The festive torpor has come to an end and the galleries along Tecumseh Street are now open.
Birch Contemporary – Janice Gurney, Renee Van Halm
Punctuation in Translation, (Marcus Aurelius meditation 10.17 translation by Meric Casaubon, 1634) by Janice Gurney
Artwork by Janice Gurney
The snapshot above actually functions as a continuation of the conceptual art piece, called Translations & Alliances, by Janice Gurney, on display at the Birch Gallery.
And now for the explanation:
Janice Gurney begins with an ancient text by Marcus Aurelius. She isolates the punctuation in various English translation of the text. She literally makes paintings of the punctuation marks. Then she lends the paintings, framed and under glass, to colleagues. The colleagues place the paintings in offices somewhere and Janice Gurney photographs the original paintings in their new context, including incidental reflections on the glass and adjacent objects. Then the photograph of one of the paintings is included in a show and Janice Gurney photographs the photograph of the original painting in a new context, including incidental reflections on the glass and adjacent objects…..and on and on, like a hall of mirrors.
Reflection: Production Still (ArtLAB Gallery, 2009) by Janice Gurney
Meditation in Your Office, (M. C.’s office, University of Toronto, 2006) by Janice Gurney
This piece is initially mystifying and would remain rather opaque without an understanding of the back story. For example, what are the numbers near the floor, beneath the paintings (and photographs of paintings)?
In fact 1634 is the date of the translation, the punctuation of which is depicted in the painting.
I found that putting the effort into figuring out this work is worthwhile. Through all the commotion with the photographs, punctuation marks, reflective glass and whatnot a real sense of this haunting piece of poetry and its journey through history emerges. The delicate idea of how a translator hundreds of years ago decides to place a comma stays with me. The words – a meditation – are about the brief and fleeting nature of any one thing. Paradoxically this one thing, an intangible idea, has endured.
The original 1634 translation of the Marcus Aurelius text is below:
XIX. Ever to represent unto thyself; and to set before thee, both the general age and time of the world, and the whole substance of it. And how all things particular in respect of these are for their substance, as one of the least seeds that is: and for their duration, as the turning of the pestle in the mortar once about.
In the handout that accompanies the show Janice Gurney provides complete texts of the subsequent translations through time. Excerpted below are a few examples of various translations of the original “turning of the pestle in the mortar” phrase:
1701 “turning of a Wimble”
1747 ‘”twinkling of an eye”
1862 “turning of a gimlet”
2002 “twist of a tendril”
2009 “one brief turning in air”
I wonder if the band Kansas was thinking about Marcus Aurelius when they wrote their 1978 hit “Dust in the Wind”?
Kansas, in the seventies
Concurrently on display at Birch Contemporary is a show of paintings, called Depth of Field, by Renee Van Halm.
It’s an interesting pairing of artists: Whereas Janice Gurney’s show explores elusive concepts of past and present Renee Van Halm’s paintings are all about the visual “now.”
Complex Curves by Renee Van Halm
Tongue & Groove by Renee Van Halm
The paintings consist of pure, intense swaths of colour enclosed in sensuous curves on a background of fragmented depictions of interiors. Renee Van Halm is on top of the language of desirable objects and she plays with the fracturing and recombining of those conventions with delicious success. In fact, I immediately wanted to take one home, hang it over a white Carrara marble fireplace…maybe there would be an Italian greyhound slumbering in front….I’d be wearing Prada and a vintage Jaguar would be parked out front…
Rose by Rene Van Halm