Moodyville taps into collective urban memory


At Presentation House Gallery until June 15

The title of this group show, Moodyville, is taken from the earliest industrial settlement on Burrard Inlet. According to Presentation House Gallery curator Helga Pakasaar, allusions to this short-lived North Shore sawmill community, founded in 1872, jostle “collective urban memory”. Writing in the exhibition’s brochure, she adds that the idea of Moodyville as a vanished place “suggests how civic identity changes as visions of the future are imagined in relation to a barely-remembered past”.

Six of the seven artists in the PHG show have lived on the North Shore at some point. All were commissioned to create new work in response to the Moodyville theme, and subjects range from tree stumps and suburban houses to a grain elevator and a paintball park. All the photo-based art on view is smartly conceived and executed.

Karin Bubas’s silent DVD projection, Afternoon Croquet (Moodyville), depicts a slow-motion game of croquet enacted in Victorian costumes. With references to archival Moodyville photographs and a painting by Edouard Manet, this work poses an absurd gentility against wild nature. As in European fairy tales, the dense, mist-shrouded forest that borders the croquet lawn evokes uncontrolled forces—darkness and danger beyond the reach of civilization.

Jim Breukelman, Mike Grill, and Dan Siney also make art at the permeable interface between nature and culture. Siney’s City Moon gives us a moody night sky viewed through overhead power lines. Chair-lift and bridge lights, floating in the darkness of his Sky Bridge, resemble distant constellations. These large, grainy photographs effectively play clichés of lyricism off of confrontational technique.

An exception to the nature-culture dialogue is Jeremy Shaw’s DVD projection with sound, Best Minds Part I, which extends his preoccupation with youth cultures and the seeking of ecstatic states. Shot at a straight-edge dance in North Vancouver, the work records casually dressed young men in a frenzy of leaping, twisting, and turning. With their arms and legs wildly swinging, the dancers employ extreme activity and ramped-up levels of testosterone, adrenaline, and endorphins, to achieve an altered condition of being. We don’t hear the music they’re dancing to; instead, Shaw’s sombrely mesmerizing soundtrack adds aural texture to this compelling piece.

Presentation House itself is the subject of two works here, Babak Golkar’s House of Sulphur and Kyla Mallett’s series of black-and-white photos of a staged séance. Golkar’s intervention, in which he and a team of assistants covered the faí§ade of the building with bright-yellow chalk, alludes to the monumentlike sulphur piles on the north shore of Burrard Inlet. The work seems to play with the “presentation” part of Presentation House—false fronts, stage sets, the artifice of cultural production, and the disguises of commerce. It also suggests the many uses of this 1902 building, which has served as a school, a municipal hall, and a police station.

Mallett’s hilarious “documentation” of a nighttime séance on the allegedly haunted premises of Presentation House sends up the notion of spirit of place while spoofing popular culture’s appetite for the paranormal. More seriously, Mallett’s ghostly apparitions and streams of “ectoplasm” acknowledge anonymous past lives entangled with the shifting functions of this structure. Its present state as a cultural centre is also in flux, with the gallery hoping to find a new space in the near future. As with nature and culture, the divide between past and present is a porous one.