Hillside Elementary (one of 4 parts) by Daniel DeRegt

The Idea of Containment.  How apropos.  Here I am in Campbell River, far away from home, from my doggy-woggy, and from my Stevie-weevie.  I’m visiting my parents right now.  I came by train and I don’t have a car.  I don’t have any email addresses; I’m using my mom’s computer.  And I didn’t bring my phone book either (I remembered my toothbrush, but not much else).  I’m trapped!  Literally and figuratively.

Well, not really.  My mom will probably read this so I’ve got to say right here and now, that we’ve had a nice visit.  Right Mom?  We’ve looked at books about flowers and we’ve watched the food channel, we went out for great Vietnamese soup, we went to the movies (Alice, and just for the record, I don’t think we recommend Alice) and we went to the Campbell River Art Gallery.  I think it was my mom’s first visit there, except for the annual Christmas craft fair.  So I felt like a cultural embassador and that’s always fun.

The Idea of Containment is a two-man show on now at the Campbell River Art Gallery.  The men (and they really are men, I ain’t no Real Women kind of woman) are Daniel deRegt of Vancouver and Joel d. of Cortes Island.  One a photographer, one a ceramics sculptor. 

In the centre of the room is the ceramics installation by Joel d.  On the floor, beneath his work is a blue tarp, neatly duct taped down.  Above, is thick translucent plastic hanging in an A-frame construction, so that once inside of the tent shape you are allowed a measure of privacy in which to peer at the ceramics.  The ceramics themselves are placed on rough hewn wooden benches idealistically reminiscent of a woodsy artist’s woodsy studio.  By which I mean an artist who lives in perpetual funkiness on an island like Cortes.

The ceramics themselves resemble body parts, but nothing specific.  No heads or hands.  Instead they look like chunks of rib cage or pieces of muscle mass.  Encased within most of these parts are tubes like blood vessels/veins/arteries.  Everything is glazed in soft pinks. 

On a shelf beneath the body parts is a series of lumps of raw, moist, steel-grey clay in plastic bags, waiting, I suppose to be shaped.

The work is painful to see.  After the first glance I made a silent resolution to ignore it entirely.  I haven’t seen work like that since I was at art school when certain of us were using art as a conduit for psychic pain.  In his artist’s statement Joel d. writes very poetically about “a culture of abuse” and about how “he creates out of desperation to find himself, to find comfort, to find meaning, to try and help heal the abuse”. 

Joel d’s work is profoundly personal and as such, it is, at first, entirely mysterious and alien.  It is best described as the work of a burgeoning Louise Bourgeois and as such is interesting in that it is traditionally feminine in concern.  The body, especially in soft pinks, has in art and in domestic life been the realm of women.  Cleansing the bodies of children, pefuming the lovely feminine flesh, tending to bruises and wounds, our own or those of others, has been for women an occupation.  But through his ceramic work, Joel d. expresses a new gender reality.  Men caring, publicly caring, for that which is pink, for that which can be hurt, for that which can be physically and emotionally shaped.

The other artist, Daniel deRegt, was initially more appealing.  And in fact, I had intended to write solely about his photographs, but I find and have found before, that fingers on a keyboard will surprise sometimes.  The photographs were more appealing because they are clean, simple, straightlined and much more easily digested.  They are subtle but logical, not as imbued with uneasy, queasy mystery.  They are also large and extremely beautiful.

deRegt’s work reveals a concern with storage.  Storage of people, of goods, and of private space.  He writes that “there are noticeable parallels between storage and the photograph.  The photograph documents-perhaps “stores” the valuable, memorable, or hidden.” 

The photograph, by deRegt, documents systemic cultural actions.  Some of which, as shown in the four-part photograph, Plot, seem relatively benign at first. Plot is one of the larger pieces in the collection, measuring approximately 2 feet high by 8 feet long. In Plot we see the border between neighbouring houses.  Each photograph features a different owner/owner relationship.  In every example, the cut marks on the lawn end abruptly once the border is reached.  In every example, the fences and gates seperating the front (public) space from the back (private) space changes dramatically from property to property.  This is true too of the shrubs, one house features dead uncared for bushes, while the next yard is obviously cared for, the bushes are pruned and watered.  In some cases the determination to be seperate/delineate cannot be realized.  Nature in the form of drifting leaves refuses to acknowledge borders. 

My favorite piece of the entire show is the other four-part photograph called Hillside Elementary.  It’s the same size as Plot, 2′ x 8′ and shows what was once a covered porch of the kind very common to southern BC’s elementary schools.  I grew up in Haney and believe me, we spent many a rainy, foggy day huddled under the covered porches during recess and lunch.  In this photograph, though, the porch is no longer used by children.  Instead it is crammed full of rusty old school desks and chairs heaped in piles.  The entire colossal tableau is contained behind a solid wall of chicken wire fencing.  On the ground, on both sides of the fence, are wind scattered drifts of autumn leaves. Again, nature moves where she/he/it will.

The image is fantastic.  Not only is it incredibly gorgeous, but it speaks, loudly, to the politics and the economics of BC.  The photo is painterly and masterful, seemingly arranged for the purpose of still life.  The soft grey green metal speckled with rust glows softly into the eye, and also emanates a terrible nostalgia for the past; a past that should not be. The black interior shadows and the vivid orange, yellow and brown leaves is a classic example of chiaroscuro, but so modern in material composition and in the relentless nowness of it. It is a portrait of a modernity we have not even come yet to accept.  After the initial and ultra-seductive marvel of colour and pattern, we see reality.  We see an end to the wealth.  Children are wealth.  And so are schools. 

That’s all I will write about that; Gordon Campbell is not a popular man with most of the socially responsible people I know, but are politicians ever, except in rare cases, anything other than meagre managers of nature?

Daniel deRegt‘s work, his statement particularly, claims a concern with storage.  And it is so. Superficially.  When we contemplate the many forms of storage and the many reasons for storage,then we begin to uncover and to realize a vast underlying truth about ourselves as human beings in the year 2010.  We are greedy, we are fearful, and we are blind.

I suppose the only problem I have with this show is the curatorial decision to combine these artists.  I was profoundly confused by this show as a whole.  The work does not work together.  In fact, it creates a hum and a buzz and a mental snarl of gargantuan proportions.  I have thought and thought about this work for the last 24 hours and as of yet, not even one teeny tiny idea has emerged about how these two works relate. And I’m no hard case. This is not a cohesive show; this a situation in which two very seperate exhibits happen to be in the same room.  Unfortunate and potentially disastrous, but the strength of the work, both the sculpure of d. and the photographs of deRegt, easily transcends the clumsy handling by Campbell River Art Gallery’s curator.