Thursday, 4 October 2012

Mike Marcon: INLAND EMPIRES, Sept.7-Oct.13 2012


Inland Empires opening reception Sept. 7, 2012. Image courtesy of Artcite Inc.
            Mike Marcon’s exhibition Inland Empires is a set of seven installation pieces inciting discourse on topics of national identity.
 Although I possess a Canadian citizenship, I cannot relate to the legends and ancestry of the Canadian frontier that I suspect many other Canadians do possess, because I did not learn anything about Canadian history until the 7th grade, which appropriately coincided with a new school, assimilation into the main class from humiliating ESL segregation (i.e. assimilation into the English language), and a pubescent romanticized longing for something other than the social and familial nightmares of the (then) present, all of which conglomerated with the discovery of “the Canadian explorer” as something desirable, strong, masculine, and factually epic.   
Arbitrary vision of Jacques Cartier
Lacking a backbone and seeing myself as a meek female,  meeker still from my status as an immigrant, I was magnetized to the superhuman strength of the wild explorers – the solitary travelers superior to the rest of mankind, yet heroically representing the summit of human vitality against the elements, who like soldiers would be claimed by a country for countryhood, as if colonized through sacrifice.
Stills from Come and See (1985).
The feeling of romance was also founded in pre-immigration childhood encounters with exotic literature such as “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London, and other such exoticized Russian translations about Canadian wilderness.  One story described a man who had to eat frogs to survive (I hope I am not mistaking a Russian story for a Canadian one… but either way, my memory must have lumped them together for similarities in behavioral tendencies).   Gruesome and uncanny, these stories spoke of valor, endurance, and tragedy, and in my mind were also chronologically and thematically paired with socialist WWII films and stories about partisans and comrades roasting on the battlefield, smelling of pork (as a veteran imparted to my third grade class). I digress.
All of the above is an afterthought – a distribution of my own weight, the prelude to which has little to do with the western frontier or the WW’s.  My initial experience with this work rests on formal, material, and spatial aspects, such as the compression of all elements into a contained unit, held by the mindful organization of selected objects, crafted to sit in a solid framework of wood (which to some extent itself speaks of western expansion –  man over nature: landscape cultivated into cabinets, shredded for books, for containment of knowledge). 
Land Cart (2012). Image courtesy of Artcite Inc.
The first piece I encountered is Land Cart. I incidentally came upon this piece when it was a work in progress, in the sculpture studio of Lebel.  Mike Marcon was not in the vicinity.  The work was described to me by someone else, in fondness of the labour implied upon it.  We commented on the finish of the metal, the crafted emblem of a tree, the qualities of the salvaged wood.  The hand drawn outline of a bird triggered an association with Neil Young & Crazy Horse album cover Zuma, which may or may not be worth mentioning. It was with this pretext (Neil Young aside) that I approached the work in the installation. I noticed compositional similarities, which, in a vehicular attitude of specifics, later gave way to ideological narrative.  The specifics I am referring to are such details as an antique lantern, rows of jars containing nails and water, gasoline cans, memorabilia, an open drawer filled with rows of batteries painted army-green.  The latter, in combination with tin cans (ideal for mountaineering and trenches), large roll of antique bandages, and a framed illustration in the Russian language instructing “This is how to bandage the arm to the body”, are all specifics which certainly contributed to my eventual narrative digression about the WW’s.
            What I find peculiar about this body of work is that it is not only an assortment of stuff pertaining to a theme.  There are found objects, selected literature, negated literature (books treated as things, as appearance), but there are also investments of gesture on the part of the artist which go beyond mere arrangement and presentation of objects.  He has carefully cast in bronze figurines, shims, emblems, friezes of his own design, and a handsome ram head with rope horns. He has spray painted accents of black to make more obvious the aged aesthetic of the wood surface, and the tin cans are shined to a uniform sheen.  The work for some reason had to be claimed, or marked, by the artist.  Although I find these gestures a bit puzzling, they are not altogether out of place, and do function to contain the work, as a seal, to make it obvious that this is all just imagery, that it is not about the degradation of material in the open air, but about the world of signifiers.  Things become thoughts.

Weapons of Winning (2010). Image courtesy of Artcite Inc.
Objects here are compartmentalized, as if to pluck and place from a series of random, but inevitably associated images, fished from a pool of ideology most people in this part of the world can relate to, at least semantically.  Consider the Mickey Mouse perched over Northern Allegory no. 2, and the stacks of visual ephemera on cards, which a viewer may choose from arbitrarily, as if pulling a file from a filing cabinet.  Because the objects are linearly, uniformly, and tightly distributed within one unit, and because the works converse with each other in the gallery space, the objects do not appear to have any particular hierarchy of importance.  Repetition here is not greater than the singular. Even the pieces with the light boxes do not seem to imply too much emphasis on the distinctness of the light box or video, versus the roughened items in the composition. For example, the iconic image of the sinking ship in Northern Allegory no. 5, which is a video slowed down enough to deny the horror of the event and acting as a still impression, is just as much of a focal point as the dirty gloves in  Northern Allegory no. 6.  The sign “How to become a legend” below the sinking vessel becomes not about dying in a shipwreck, but about dying in the registered appearance of an image.   To me, these are not narratives, but bundles of information, carried by stuff. 
Detail of Northern Allegory no. 5 (2012). Image courtesy of Artcite Inc.
 Each piece in this exhibition can be likened to a ship, descending with the slow pace of history, as allegories should, nothing but by-products of certain activities, posthumous remnants of vehicles, which carry mental records via linguistic and object-based image realities.   That is too grandiose of a conclusion. Let us humbly part with this: If Jan Svankmajer had a dream about Canada, he would have Mike Marcon among his pals.

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