Femke van Delft: Missing, and Johanna Mercer: The Diana Project

Femke van Delft: Missing

Johanna Mercer: The Diana Project

At the Access Artist Run Centre until January 22

Among the images, text, and sculpture that constitute Missing are street photographs taken in downtown Vancouver at night. Rain has fallen and neon lights reflect lurid red off wet concrete and asphalt. The effect is horrifying, as if the streets had been washed in blood. As if the city were a deserted battleground and the opened veins and arteries of Vancouver's missing women were all that marked the slaughter.

A mixed-media installation by Vancouver artist Femke van Delft, Missing both broadens and complicates our understanding of the conditions within which sexual exploitation of and violence toward women occur. Although this work deplores the vulnerability and marginalization of street-level sex-trade workers and mourns the deaths and disappearances of so many, it also suggests that their fate is an inevitable function, rather than an isolated aberration, of the larger cultural, legal, and economic conditions of contemporary life.

Van Delft's "guerrilla mapping project" involved placing a sculpted pair of woman's legs upright in various locations around Vancouver at night, taking colour photographs of them, and indicating, on a composite, hand-drawn map, where they were temporarily situated. The legs, with their arched feet set on (literal) spike heels, were cast in concrete from department-store hosiery dummies.

Mapping here is a political act: rather than focusing on the Downtown Eastside and the Pickton farm (as the media have done), van Delft has set her sculptures throughout Vancouver, in upscale shopping districts, near City Hall, outside posh bars, law courts, fitness centres, drugstores, toy stores, car dealerships... Each of the 50 photos on view is accompanied by text that cites the location and gathers to it some relevant fact or observation, whether historical, geographical, legal, economic, or sociological. Juxtaposed with an image of a Robson Street shoe shop, for instance, is information concerning the origin of the stiletto heel as a fetish tool in Victorian brothels. A shot of the concrete legs standing on a traffic calmer is accompanied by a description of the City's attempt to interrupt car traffic related to street-level prostitution in the West End during the early 1980s.

Among the subjects that van Delft's images and text cumulatively address are our culture's systemic misogyny and its dehumanizing and fetishizing of girls and women; the conditions that have forced Vancouver's sex workers onto unsafe streets; and the hypocrisies of social and legal attitudes toward prostitution. Missing is compelling and unsettling.

Accompanying it is Johanna Mercer's short digital film, "The Diana Project". Projected (in sometimes difficult viewing conditions) on a wall at the front of the gallery, the work conflates van Delft's guerrilla imagery, the myth of Artemis, and Mercer's long-simmering fury over police and city hall's protracted indifference to Vancouver's missing women. This is a rough and disturbing allegory whose symbols don't always make sense: the most brutal assault here is committed by a woman upon another woman; what men ultimately are seen doing--furtively making off with the concrete legs--seems comic by comparison. As with van Delft's installation, however, the film reminds us that we're all complicit. There's blood on our streets.