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2006 12 13
Angle of Incident #34: Blue Republic

By Gary Michael Dault

1) The work is called Beautiful Infections with Self-Made Man. This is a detail from its current manifestation at Toronto’s Peak Gallery. I refer to its current manifestation, because the piece, according to its begettors, Anna Passakas and Radoslaw Kudlinski, who make up the international (Polish-Canadian) art-duo Blue Republic, is a work in progress.

2) In what sense? In the sense that Blue Republic continues to make variants of the work using more or less the same muster of abject materials—ornately-shaped hunks of Styrofoam, shards of corrugated cardboard, plastic kitchen utensils, tin cans, wire baskets, electrical tape, and who knows what else (the present mounting of the Beautiful Infections work features the heel of a stale baguette resting proudly on a cardboard pedestal, as if it were a mini-monument in sculpted marble)—but arranged in decidedly different ways. Each time the work is reorganized and remounted—it was shown at the Peak Gallery in 2005 and at the Koffler Gallery last spring, for example—it is presented in an entirely new way, with disparate elements added, and others taken away.

3) The work looks chaotic at first, but it’s really not. Indeed, the longer you look at it and explore it, the more you can see that the installation is contrived as an evolving, reflexive aggregation of morphologies and surfaces and textures which Blue Republic has by now made its own: the blown, chemical whites of the snow-glistening Styrofoam, the rough, slow brownness of the cardboard, and the sharp, graphic piquancy of the black industrial tape ordering the white walls of the gallery the way pencil lines order paper predominating as sort of rudimentary chord on which the rest of the apparently ad hoc composition is built.

4) The work looks chaotic but the more you look at it, the more you can see how careful it is. Beautiful Infections bears nothing but the scantiest, most passing resemblance to that subgenre of installation art that involves coagulations of Arte Povera rubbish and refuse piled invasively into an otherwise pristine gallery-space, for example, nor does it bear any resemblance to works such as the once famous “scatter pieces” (from the 1960s) by artists like American sculptor Barry La Va—where the artist heaved things into the gallery and then went away.

5) Rather, the work is installed, with the care that window-dressers might lavish upon a Christmas tableau. Mere things, however unglamorous or pedestrian or banal, are treated as specimens, relics, iconic and votive objects: a hunk of Styrofoam rests on another hunk as if they’re being joined were structurally and symbolically crucial. A disk of cardboard is placed reverently atop a plastic colander. Red bottle tops are distributed about the periphery of a designated floor area with the precision of a team of surveyors—and so it goes, all through this exhaustingly complex agglomeration of rudimentary moments of objecthood. Beautiful Infections is all about acts of deliberation concerning balance, proportion, distance, adjacency and juxtaposition.

6) But what does it all mean? If the work is as deliberate as all that, then it must be not only ordered but purposeful. Yes, I’d say so. But purposeful to what end? Well, first, the work is an experiment in the process by which the formal, aesthetic beauty of BR’s abject and anxious objects can be assisted—by careful and indeed almost dispassionate arranging—into new roles as “beautiful” things. But more important (second) is the way these castaway objects and materials thus employed inevitably accumulate into complexity—a complexity that can then be understood as a proliferating, runaway system: a system like a city (“beautiful”) or like a virus (“infections”)—or both. A great deal of Beautiful Infections hugs the gallery floor—or appears to struggle tentatively up from it. So that when you are in the gallery, you are mostly looking down at the work. This gives you a traffic-helicopter’s-eye-view of the constructed sprawl stretching out beneath you (a miniaturized and therefore distanced “built environment”), which, as I put it in a Globe & Mail article I wrote about the work, spreads “like a stain in a paroxysm of runaway urbanism”. Its disparate textures, angles and densities, I wrote, “suggest, at the same time, some galloping, unstoppable virus, which has begun in the southern half of the Peak Gallery and may now spread to wherever the hell it likes.”

Blue Republic’s exhibition continues at Peak Gallery, 23 Morrow Avenue in Toronto, until December 30.
[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 12/13 at 02:26 PM

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