Art in the Twenty-first Century : Vancouver

ART21 on PBS has a new season of “Art in the Twenty-First Century”. This series concentrates on featuring the most innovative art around the globe. “Intimate footage allows the viewer to observe the artists at work, watch their process as they transform inspiration into art, and hear their thoughts as they grapple with the physical and visual challenges of achieving their artistic visions” (PBS). Each episode features a different city. This particular episode featured Vancouver and local artists Liz Magor, Stan Douglas, Brian Jungen and Jeff Wall.

I have seen Liz Magor’s work at the Catriona Jefferies Gallery and also at the Vancouver Art Gallery. When I viewed her work Catriona Jefferies Gallery I found it rather strange in that she used various materials that were clearly bound for the landfill. After watching the video, however, I have a better understanding of where she is coming from. She likes using objects in her sculptures, more correctly to create sculptures. She has a series of sculptures where she has created casts from worker’s gloves, where she acknowledges that she has fetishized the gloves, repurposing them and creating new contexts. She actually likens this process to photography – taking an object, then creating the negative (mould) and then creating the positive (the actual cast). The slowness of the process serves her intellectual awareness.

Stan Douglas’ work is extremely interesting. He showcased a historical app that he had made in historical Hogan’s Alley. He uses historical data to recreate or restage existing narratives. Also featured were some of his video work that work in parallax, where the viewer has to watch two or three screens simultaneously. One of the works featured was a live performance (Helen Lawrence) enacted in front of a blue screen that was filmed every night. The performance is a blend of film noir, computer simulation, and theatre.

What you see from the audience is bifocal: Three-dimensional actors in colourful costumes moving about in real space; and, at the same time the live-feed of them, turned two-dimensional and inserted into a visual black-and-white space displayed from familiarly disorienting film-noir camera angles.

Nestruck, Globe and Mail

Brian Jungen’s work is a very contemporary rendition of First Nations art. Like Liz Magor he repurposes objects to create new sculptures. Featured was a massive rendition of a whale’s skeleton, made entirely from white plastic garden chairs. I was quite flabbergasted when I saw that as it looks so realistic (on film anyway). The main theme that seems to run through his work is commodification. Using Nike running shoes he created various Native masks. He found that his artwork became so tied up with his identity.

Jeff Wall featured in Art in the Twenty-first Century on PBS
Jeff Wall featured in Art in the Twenty-first Century on PBS

There were quite a few take-aways from Jeff Wall’s segment – statements made by him while discussing his working method. Here are a couple of quotes from Wall:

“There is no difference in between capturing a gesture by accident and capturing a gesture by design. So it is not really possible to have fakery in photography.”

“Pictures can never narrate. They can only imply a narrative but they can never deliberate. So what happens is when the viewer is having that experience, what they are really doing is writing the story. They are intuiting a narrative for themselves which will not be the same narrative for everybody.”

A really succinct way of summing up Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author”. Wall’s work is very big and it was rather interesting to see the pre-exhibition behind scenes of conveying his large works to the fourth floor of the gallery (they had to be lifted by crane) and the mechanics of manoeuvring the images to the correct places to be hung.

The series is also available online, but it seems that it is not viewable in the UK.

Reference List

Art21 (2016). Art in the Twenty-first century [online]. PBS. Available at: [Accessed 2 October, 2016]

Nestruck, J.K. (2014). Helen Lawrence: groundbreaking and old-fashioned, all at once [online]. Play Review. The Globe and Mail. Available at: [Accessed 2 October, 2016]


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