Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery
Concordia University
1400, boul. de Maisonneuve West
Montréal (Québec) Métro Guy-Concordia
(514) 848-4750

March 30 - May 20, 2000

Curated by Display Cult
(Jim Drobnick, Jennifer Fisher, Colette Tougas)

        Vernissage: Thursday, March 30 at 6:00 p.m.

Reception at the gallery in conjunction with Uncommon Senses:
Thursday, April 27, 6-8:00 p.m.

Artists: Bosses (Montreal), Kevin Ei-ichi deForest (Montreal), Jean Dubois
(Montreal), Wendy Jacob (Cambridge, MA), Natalie Jeremijenko (New York),
Naomi London (Montreal), Sandra Rechico (Toronto), Claire Savoie
(Montreal), Chrysanne Stathacos (New York)

"Vital Signs" seeks to explore how the non-visual senses are being both
interrogated and reconceived in contemporary artistic practice. This
exhibition held in conjunction with the international event, "Uncommon
Senses: An Interdisciplinary Conference on the Senses in Art and Culture,"
at Concordia University, features artworks which address the subtle but
powerful links between the senses, lived experience and æsthetic meaning.

The title has two metaphorical dimensions: one medical, the other semiotic.
This exhibition aims to take the pulse of a certain type of contemporary
art which exemplifies a shift in sensibility toward the experiential. The
artists featured in this show are engaged in a phenomenological æsthetics
that favours direct sensory experience yet also provides challenges to
social and cultural assumptions about perception. While the non-visual
senses may appear to operate "transparently" in perception, there is a
politics of the senses at work which raises issues about how connections
are formed involving the body, history, memory, representation and culture.

"Vital Signs" also refers to recent conventions of interpreting and
responding to artworks in exclusively visual or linguistic terms. The
uniquely mutable status of artworks incorporating the non-visual senses
calls for a new conceptual framework that can articulate how they function
simultaneously as a material and an idea, a stimulus and a sign, an object
to be interacted with and one that is transformed in the very act of
apprehension. In other words, they are signs with vital properties that
confound the habits of detachment and distance characteristic of
traditional æsthetics.

This exhibition juxtaposes site-specific installations, interactive
sculptures and technology, performance, photography of the invisible, and
painting with atypical substances. Not only are each of the five senses
explored, but also senses not widely recognised and bordering on the
paranormal. In contrast to the sensory calm that pervades the "white cube,"
"Vital Signs" seeks to engage its audience directly via gustation,
olfaction, tactility and sound.

Composed of Éric Daoust, Donald Potvin and Jean-François Potvin, Bosses is
an architectural collaborative that practices an "architecture of
proximity" and foregrounds the experiential qualities of the built
environment. Creating psychologically charged spaces from heterogeneous
combinations of wood, metal, plastic, concrete and other materials (both
new and recycled), their site-specific installations dislodge conventional
notions of architecture as mere "shelter" or "background." Highlighting the
senses of texture, proprioception and kinæsthesis, as well as subtle visual
illusions, their work transforms the object status of buildings into an
immersive stage for visitors' play and discovery.

Returning to Montreal after a two-year stay in Japan, Kevin Ei-ichi
deForest's work examines the senses, especially sound, from a
cross-cultural perspective. Utilising traditional and postmodern items
characteristically associated with Japanese culture­tatami mats, karaoke
machines, plastic food displays, pachinko­deForest explores the politics of
identity through its mediation by communications technology and the
materiality of everyday life.

Jean Dubois' computer installations operate at the increasingly blurred
boundary between the body and technology. Using touch-screens and intimate
bodily imagery, Dubois challenges viewers with interface experiences that
are poetic, humorous and surreal. Intensifying and defusing the feeling of
disembodiment normally associated with computer interactions, his works
centre upon notions of the self embedded in logical and illogical
information networks.

The interactive furniture sculptures of Wendy Jacob require the audience to
be both aggressive and submissive, the controller of another's experience
and passive recipient. No longer merely functional or decorative, her
"squeeze" chairs and sofas engage the sense of touch but connote meanings
at opposite ends of the psycho-social spectrum­they are simultaneously
sadistic and therapeutic.

