Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Another show at the Algoma Art Gallery

     Cheryl L’Hirondelle’s Why the Caged Bird Sings (to April 26th, 2014) is one of those shows whose significance and import the artist thinks has to be explained. I don’t like that; I think the artist should trust the viewer to make sense of what’s presented. L’Hirondelle is song-writer, which may account for her reliance on words. There’s a large poster with lots of words at the beginning of the installation.  I wish I hadn’t read them. If you intend to visit this show, don’t read the rest of this review.
     A number of iPads connected to telephone handsets are mounted around the room. You listen to people videoed listening to First Nations music  on a public payphone. Apparently, the intention is to help us empathise with people in prison, who communicate with their loved ones mostly by phone. In this limited sense, the works are successful, but the whole thing feels more like an “educational experience” than a work of art. It’s not that art doesn’t educate, but it does so by surprising us with new emotions, and insights. It teaches us to experience our world in ways we never imagined. This installation attempts to do that, but the maker focussed too much on the message and too little on the medium. If the explanation of the work’s intention had been withheld, I think working one’s way from one iPad to the next would have been far more involving. Our experience would have been driven by a mystery which we would have had to solve on our own. As it is, the explanation raises expectations that aren’t met, which is a too common effect of talking too much about one’s intentions. An interesting and thought-provoking show, but not engaging.
       L'Hirondelle's website here. She's made a lot of art and music. *½

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