On Boundaries, Lines, Paradox and Gregor Turk

The 49th Parallel Project: Gregor Turk
February 14 – March 8, 1997

a response to the exhibition by Douglas William Lewis

Maps, or even more specifically, boundaries are often defined within the physical realm by two or more intersecting regions of space, mass or time; the sociological and psychological metaphors of boundaries are, of course, of an unparalleled importance. Maps have a tendency to appear to take the abstract world and reformulate it into something humanity can digest, in other words, helping us locate our periphery. According to Websters’ Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary a map is “1.b. a representation of the celestial sphere or part of it”. This may convincingly assist in our perception of our corporeal situation, even though cartographical history has shown us that maps can be biased, inconsistent and often antiquated. Yet, somehow we still live with them as one of the methods of defining ourselves as ‘regions’. The 49th parallel, being one of the longest straight ‘lines’ or boundaries, was the premise for much of Gregor Turk’s exhibition at Ace Art.

Gregor’s installation seemed at first to be an enjoyable exploration; his working context and freedom with multi-mediums portray a real journey and process. No less than eighteen clay sculptures appear, depicting what may be an examination of the terrain which Gregor encountered on the journey he embarked upon – crossing the 49th parallel by foot and/or bike. “Procession” was the piece which reflected the most conceptual prowess in this body of work. It consisted of numbered Pyrex beakers which contained an array of soils, seeds and other natural items. They were accumulated from different locations throughout Gregor’s trek via the 49th parallel. The beakers were placed on a shelf roughly at eye level which extended about thirty feet in length. Three feet in front of the shelf a gauze drape disguised the shelf from the viewer’s direct line of vision. On the surface of the drape ,vague outlines of a map were depicted. The placement of the drape forced the viewer to navigate down the passage exploring each item from within a more personal space. It could easily be likened to walking through an unfamiliar vista in between a topography and the elements which make it up. The pathway created a natural flow directing you to the other sculptures and then to the oil pastel wall pieces (which dealt with certain locations in a topographical format). One could not help but feel the conviction invested by the artist in the work. It is more than likely that it was the very same conviction which inspired Gregor on his journey across the unforgiving landscape of the 49th parallel.

Psychophysical parallelism refers to the contention that there is no causal relation between mind and matter. “It is as if the two kinds of events occurred along two parallel tracks without ever touching one another.”(1) A boundary (of any kind ) seems to operate much the same way. I suspect that Gregor Turk’s ideas resonate from within this dynamic. He went to great lengths in recording his journey on the 49th parallel by making a short documentary style film. In the film, he interviewed an aboriginal woman who described the way her community felt about having their land torn away from them when Canada and the United States initiated the 49th parallel.

Townspeople and historians were also interviewed, educating the viewer somewhat, on the traumatic divisiveness and complications of actual boundary making. This was all interesting enough, but I could not help but feel that the body of work in the show was in some way insulated from the experiences the artist managed to record on video. Having said this, I want to refer back to the contention of psychophysical parallelism. Two events did occur. The video (journey), and the art (exhibition). As with psychophysical parallelism, the events, I feel, did not truly touch one another. This leads me to suggest, even though I enjoyed Gregor’s show from a formal perspective (especially the unprejudiced use of mediums), that the patrons of the show could not fully benefit from the concept because the concept and the resolve somehow seemed never truly incubated. This of course may have been the artist’s intention, as in his documentary Gregor mentioned that “in the end there was no neat resolve”. At one point, he also mentioned that his journey explored the “dualities and conflicts of my own internal terrain.” Personally, I was persuaded more by the documentary than the art, at least as far as an internal exploration.

Douglas William Lewis is an art teacher as well as an emerging artist and writer, living and working in Winnipeg.