Persona Cantare

by Corinna Ghaznavi

Behind every good song is a melody, rhythm, and good lyrics. The trick when singing together is to get the balance of voices right. Persona Cantare sings in ten voices, north with amplifiers, loud speakers, the ladies dressed in silver... Responding to the idea of music as a means of rapid transportation each artist has created a work that will move us, emotionally, physically or philosophically. Careful balance that results in tension or harmony is the basis for all the work: disaster posited against hope, destruction vs. creativity, sensual innocence vs. carnal knowledge; content vs. emptiness, dreams vs. reality, and discourse suggesting possibility. As different as these installations are Persona Volare nonetheless creates a common ground for itself in the very act of creating and exhibiting work that each and together as an entirety, move the viewer to contemplate the world from an angle that is new, spectacular, dire, and full of possibility.

In its current configuration, Persona Volare consists of ten artists whose media and forms of practice range from painting to photography, video and installation. The coherence of the exhibition is rooted less in the formal than in the conceptual. In their press release, the group states "Persona Cantare would like to pose the question of what happens when you sing and engage in activities requiring motor skills." Accompanying their exhibition is a CD filled with thirteen variations of their theme song, chosen for its romantic pop culture status and it's identification with advertising: the famous car of the 1970s that appeared in the first exhibition that Persona Volare held. The CD brings together a range of musical styles including rap, pop, funk, disco, hip hop, and muzac. Every time the next version begins to sound one can be surprised because each is an interpretation unique unto itself. The collection becomes a kind of template for the exhibition style of Persona Volare that requires the viewer to make a helter skelter leap from room to room, changing styles each time but still hearing the underlying theme song.

The group continues to state that "the participating artists are responding to the proposition that their work can encompass "the idea of music as a means of rapid transportation, north with amplifiers, loud speakers, the ladies dressed in silver...Danger Music No. 1, sea urchins with a vibraphone." To Sing with Stars (It.) Cantare Con Le Stelle, Gino Vannelli and the Yamaha DX7, Italian Concerto MS 6041 by Gould, Weinzweig and the 12-tone method, melodious musicale, musique concrete, a cappella ... but mostly Harp Convention."

While this statement may appear initially opaque it most succinctly describes the content of the exhibition. What happens when you sing and engage in activities requiring motor skills? Some sing high and others sing off-key; a single voice can be joined by others to sound out a chorus or a round; voices may deviate, some are loud and others low and seductive. Together they will create a choir that may be singing the same song but that is nonetheless made up of a number of unique voices. The definition of PERSONA we are told is 1. Psychol. An aspect of the personality as shown to or perceived by others (opp. ANIMA 1.) 2. (in literary criticism) an author's assumed character in his or her writing. The presentation of the public self in a cast of characters. In the act of creating the artist is performer. The work created and displayed is the public presentation of the concepts that artist wishes to put forward. Persona Cantare shows an aspect of each participating artist's premise as they sing and engage in activities requiring motor skills. The result is a collection of work knitted together by the common factors of art practice, the desire for discourse and exchange, and an exhibition filled with individual installations that each sings its own interpretation.

One can imagine each installation as a single voice linked to the others during the chorus: Volare, oh, oh! Cantare, oh, oh, oh, oh! As well, each piece can be imagined in this way: familiar at first glance and then, just as each voice has nuances and depths, revealing itself to be intricate and layered.

John Dickson's Tanker is a model oil tanker of the Prestige that sunk off of the coast of Spain in 1992. The model floats in a box filled with water and black oil and as one watches the tanker slowly sinks into the muck until it is fully submerged. And then, just as slowly, the vessel reemerges from the oily depths, filthy but reincarnate. Dickson, reflecting on the effects of ecological contamination compares this reemergence to "a monster returning to reek more havoc." And we, the viewer, remain watching, compelled by a macabre desire to witness disaster. The cycle itself then comes close to watching CNN replaying, in slow motion and loops, the collapse of the twin towers. An experience that becomes ubiquitous with every repeat and stunningly surreal, compelling us to keep looking.

This push-pull effect is apparent also in Kate Wilson's strangely beautiful images of heads with piercing eyes and remnants of industry and apocalyptic signs. Fire combats bursting vegetation and beauty belies destruction. Wilson's rapid brush strokes capture landscapes of gigantic bursting buds, spiraling volcanic forms and UFOs. The integration of science fiction, industry and nature form the matrix of her work that teeters between creativity and destruction. Technology invades the head of her figure, implying both the advancement of humanity through innovation and the dangerous reliance on machines we can no longer survive without.

Joyful exuberance and destructive compulsion are rooted in Lorna Mills' video installations. Monitors that reflect a similar striped palette top two towers painted in horizontal stripes. A running script steadily traverses the bottom of the stream: Chicken Slew, Conbird, Thai Dye, Lyle Lovesit, Not Phone, Cologny, Attacksum, Monthir, Eye Con ... and on and on. Names of racehorses pace below the stripes, matching a rhythm found in the pounding of the hoofs; the vibrant horizontal colours capturing the glory of the win and the excitement of the bet. Without ever offering an image, Mills has captured the essence of the track: the flying colours, the speed, the hunger, and the hope.

