Critical Distance

A Bird in the Hand: Alex Poruchnyk
September 19 – October 12, 1997

a response to the exhibition by Grant Guy

On Opening Night. . .

A Voice In The Dark: “It is too much to take in all at once.”

Tricia Wasney Wrote In The Guest Book: “I liked (and didn’t like) being distracted, wanting to see everything, not wanting to miss anything.”

Is this not Life, in both serenity and in panic?

Nature, with all the poetic accolades consecrated to it, can be so intense one feels insignificant when enveloped by its powers. But on the other hand, in spite of its foreboding threat, Nature offers us a sense of Place; we are comforted by our location within its overwhelming presence. That is what the Night Sky of the Prairies and the Big Sky of Alberta and Montana do for me – I feel equally frightened by Nature and empowered by its force. Life ebbs with beauty.

But Nature is not the only unbridled law which governs because, on the other hand, there are the laws and conditions imposed by Humanity; laws and conditions which generate chaos and panic. It is this engendered chaos and panic which severs our interpersonal contacts, disconnecting phone links, leaving us shouting into a Kafka void. It is this disruption, unattended to and piled one upon another like razor blades, that causes us to rip our hair out, to slam our head against a brick wall or, in the most extreme and desperate situation, fire a gun off down Portage Avenue. Life ebbs with ugliness.

Alex Poruchnyk’s A Bird In The Hand confronts us like Existence. We are drawn to a drama pregnant with secrets and codes on one monitor. At the instant we begin to think we are connecting with this drama our attention is arrested by another drama formulating on another monitor, overtured by a mooing cow or rolling steel pressing down on a steel track. We move to the second monitor. Again, unfolding in an Universe where dice is the house game, we are distracted by the images emerging from six other locations in the sculpted environment. We scurry from monitor to monitor, not wanting to miss anything, but, of course, in the laws and conditions of Nature and Humanity, we do. Sometimes we gravitate toward a crowd of people huddled around a monitor. We must see what they are seeing, but we arrive too late. The image has moved on, or there remains only the residue of the aftermath. The sounds and images are fleeting and confound us. Yet we persist to find meaning. Life ebbing with beauty and ugliness.

Some find comfort moving with the crowd. Five heads may be better than one. Others feel discomfort and set out on an independent path only to discover they are part of a another crowd, or have become a kernel or a magnet for a new crowd. Still the clues and codes to ravelling the secrets elude us.

But no matter what path we take we are touched intellectually, emotionally and physically by Poruchnyk’s A Bird In The Hand. We feel its power under our feet and above our heads. The sculpting of light and sound rocks us, moves us or physically disturbs us by the confluence of images and sounds; all positive responses for a mirror projection of Existences which encompasses us. Life ebbing with beauty and ugliness.

On one hand, A Bird In The Hand, based on a cursory glance, is bleak and disparate Existence, laded with loss and the inability for human contact. The sex trade unfolds here. There is danger in the blindness of night over there. Male callousness behind us. A disregard for Nature beside us. Life is a phone link severed, and faint and distant voices scream out syllables in the Kafka void.

A Bird In The Hand becomes an indictment. An indictment of God or an indictment of something of our own making becomes one and the same. An anger is clarioned. Life ebbing with ugliness.

But this is only on one hand. Poruchnyk’s ambitious installation, in spite of its portrait of a bleak condition, possesses an undercurrent of optimism. At times A Bird In The Hand becomes a secular Psalms. A small ‘s’ spirituality. But we have to look for the beauty under the disfiguring skin. Sweep away the debris, with a broom or our hands. Human contacts are registered, but these human contacts are simple and quiet. They occur unpretentiously; at a railway crossing, a mysterious phone call in the kitchen of a restaurant, and in the coming together of the lowest in rank. The Hoodoos persist. Their voices are genuine and compassionate. Hope emerges in conflicting environments. Life ebbing with beauty.

But where do we find the crossword clues to decipher Poruchnyk’s complex narrative. At first we might feel the answer lies in the video projection curling up toward the ceiling of the gallery. The video projection seems to be the foundation to A Bird In The Hand, or, as a student from the School of Art at the University of Manitoba noted, the sixth sense for the work, a base for grounding. Much of the secular Psalm derives from these images – the cosmology of A Bird In The Hand. Or do we look somewhere else?

We can investigate the threads of A Bird In The Hand like the police with its plainclothes detectives, photography units, ballistic squads and forensic labs. We can also ferret the clues individually. In A Bird In The Hand a private detective, reminiscent of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe but with a computer and futon, intimate with the sea of disparateness, offers a possible resolution. He appears to be an indifferent participant, cold and unmoved, but he is not. He is as familiar with his client as he is with his cigarette dangling from his lips. He forays into the bleak Existence, knows what its sweat smells like, his hands do get dirty. But he also affords the time to stand on the periphery to draft the landscape.

To ravel the clues we must be the detective. It is on the periphery that the crossword clues are discretely whispered. They emerge on the monitor which speaks to the corner like a truant child. However, without expedition into the environment sculpted by light and sound (rocked, moved or physically disturbed), rich with human perspiration, sullied hands and moments of quiet simplicity, the crossword clues remain mute. We must become the private detective of A Bird In The Hand for nothing can be revealed to us without participation and risk before the analytical contemplation of a cat.


Grant Guy is a performance and theatremaker, based in Winnipeg.