Working at the crossroads of art and engineering, Natalie Jeremijenko
conducts experiments into the merging of the biological and technological.
Her works range from critiques of the politics of science to playful,
impractical inventions (she has worked for the Bureau of Inverse
Technology). The interactive sculpture present in "Vital Signs" allows
viewers to record audio segments and combine them like "building blocks,"
and her installation with synthetic skin addresses prejudices and
stereotypes inherent to social and scientific classifications of

Naomi London's work has consistently investigated aspects of women's
everyday culture. From knitting to recipe-sharing, from diary writing to
the ways in which knowledge is passed from one generation to another,
London's focus on the products and process of domestic labour contains
elements that are both celebratory and subtly critical. Her contribution to
"Vital Signs" reflects a current interest in food­the creation of a
monumental 48' wall of marmalade.

Sandra Rechico creates environments that confront viewers with extremes of
pleasure and pain. Shards consists of a floor covered in broken glass, upon
which intrepid viewers can walk. Other works implicate the body viscerally,
in both real and symbolic manners. Her installation for "Vital Signs," a
forest of soft, organic stalactites, not only alludes to intestinal
windings, but are scented with herbs utilized in aromatherapeutic
treatments of digestive disorders.

Claire Savoie explores the notion of synaesthesia through sound and visual
installations that map mental and physical experience. The audio
installation presented here contrasts the white cube with the experiential
fullness of the home. Filling the gallery with intermittent sonic
bursts­recordings taken from domestic activities­this installation haunts
the space with all that is customarily repressed: the body, notions of
comfort, attention to survival needs, mortality.

Chrysanne Stathacos is represented by two works. The Wish Machine is a
conventional vending machine transformed into a purveyor of
dream-fulfilling aromatic oils. Drawing from the folk culture of rural
India, and wryly satirising the promises of panacea typically offered by
Western commercial products, the sculpture addresses the belief in scent's
mythological properties to assuage and cure, as well as its provocative
powers to evoke fantasy and transcendence. The second work is a series of
photographs, taken by a newly-developed technology that records an
individual's particular "aura." Going beyond the limits of the traditional
five senses, Stathacos' inquiry into paranormal experiences seeks not only
to question the politics of its marginalization but also to explore its
æsthetic possibilities.

Display Cult

Founded by Jim Drobnick and Jennifer Fisher in 1994, Display Cult is an
open framework for creative and interdisciplinary studies in the visual
arts. It conceives and organizes events such as exhibitions, performances,
panel discussions, conferences, educational workshops, publications and
site-specific happenings. For "Vital Signs" Display Cult is collaborating
with Colette Tougas.

Display Cult is devoted to the interrogation and rethinking of aesthetics
and the practices of display. Its main objective is to focus on artistic
and critical strategies that stretch conventional boundaries of the
aesthetic and that engage with the corporeal aspects of experience. Through
its activities and events, Display Cult aims to creatively merge
disciplines, media and communities and to propose alternative prototypes
for display and aesthetic engagement.

Curatorial projects organized by Display Cult include "CounterPoses," an
examination of "living display," The Servant Problem, a series of tableaux
performances at an historical museum in London. Upcoming projects include
an exhibition on museum intervention, "Museopathy," to be held at the Agnes
Etherington Art Gallery and a number of historical museums in Kingston.


Jim Drobnick is a curator, critic and editor, and has worked in
installation, audio, dance and performance. He works as assistant editor at
Parachute magazine, teaches at Concordia University, and has published on
performance art, video, dance and the visual arts. His present research
focuses on the use of olfaction by contemporary artists.

Jennifer Fisher is a curator, critic and editor, and has worked in video,
dance and performance. She writes on exhibition practices, performance, the
visual arts, museums, collecting and aesthetics. She teaches at McGill and
Concordia Universities and is currently working on a book which considers
the haptic in aesthetic experience. Drobnick and Fisher are editing an
extensive anthology, entitled Living Display (University of Chicago Press,
2001) which will feature essays by international scholars in performance,
art history, dance and cultural studies.

Colette Tougas is interested in various forms of artistic expression,
especially the visual arts, cinema and literature, and has studied in
Communications at Concordia University. Since 1985 she has been managing
editor of the contemporary art magazine Parachute, to which she also
contributes as a writer. She has written texts and interviews for
catalogues, and fiction for literary magazines. She free-lances as a writer
and translator for various cultural organisations, and is currently working
on her second novel.