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Corin Sworn
Vancouver Contemporary Art Gallery
555 Nelson Street, Vancouver, British Columbia V6B6R5, Canada
November 18, 2011 - January 15, 2012

Looking Back at Looking Back
by Aaron Carpenter

Corin Sworn’s Endless Renovation is being packed up and shipped off to its next destination, I don’t know where that is. Its fragile elements; a few slide projectors, some vases, lanky shelving and drapes as well as a curious synchronizing device known as ‘The Nugget’ have been carefully placed into crates, labeled and rolled into white vans by young men. The gallery space that situated it returns briefly to its neutral state, before the next artist's uncompromising vision is manifested upon its floors.  

I wouldn’t normally find myself feeling particularly wistful about a few sheets of drywall and the transient installations coming and going between them, but viewing one twenty-minute cycle of Endless Renovation has a sneakily softening effect on ones disposition. The piece examines the concept of nostalgia while simultaneously provoking its effects.

The core of the work is a sequence of slides rotating through several projectors, each cycling through a selection of slides Sworn retrieved from a dumpster (in the UK it is called a skip). Using these images to collate a tangential lecture of sorts, the monologue is part narrative, part conjecture, and includes poetic passages and literary ‘nuggets’ such as this one from Nabakov:

The present is only the top of the past, and the future doesn’t exist.

The slides’ images are of an intimate yet impersonal character. They feature strange bits of machinery; the speaker proposes that these are prototypes for a different type of clock, suggesting the previous owner was an inventor, engineer or tinkerer, perhaps. Light leaking from the slides traverse the room converging and bouncing amongst the physical elements of the installation; retro glass shelving units retro-fitted with mirrors, and colored glassware. The gallery’s neutrality is compromised, becomes domestic as though the artist has used it as a mantle. While the viewer considers these representations of time the installation boasts an experiential, delicate consideration of light. An obvious and obviously wonderful metaphor emerges: do our projections of time behave as beams of light that sear through one another, bending, refracting, paddling, shuddering, and disappearing forever?

Sworns’ inter-dimensional installation is not without specific referents. Dispersed like clues, her voice intones scenes from Richard Linklater’s idealized autobiographical recollection Dazed and Confused, musing on the placidity of the past and the film’s invocation of suspended adolescence. The whirrs and clicks of the slide projectors is a lulling sound reminiscent of classrooms and family gatherings, and a certain woeful recognition of modernism is clear as well. It was this latter element, and recitations of varying definitions of nostalgia from varying sources that led me, perhaps facetiously, to a particular scene from the first series of Mad Men, wherein ad executive Don Draper pitches a concept for Kodak’s new circular slide projector, which he thereby dubs the ‘Carousel’.

In the scene, Draper describes nostalgia as an ache, a longing for a time when we were once loved. He flicks through slides of his own idyllic family in the darkened boardroom during his pitch, leaving nary a dry eye in the house.

Draper's pitch offers a distillation of the kind of historical anesthetic that the larger serial offers, a romanticized, hegemonious view of nostalgia. The pitch offered by Sworn, though a much softer sell, is a refracted one, that posits nostalgia as a class and gender specific affliction, and possibly, completely and irretrievably counterfeit.

Aaron Carpenter

Corin Sworn, Detail from Endless Renovation, 2011, Photo: Scott Masey. Courtesy of the artist & Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver. 

Posted by Aaron Carpenter on 1/24/12 | tags: installation

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