Immerse yourself in Jeremy Shaw’s “Phase Shifting Index”

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      By Julia Dumbrell

      Art aficionados turned from their spectacular golden-hour vantage point of Vancouver and filed into a lightless exhibition room to witness the opening of Jeremy Shaw’s Phase Shifting Index at The Polygon Gallery. The North American premiere of this work was highly anticipated: Shaw has received international accolades for his immersive style, which throws audiences’ belief systems into an interpretive limbo.

      The artist grew up in North Vancouver, which gave the evening a distinctly community feel. Shaw’s family, old friends, and even his first mentor—a high school art teacher—were all in attendance, as were many of Vancouver’s local artists and creatives. Shaw further embraced the community by collaborating with Vancouver DJ Konrad Black on the exhibit’s 36-minute immersive soundscape. The Polygon’s chief curator Monika Szewczyk spoke with the Straight about Shaw’s work, calling this an opportunity for “local audiences to experience [one of] Vancouver’s most internationally-lauded artists.” 

      The piece incorporates seven screens showing autonomous groups performing modern dances—from popping and locking to skanking and trust exercises. The footage is used as a means to explore the potentials of physically altering reality. “The work’s aim is nothing short of expanded consciousness—historic, cultural, sensorial, and imaginative,” Szewczyk said of the exhibit, which is Shaw’s largest production to date.

      Shaw, who is now based in Berlin, first showed this work at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2020, but it was only up for a few weeks before the plug was pulled by COVID. Now in its 2023 renaissance, Shaw’s intentional use of outmoded 20th-century media once again resonates with audiences—especially in increasingly tech-driven cities like Vancouver.

      “While today we are always immersed in media, we are rarely conscious of its complex effects on our sense of the world,” Szewczyk noted. By employing various video formats like 16-millimetre film, VHS, and Hi-8, Szewczyk says, Shaw explores technology’s impact on viewers through “experimentation with image formats that today feel expired but, paradoxically, become portals to the future.” 

      There was a palpable energy in the gallery room as Shaw’s exhibit wound to its spectacular close. As promised by The Polygon’s introduction to the exhibit, Phase Shifting Index “comes undone in an ecstatic chaos that lands the entire seven-channel installation in a cross-temporal choreographic sync.”

      It was a rare experience to be fully present, undistracted by an eighth screen as phones were silenced in pockets. Mounting to an imparting end, the exhibit captured a universal feeling of awe felt by those in attendance. Szewczyk agreed: “visitors will continue to be transfixed and even transformed by Shaw’s work.”

      Jeremy Shaw: “Phase Shifting Index”

      Where: The Polygon Gallery

      When: June 23 to September 24

      Cost: By donation

      Instagram: @polygongallery