Antonia Hirsch: Anthropometrics / Double Blind

At Republic Gallery until May 28

After visiting Anthropometrics Vol. I & Vol. II, Antonia Hirsch’s photographic exhibition at Republic Gallery, you may be tempted to measure the length of your nose against the first two phalanges of your index finger. Or the distance between the fingertips of your outstretched arms against the height of your body. Each of the intriguing gestures that Hirsch’s models assume in her photos illustrates a folkloric measurement based on the human body.

The exhibition comprises 12 giclée prints and a large-format, limited-edition book. The individuals portrayed find ways of enacting the works’ subtitles, which include twice the circumference of the wrist = the circumference of the neck and the space between the tip of the thumb and the forefinger = eight inches. Both series speak of a time when the world was measured in terms of the human body and exchanges took place face-to-face.

That the models are mostly local artists and designers further inflects the content. It’s possible that this work is as much about portraying Hirsch’s community of friends and colleagues as it is about folk wisdom and body-based measurement. In Vol. I, almost every person is posed in front of a bare wall, in his or her work environment. A hint of something telling in that situation—a sliver of a painting, a rack of clothing, a group of pattern pieces—is usually placed at the extreme right of the frame. In Vol. II, some of the models are posed in what look like stripped-down domestic interiors, and the visual formula is somewhat looser. Still, stairs or doors at the edge of the frame again indicate a portal into some other place or purpose.

In 2006, Hirsch exhibited the images in Anthropometrics Vol. I as large-format posters at the Vancouver Public Library downtown and on construction hoardings and the exteriors of abandoned buildings elsewhere. There, they posed a number of contradictions, including the disjunction between our wildly expensive built environment, whose scientific systems of measurement serve commercial rather than social ends, and the variable human body, with its need for shelter and sustenance.

In a gallery setting, the images lose much of their political punch: they’re more benign, less transgressive. Still, they compel our attention as beautifully composed and executed conceptual portraits.

Antonia Hirsch: Double Blind

At Vancouver Community College, Broadway Campus, ongoing

While aspects of Anthropometrics took the form of a temporary urban intervention, Hirsch has recently completed an ambitious permanent public artwork. Titled Double Blind, it is located in the atrium of the new north building of Vancouver Community College’s Broadway campus. Not far from it is a poster announcing 2009 as the bicentenary of the birth of Louis Braille, the French inventor of the raised system of writing for the blind. The intersection of art and anniversary can’t be incidental. Double Blind, a four-story-high sculptural installation, translates a common eye chart into an immensely magnified sculptural version of Braille, whose dots are big convex mirrors. Sited as it is in the structure that houses VCC’s School of Health Sciences, it alludes to sight and blindness, ability and disability, language systems, and scientific studies. Check it out.