Erin Shirreff's solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery will be the first presentation of her work exclusively dedicated to her films and videos. It is a notable and somewhat unexpected focus that may seem counter to Shirreff's investment in the language and materiality of sculpture. She often defines herself as a sculptor, but this identification has less to do with the presentation of physical objects as it does with looking at our experience of objects - how sharing the same space with a ‘thing' varies from looking at its representation.
In her work in general, Shirreff sets these divergent experiences in opposition, reproducing sculpture as images or making sculpture that carries the property of a photograph. In Knives (2008), she modeled and carved a variety of knife -like forms from clay and plasticine, which she presented only as reproductions in a series of black and white photographs. And her most recent sculptures made from ash and cement resemble photographs with solid fronts that at other angles reveal themselves to be only an inch thick. Shirreff creates an antagonistic relationship between the two experiences, challenging one against the other -- testing which better holds the viewer's attention.Shirreff's own investment in sculpture began from mediated encounters, viewing and questioning the properties of sculpture through photographic reproduction. She first began to consider the particular properties and potency of these reproductions through the modernistic sculpture of Tony Smith. As a photograph Shirreff became engaged with his sculpture, New Piece so much so that she made the pilgrimage to see it in person. Her experience of the work in real space didn't sustain the same level of engagement, creating some disappointment, making her question the limitations of sculpture as well as her own abilities as a viewer. In her words, 'It left me wondering whether the encounter, sharing the same material space as the object, was somehow more difficult, perhaps more intimidating, complicated, or somehow overwhelming, and that I didn't equal it. What was clear was that I wasn't able to let myself be as absorbed into the physical encounter as I was by the experience of the image. That remove offered by the reproduction opened up this contemplative space.'Shirreff's exhibition at the CAG with its focus on her video work uses duration to create this contemplative space. Each of the five videos presented begin with one image that is then altered in some manner, transformed by environmental circumstances like tracking the light of day or in sequencing slight alterations of the image. The videos are subtle evolutions built from an accumulation of stills or a durational tracking of a static shot. They hold an animated quality to them and transmit no sound. Many of the videos have a central feature, focusing on a building, sculpture or landscape. Her most recent work Lake is an image of Lake Okanagan. BC. where Shirreff grew up and her family still lives. The image is from a late 70s tourism magazine and has a hand painted quality. For this work Shirreff uses subtle shifts in colour and light, digitally and photographically altering the original image to both hold and change the viewer's attention.These sometime minute inconsistences can be found in all of Shirreff's videos.
Some alterations highlight the qualities of the original photograph, revealing dust on the image's surface or the glossy quality of the paper, giving the photograph object qualities. In drawing attention to the material properties of the photograph, Shirreff builds a tension between the subject of the image and the formal values of its representation. Whether it is Roden Crater or the United Nations Building in New York, the thing or scene being represented loses its central focus as Shirreff shifts emphasis onto the image with its own intrinsic qualities.The exhibition is presented in collaboration with Carleton University Art Gallery and Agnes Etherington Art Centre, collectively marking the first comprehensive exhibition of Shirreff's work in Canada. Each venue presents unique exhibitions, drawing out varied strands in her rich body of work, and have come together to produce her first monograph. The publication features essays by Sandra Dyck and Jan Allen and an interview with the artist by Jenifer Papararo.