Persona Volare: The Flight of the Public Self

An essay by Corinna Ghaznavi

"At light speed, time ceases to change, because it contains all change" is the first sentence of Persona Volare's manifesto. This group of 12 artists offers insights into its own identity as follows: Persona: the representation of the public self in a cast of characters. Volare: Italian for in flight ... or just a mid-70s sedan." Lorna and Kate got hold of this car," Reid Diamond explains, "and wanted to pick up people and go for a ride." There was much dialogue around who to include. The interest lay more in showing with other artists whose work they admired, who they saw as connecting, and less in creating conceptual or media coherence. In other words, they chose artists they might want to bring along for the ride.

The intense conversation and high energy of Persona Volare is apparent throughout the exhibition. The space they used - a low-ceilinged office suite - provided 12 rooms, the exact number of spaces required. This physical distribution adds to the impression of even quality and harmonious integrity throughout. The conceptual connections are subtle but apparent. Language is a key element: Reid Diamond's wonderfully lyrical installation, Trans-Canada (Flood Plain) and Trans-Canada (Laurentiens/Laurentides), consists of large French and English texts lit by theatre lights under magenta and orange gels. The narrative focuses on light. It describes how Sarah, wedged between her band's equipment while reading In Cold Blood, notices the last light of day as her page becomes flooded in red and then "recedes into the plane." Monique, also on a bus, wakes to the evening light, which she compares to her #22 magenta pencil, using it to draw a profile of the hills on the back page of a book. Sarah, unable to see out, perceives the landscape in the text reflected on the page. Monique's light fades faster than she can draw. Diamond's work is a confirmation of the infinite possibilities of fantasy and the imagination backed by the physicality of light.

Ideas and words dominate Lorna Mills' work. We see a 28-minute video of books she has read. The book covers are shown fro three seconds each in a random sequence. We see a wild array of fiction, fact, science, know-how, theory, etc., an excursion into knowledge, poetics, and the mind. On the windowsill is an old, dog-eared book, Creative and Mental Growth, from 1950. It's an antiquated psychological work illustrating developmental stages with reproductions of children's artwork. Drawings of her own exemplify Mills' first competitive quest into knowledge and learning.

Printmaker Brian Hobbs' words weigh heavily. Printed paper has piled up beside a printing machine that we are free to work ourselves. "Pressure was brought to bear on John to make better work." Pressure on the page produces the words; weight is the machine, underscored by the paper piling and the endless, mundane activity of cranking out something that never yields anything new.

John Dickson's words lurk ominously in his aptly titled Dirty Water inside a claw-footed bathtub. A sudden bubbling in the water produces the words shit, fuck, and piss. This quirky piece references undersurfaces, and dirt that resides in and threatens to surface through opaque layers.

Language is problematic; science, even more so. Lisa Neighbour has placed different mugs and cups onto rows of shelves labelled with the periodic table of elements; 3 (lithium) is under the smiling mug face. In the middle of the room stands a pail full of stones; they are rocks for throwing at glass houses and smashing a closed system. Neighbour's Big Bang shatters the illusion of containment and the precarious systems of knowledge to which our society adheres.

Michael Davey's Play Le Jeu offers violence counterbalanced with grace. Two revolving hockey sticks - one vertical, one horizontal - turn in the room so that the viewer must duck around them or stay put. Pucks with images of eyes (Rocket Richard's) and elbows (Gordie Howe's) are strewn around the floor. We see Northrop Frye's " play is the barrier which separates art from savagery." Grace and skill are in both the eyes that need to stay with the puck and the hands that guide the stick to meet the object.

Play and grace are wonderfully harmonized in David Acheson's large-scale Honey Bear. The oversize bear, complete with a yellow screw top hat, is lit a glowing red from within. The familiar plastic container has become an object of sweet and sticky love, as attested by the many hand and lip marks that needed to be wiped at the end of the day.

Chantal Rousseau's work plays with and edge. Black and white prints on acetate are spread and layered across and around the walls. The installation appears to be a black and white abstraction until one nears and discerns the figures of two women dancing. Suggestive, seductive, and wild, they dance together and alone, an affirmation of lesbian joy and confidence. In a lovely gesture, a last figure stands alone around the corner in the final stance of a "ta da" ending.

Women feature largely in Kate Wilson's signature portrait paintings, done in a '50s and '60s style. Her rich, distinctive painting renders the figures mysterious and coquettish. Wilson paints industrial sites with equal allure; murky and dramatic dark yellow landscapes. There is a very cool car as well, offering us a ride?

The last connecting motif is interiors. Johannes Zits has gathered an eclectic array of furniture to create a space adorned with his grand, digitally manipulated photographs. Blurred fragments of figures frame these two-dimensional interiors. We recognize on close scrutiny that Zits' figures are males engaged in sex (gesturally painted into the pristine interior of, say, a Mondrian setting), throwing apart the closed concepts of should-bes. Here, they beautify the interior installation, subverting the conventional and usurping space.

The abundance and decadence of Zits' work stand in direct contrast to Carlo Cesta's Office Romance. A functional water container stands in the middle of a room with blue, opaque boxes and mirrors hanging high above. The cool interior emphasizes the sterile space of the office while the water hints at life and invigoration, a meeting place for fleeting and surreptitious rendezvous.

Rebecca Diederichs' Accessible Green, Red, Blue is a delightful roomful of rooms and colour vistas. On the walls is a series of digitally manipulated photographs: several rooms juxtaposed to create different views of pigeons (finches) perched on wires in interiors. A transparency depicting perched birds on two levels is applied to a window that looks out over a courtyard. The images play out as well as back into the room, and red and blue clothes pegs hung along the wires adding a lyrical touch typical of Diederichs' poetic work.

At light speed, time ceases to change, because it contains all change. The representation of the public self of a cast of characters riding in a mid-'70s sedan is Persona Volare dancing, gliding, skipping, and driving through language, light, exteriors, and interiors. What a wonderful performance. Bravo!

Corinna Ghaznavi

d'Art INTERNATIONAL Volume 4, Number 2 Spring 2001

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