Part One: Art
The first time I went to visit Daniel Laskarin’s show, Agnostic Objects (Things Persist) at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, I felt like a small bewildered animal confronted by the vast expanse of a cold imposing concrete wall. This concrete wall of my imagination was not just impassively grey and impenetrable, but actually seemed to radiate an aggressively unyielding and repulsing energy. On the gallery wall (not the concrete wall of my mind) I found a curatorial message and in my initial desperation, I thought, ahh!, this is the opening, this will be the explanation that tells me where to start, but upon reading, the posted writing appeared even more bizarrely obscure and impossible than the art. I couldn’t really even read it and I stumbled away and back to the art with an unhelpful and ridiculously vague notion of an ultra intellectual hammer banging on metal, a numbingly dry and frigid sound if ever there was one.
I was in the Centennial Gallery, one of two rooms of agnostic objects, the other being the Kerr Gallery. The lighting was dim. The work was, on first glance, uniformly grey and the materials, in certain cases, seemed limp and weary; the fibre glassed cardboard ,for instance, struck me at first as rather raw, suggestively swollen and unfinished. The shapes in general looked strange and blocky, the assemblages appeared weak and haphazard; on the one hand bullying, on the other, easily destroyed. The noise in the gallery, which (I think) is the sound of the air and the heat and the lights, provided an appropriately booming, droning, institutional sort of backdrop; the concrete wall made real.
The first piece I was able to focus on enough to see was ‘till I embrace you, which I’d seen and loved once before during the sticks and stones show at Deluge last year. What I immediately noticed about ‘till I embrace you was that the shiny gold ball which previously topped the work was gone, and that without it, the work seemed to melt away from me, back into some dark crevice in the wall, remote and unknowable. Yet, I had known this piece, had known what it meant, in the way of inner knowing. It was shocking to realize how the gift of giving and then the taking away of that gold ball could change the experience, the perception and the understanding of the piece as being something warm, balanced and even romantic, into something other, something cold and inaccessible (something masculine and alone). (Later, at Daniel’s studio, I saw the gold ball hanging up on the wall, very high and out of reach, near the ceiling, and I asked him, why did you take the gold ball away? and he said, because I didn’t like it.)
Not far away, in space, from ‘till I embrace you, is Sunday Afternoon, a piece not at all peremptory (and here I’m referring specifically to the removal of the gold ball), but rather heartbreakingly generous and full of a physical longing (I could feel it in my own body). This work consists of a fibre glassed box, painted blue on the inside, and balanced, but mostly leaning against the gallery wall, opposite a pair of feathers, and all held aloft on an insanely delicate apparatus. The feathers are at the end of a very long rod, at a great distance from the box, nearly touching the floor. The box appears to be working very hard at keeping the feathers in place or from touching the floor. It appears as if the entire structure might fall apart at any moment, but it’s holding. What at first looks to be balance is no balance at all; it is a struggle, and one wonders why.
Part Two: Artist
For those of you who like to take it literal, Daniel’s studio is a garage on the outside and a picture perfect shop/studio on the inside. There is a tool bench and a welder (neatly stored and covered) and a table saw. There is a false wall that hides one of two garage doors and behind which he keeps plywood and other flat materials. There is a nice open space (devoid of art work at the moment), gallery style, flanked by two white walls in need of painting for the next round of art making. There is a little alcove near the door with a desk and computer and up above of that is a series of old show posters from Deluge and other places. There is a shelving unit filled with strange and artful objects like lumps of sawdust and glue, and a series of miniature plaster busts (the same man featured in approaching Chartres, DIAN 1865).
Daniel, himself, is a small but powerful man, quite pale and intense. He is alert and quick, but, in the most comforting of manners, he occasionally retreats to some place within himself to think. I felt that there could be a lot left unsaid and that he would still understand; that he, like David Lynch, could and would follow the abstract within the narrative of any conversation. This is a very good quality. Aside from the specifics of visiting an artist in his or her studio space (what the space looks like, or how great a host the artist is, and by the way, Daniel made coffee), it is, I suppose, an opportunity to experience the mind behind the art. To sit with a person for an hour of two, somewhat quietly, even if you aren’t bombarding one another with piercing questions, is a way of feeling another being in terms of projected energy. If the work is good, and even if it isn’t actually, it exists entirely independently of the artist once it is completed and installed in a gallery, and theoretically one should not have to visit the artist to understand the art. But the mind of the artist, even if we’d rather not believe it to be the genesis of the idea, is at least a portal through which the idea has travelled and been shaped, and it’s surprising to me, in my limited experience, to find that the artist and the art often elicit similar responses within me.
I wanted to ask Daniel personal questions, I wanted to know him emotionally, (I wanted to know if his intentions were the same as my perceptual experience of his work), but there is something behind the helicopter pilot/welder/professor that is undeniably fragile and also, I think, extremely self-aware. To have pursued a line of questioning beyond “are you married?” would have been obscenely insensitive. And so we talked about material and space and plans for future material, and in this way, I found myself confronted again with the wall, but this time in the flesh, and it was as nuanced and as complex as it showed itself to be in the gallery.
He explained to me Barthe’s essay, The Death of the Author, which proposes that in literature, it is the language and the reader’s experience of the language that is of supreme importance; the author being a mere conduit for the language itself. The writer’s intentions lose shape in the eyes of the reader; the reader is left with the language only. And obviously this can be true of visual art as well. In the end, in the gallery, we are left with material, sound and space; this is what speaks to us as we stand gazing, listening, watching. And so, the artist’s intentions, his emotional being, his philosophical configuring, all of this, diminishes in importance. It becomes our (the gallery visitor‘s) relationship to the work that matters, and in that there is freedom from doubt (or to freely experience doubt), and further, there is the obliterating force of the wall, behind which the artist can quietly hide.