Yedda Morrison: Rapid motion of the false stars

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      At Republic Gallery until August 18

      The sumptuous beauty of Yedda Morrison's photographs belies their sharp edge of social criticism. A San Francisco artist temporarily based in Montreal, Morrison has created a series of inkjet prints by scanning her subjects–arrangements of artificial flowers–directly into her computer. (We saw a local variation on this kind of camera-free photography in Evan Lee's exhibition at Presentation House Gallery last year.) A crowd of contemporary questions and art-historical references is compressed into this small show.

      Ranging from monumental to intimate in scale, many of Morrison's prints are reminiscent of 17th-century Dutch still-life paintings. Luminous, lush, delicately articulated flowers and subtly coloured leaves and stems stand against–or dissolve into–a dense, dark background. With its crowd of yellow, off-white, and pale-orange flowers, Bioposy #1 (Yellows) is especially close to its historical precedents. Through Morrison's extreme formal and technical control, a 2007 photo of fake chrysanthemums, daffodils, and anemones reads remarkably like a 1665 Jan Davidsz de Heem oil rendering of actual flowers. Only a few elements in this still life–plastic berries, a plastic lemon–are conspicuously fake and unarguably contemporary.

      Fakery becomes a larger and more explicit element in later works in the series, such as Bioposy #4 (Underwires) and Bioposy #6 (Red Devil Green Beast), which reveal the plastic stems, coated wires, and punctured mounts usually hidden within arrangements of artificial flowers.

      Implicit in the floral still-life tradition is the dialectic between life and death. The delicate or robust vitality of the cut flowers depicted in the image is posed against our certain knowledge that they are dying. In Morrison's show, the fact of artificiality complicates the life-death seesaw. As she writes in her artist's statement, the making of plastic or fabric flowers parallels the act of taking a photograph, revealing as they both do the human desire to arrest and preserve an image, a moment, an experience.

      But what, Morrison's work asks us, does it mean to leave fake flowers in graveyards and at roadside shrines? How is it that the ancient and profoundly human impulse to make a living offering to the dead has been compromised by a plastic, never-dying version of that offering? The artist takes the "blurred boundary" between actuality and artifice as symptomatic of our alienation from the natural world, and of our deepening environmental crisis.

      Metaphors of a lost Eden (including a faux-stone fountain set on the gallery floor) don't entirely convince us here, since Morrison's strongest metaphor is the still-life tradition, not the garden tradition. Nevertheless, this is an impressive show.