographic realism through the medium itself, creating a rich discussion around photography’s material properties and its ability to faithfully represent our contemporary situation.

Panel Discussion with David Semeniuk, Alice Campbell, Jeff O’Brien and Mohammad Salemy

Saturday, October 19, 1:30 to 3:00 pm, Gam Gallery

The panel discussed the process of creating the series along with its relation to the history of photography in Vancouver. We recorded the event in its entirety, which you can listen to here.

I introduce the session by linking the current exhibition to Semeniuk’s first exhibition with the Gam Gallery, Landscape Permutations, in which images of suburban Red Deer, Alberta, are imposed onto one other creating a shifting relationship between the two scenes that could plausibly be substituted for one another and could also potentially be substituted for other suburban-type landscapes. The role of situated memory is carried forward into Perimeter, which looks at how colonial memory, for example, effects the current civic identity of Vancouver (or doesn’t). The liminality created by the mirroring of images in Landscape Permutations is also present in Perimeter but it is as a characteristic of the landscape being depicted rather than being a function of the structure of the work.

Finally, I briefly spoke about the series of plotter prints (see above example) included in the exhibition, which are not included in the art book but are reproductions of colour photographs using a plotter printer, a (historically mechanical) process generally utilized for architectural plans. As you can see in the above image and detail, the printer creates the image by drawing a series of lines, creating a heavily textured effect. The plotter prints are available for sale as posters for a very low price, drawing attention to issues of accessibility both in relation to the subject-matter of the work (the boundaries of the city) and in the medium of delivery itself, as Vancouver’s photo-conceptual artists have a history of producing some of the most expensive photographs of all time. I felt that this was an especially important discussion to have in relation to the exhibition’s participation in the inaugural Capture Photography Festival, which held a fundraiser and live auction in a lavish house in Vancouver as well as a billboard competition with an entry fee of $25 (though the winner received a $500 fee). To be clear, I am not condemning the fundraising tactics of the Festival outright. Questions of accessibility are, however, significant to have within this context. I was the recipient of a telling comment on opening night that the plotter prints (in unlimited edition) were being sold for “too low a price” because the concept of the work is surely of higher value. I see the prints as being a tongue-in-cheek reaction to this kind of valuation that often seems out of place when compared to the locations depicted in the images as well as the location of the gallery itself.

Many other interesting discussions took place in the panel, including Alice Campbell’s analysis of how the history of capital in Vancouver has impacted the kinds of spaces that are produced around the edges of the city, how a boundary can tell us something about what it contains (including it’s inaccessible edges) and the disjuncture between civic space and public space.

Shifting toward art historical and theoretical considerations, Jeff O’Brien spoke about the relationship between painting, photography and the grid. In relation to modernist painting, the grid is thought to maps the space of the canvas onto itself, marking a completely autonomous space that rejects both narrative and the natural. The grid, O’Brien argues is the starting point for Semeniuk rather than the end point, as in modernist painting, even though the grid does limit what can be represented in the resulting work.

Finally, Mo Salemy made a comparison between the materiality of the colour photographs and the plotter prints in the exhibition, which expands from differing concepts of photography as alternately depicting the world truthfully or as a flat surface or skin, what Salemy termed the the world picture (Heidegger) versus the technical image (Flusser). The flatness of the plotter prints is due to its technological production, which creates a textured effect akin to a weaving that was also compared to cartography and the use of X and Y coordinates. Salemy made the observation that the exhibition thus plays on differences between ontology and epistemology, or ways of being versus ways of seeing.

The audience took up many points discussed by the panelists, including one argument that the plotter prints represent the history (or the matrix) of the reproducibility of photography in the medium of the half-tone print, making the exhibition more thoroughly entrenched in the development of the technology itself rather than in questions of representation alone. It was an incredibly rich and fruitful discussion, and one of our most successful programming event in terms of opening critical dialogue around the artist’s work. I highly suggest taking a listen to the audio for yourselves.

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