White Noise

At State Gallery to September 20

White Noise is an experiment in the visual and aural textures of the everyday. It's a bit of a paradox, too, isolating and toning down aspects of our urban lives in order to amp up our awareness of them. Organized by independent curator Patrik Andersson, the show brings together the work of two emerging Vancouver artists, Sarah Mameni and Isabelle Pauwels.

Best known for her highly detailed and realistic drawings of quotidian objects-from cash-register receipts to newspapers to gum wrappers-Mameni has married a conceptual practice of mimesis to the banal particulars of life. To me, such art looks like low-key defiance of the heroic sweep and hot-off-the-psyche swoop of modernism, especially gestural abstraction.

Mameni's current project, a sound installation, is the aural equivalent of her painstaking drawings. It consists of a similar accumulation of disposable minutiae. In this case, the minutiae take the form of radio waves sent out into the ether rather than numbers and letters printed on little strips of white paper. Titled sept 30 - oct 22, 2004, the work simulates, in an oddly amateur way, pop-radio newscasts, advertisements, marine forecasts, advertisements, stock market reports, advertisements, entertainment blurbs, commentary-and advertisements.

Gleaned from actual radio broadcasts during the stated period, the items are all reread and reproduced here by the artist. Some seem authentic and others do not. Weirdly, though, everything sounds the same. The atrocious aural quality and the undifferentiated pile-up of sound bites reduce the actual news to incomprehensibility. White noise. The work occupies the gallery without inhabiting it.

The visual element of the exhibition is provided, with extreme economy, by Pauwels. Currently a graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Pauwels has established her reputation working with architectural themes, again drawing our attention to the ways in which we experience our built environment. The two projects on view continue her ongoing examination of that most banal of urban fixtures, the convenience store-more precisely, the 7-Eleven franchise and its hallmark orange, green, and red stripes.

My first encounter with Pauwels's work was the 7-Eleven-style frieze she installed at the Atelier Gallery a couple of years ago. Here, she has created a minimal-conceptual parade of the same 7-Eleven stripes: 18 identical silk-screen prints, identically framed and hung in an eye-level line on the gallery's south wall. Accompanying them are 36 identical, cellophane-wrapped paperback books in a white display rack. The front and back covers of the books and the 200 pages in between are printed, again, with the same stripes.

Pauwels makes wry references to iconic modernist art history while also focusing our attention on the vapid branding and pseudoaesthetic by which commerce mimics high modernism and speaks to the 24-hour consumer. At the same time, Pauwels's use of serialism seems to mock our commodity-driven economy while insinuating itself into it. Mimicry and subtle insinuation are weapons she and Sarah Mameni employ in the battle against necrotizing urbanitis.