REVIEW: Looking Back: Geometry of Knowing and The Hastings #135 Bus
Denise Ryner | March 5, 2015
The bus route that starts in the heart of Vancouver’s downtown at Burrard and West Georgia, travels along Hastings Street and up Burnaby Mountain to Simon Fraser University’s main campus, is the #135. This route not only concludes at SFU’s founding campus but also passes the university’s Harbour Centre (where the Geometry of Knowing Part 1 is echoed in Neil Campbell’s installation at the Teck Gallery) and Woodward’s sites near the beginning of its journey. The #135 links parts one and two of SFU Galleries’ Geometry of Knowing exhibition and therefore I want to absorb it into my reading of the curatorial conversation behind this four-part presentation.
In the Audain Gallery the combined audio from the videos and installations compel me to walk, twist and feel my way through the exhibition. I walk through Brent Wadden’s weavings, linger around the door and the walls of Camille Henrot’s screening room, then trace circles around the spaces claimed by Kara Uzelman’s Re: Spiritual Experience and Abraham Cruzvillegas’ Self portrait thinking on how tall Genaro Vásquez looked under sunshine. During this wandering I brace myself every few seconds for the expected thuds and crackles that are part of Jimmie Durham’s video, Smashing. N.E. Thing Co.’s A Portfolio of Piles, protected under vitrine glass, forces me to crouch closely to see what were almost fifty years ago certified by the artists as Aesthetically Claimed Things (ACTs) found around North Vancouver’s industrial and commercial sites. I do feel like I am moving through a series of declared but overlapping fields of inquiry that require me to circle back again and again for second looks and skirting glances, so that each new view that I take builds upon the last. This circling, re-tracing and looking back continues as I make my way from Part Two to Part One of Geometry of Knowing at SFU Gallery at the Burnaby campus.
On the #135 bus I expand the field of the exhibition to encompass the series of varied cultural and social sites that I pass through along Hastings Street. I identify and remember every city block in relation to the one I glimpsed before it and the shifting characteristics that mark the entries and exits from each neighbourhood along my route are themselves prospective fields of inquiry. First a glimpse of Chinatown down Carrall Street, then the street markets and hangouts leading up to Main Street. Soon the buildings reduce to single and two story strips of retail and restaurants and the bus climbs towards Commercial Drive. More changes as the sign names, colours and logos give some visibility to the city’s Greek, Vietnamese and Italian business communities past Boundary Road and into Burnaby. The #135 continues through a neighbourhood called “The Heights” and the discreet spaces, small discoveries and negotiations continue on either side of the bus windows in various languages. From this vantage point, short, blurred views of the silhouettes of Vancouver’s downtown skyline are possible through the gaps in buildings. This is one of the few times that I can look back on the space and time that I traveled, spread out underneath me until my view is completely obscured by trees. The mood on the bus changes–my fellow passengers start to prepare for their classes or meetings and my attention is re-focused linearly–forward, towards the campus that displaces the field for the classroom and the lecture hall. The looming architecture tells me this in the way that it demands to be treated as a center and a pinnacle, within which Part One of Geometry of Knowing is appropriately buried under the monumental campus quadrangle.
Part One guides me in a focused and linear manner around the gallery walls where I view formal abstractions and a landscape, most of which are selected from the Simon Fraser University Art Collection. The works here reflect each other through repeated geometry and tones to create an enclosed and purposeful space echoing the forward-pull of the bus and the architecture so that even the conversation and music of the students in the hallway outside the gallery doors seems like an intrusion.
Some works at SFU Gallery bracket the city and social passageways as extended fields of the exhibition space. The position of Neil Campbell’s sculpture, Maquette for Active Pass aptly creates a visual trajectory between the university’s interior “street” and Eli Bornowsky’s circular fields which, in their cubed formations, mirror both Campbell’s work and the plan of SFU’s quad. Devon Knowles’ banners reference the formal paintings inside gallery and particularly invoke Josef Albers’ colour studies that hang in Part Two at the Audain. But Knowles’ work also recalls the climb up the mountain and the series of staircases that characterize the perspectival play of the quadrangle’s architecture.
The twisting, crouching and circling that Part Two induced is repeated here when I turn the corner and enter Derya Akay and Julia Feyrer’s installation Sculpture Garden. Then I bend towards the low-lying portfolios and their stands—informal versions of the rehals that hold the Qur’an—lean and duck around the darkened projection corner from which the sound of the film reels mingle with the nearby audio loop. True to its name, but also keeping with the curators’ inquiry into the configuration of knowledge from the experience of and intersections of place, this work compels my body to re-enact some nocturnal crawl through a summer garden, a place and a time onto which I am invited to look back.