The hope of seduction and the weight of disappointment underlined by a certain tawdriness hums through Carlo Cesta's Office Romance 2. A setting for a chance encounter is complete with a double-sided window blind offering a repeated vista of the Toronto skyline tinged in a kitschy purple sunset or nighttime blue. According to mood the blind can be pulled to reveal the other side: soap opera seduction or seductive calm. Above, a purple circular disk acts as romantic light or stand-in for a moon. Alarmingly, however, a large concrete block is suspended in the middle of the room, a reminder of balance, of weight against lightness, and of the dire, and mundane, consequences of succumbing to an office romance.

Passion lies at the heart of Lisa Neighbour's The Hulk in Knots. Made from crocheted electrical wire, sockets, and bulbs, the monster is suspended in the middle of a full frontal attack. Fueled by electricity he is fully made of energy that is both invigorating and potentially destructive. Neighbour refers to a blind rage that can propel her forward like a dynamo towards creativity and production or, if uncontrolled, wrecks everything. Her admission that if the latter occurs she just sits back and 'enjoys the destruction' feeds into her belief that creativity is closely aligned with destruction.

The complex balance between nurturing and innocence, power and tyranny is addressed in the work of Lyla Rye. A slow video rendition of a small child eating ice cream as the camera looms ever closer is filled with sensuality. Nostalgia is counterbalanced by the very title, Carnal, that reflects a child's tenacity. In addition, the implied hierarchy between viewer and model, the camera's eye recording the engrossed child, is lifted at the very end when the child returns the gaze with a knowing smile, what the artist refers to as "a mysterious and lingering grin of a Cheshire cat." The simple rendition of a child eating reveals a complex relationship between mother and child that suggests an ongoing shift in power.

Carnal is also central to Chantal Rousseau's video piece Memento Mori. In order to access the work one has to climb a ladder and ascend through a hole in the ceiling to view the projection in the small space above. Teetering on the ladder, careful not to bump ones head, one sees a macabre sexual dance performed by and through the heads of skeletons. The clear reminder of death and the frailty of the very flesh that gives us pleasure weight down the lightness of the animation.

Empty pleasure is a part of Johannes Zits' large video projection where young male models strut the walkway overtly displaying their sexual prowess. Counterbalancing this is the nude figure of the artist working in his studio. Overlaying one image with the other, the artist, although nude, is not on display but engrossed in production while beautiful boys are shown in the excess of fashion and sexuality that proves in itself to be hollow of meaning. The piece is entitled Homage to Seurat: Les Poseurs and the Artist in His Studio, referencing the pointillist technique in the impressionist paintings that the pixellation in the video mimics, as well as the model as vessel and artist as giver of meaning.

In his beautifully executed hockey sticks Michael Davey plays on content and surface as well. The slick airbrushing on the sticks are images from goalie's helmets like shooting flames or stars, the aesthetic coming closer to a skateboarding culture than the small town ice rink where every Canadian boy used to shoot a puck. In fact, while hockey remains iconic to the Canadian identity it is now controlled by corporate sponsorship that uses ideology to play into a myth that no longer exists. Davey's hockey sticks are filled with beer, signifying pleasure (the artist asserts that beer is central to the game, as in 'what is better than kicking back, watching a game, and having a beer') and underlining the fact that the myth has become stronger than the reality.

Waiting for Aurora is a collaboration between Rebecca Diederichs and Reid Diamond. A doubling and tripling took place when Diederichs took Diamond's images from film, transferred them to DVD and then photographed them from the computer screen. Her own photographs were scanned, printed and laminated before being displayed. Juxtaposed these works become a layering of speaking and hearing: Diamond's images of things in motion, speed, and recollections of his words are set alongside Diederichs' images of clouds and sky where movement is more quiet but always implied. This is a song with two voices: the initial words sung by Diamond and the subsequent, answering ones by Diederichs. The chorus is heard in the interstices of the juxtaposed images, there between the vast and rolling clouds and Diamond's dynamic and exploding film stills.

PERSONA: the representation of the public self in a cast of characters. Volare: Italian for in flight ... or just a mid-70s sedan. Cantare: Italian for 'to sing.' The group continues to fly across the cultural landscape exploring, producing and exchanging ideas. For this road trip the sedan is large enough to hold a group, the landscape is continuous and changing, ideas present themselves and are explored. Persona Cantare has presented an exhibition different in scope and make-up than the first that Persona Volare showed. Their theme song sounds in their mid-70s sedan, and identities morph as the characters represent themselves in each new scene acted out by the group.

Corinna Ghaznavi, November 2003

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