Steven Shearer, Andrea Bowers and Stephen Andrews at the Power Plant from December 1 – 10 February, 2008.
VoCA saw the Power Plant’s winter exhibition this weekend. Steven Shearer, whose work takes up the main gallery spaces, is the Vancouver artist who has made a name for himself by making art about death metal music. He was shortlisted for Canada’s Sobey Art Award in 2006.
At first glance, we didn’t find much to like about this exhibition. The walls of the first gallery were hung with works from digital collages detailing seemingly hundreds of small images of 1970s teen idols, to fine drawings of head bangers and richly coloured paintings of stoner rock fans.
Several pieces took the form of archives of song titles, or merchandise gathered from eBay. The work comes across as the document of a middle-American lifestyle that there is no entry point for if you don’t relate to it or aren’t aware of the music. There were large crudely-made collages that looked like something every suburban teen might have on his or her bedroom wall. We thought, Ok these people exist…so what? The gallery text notes that Shearer “celebrates the anger, aggression and creativity that bubble beneath the surface of polite society.” Sure, but was there anything deeper to this work? Anything truly thought-provoking?
We weren’t sure, so we walked through again. This time, we admired the tiny drawings in crayon and ballpoint pen, whose style is reminiscent of those famous Rembrandt etchings. We saw, in his paintings, the colouring and style of the Fauvist painters and of Norweigan painter Edward Munch’s The Scream. There were echoes of the filmic effects of Luc Tuymans – particularly in a lovely landscape painting, washed red as if a gel had been placed in front of a camera.
In one gallery, there was a mysterious metal garden shed, lit from inside. We couldn’t see its point, so we kept walking.
We still weren’t convinced on the collages, so we walked through again. This time, as we approached the second gallery, the sound of a guitar revved up and a hideously loud screeching – emanating from the garden shed – filled the gallery. This guitar solo was triumphant, parent-loathing noise, so loud as to be almost unbearable. It went on for several torturous minutes, while my companion gave a very engaging impromptu performance of air-guitar.
This sound piece was a baroque gesture, a comment on the idea of emotional expression (which is what art is, after all) – modern music that expresses teenage angst-ridden rage. As atrocious as this sound can be to some, it speaks to a culture for whom lack of authenticity is a deep frustration.
All in all, VoCA found it to be a worthwhile exhibition. We’re still not convinced on the collages, though.