Video Sculptures and Installations
July 24 - September 14, 2008
A Pathless Land
by Michael Tweed
We, humans, are a species of storytellers. It is said by some that language separates us from the rest of animal-kind, but is it not rather our obsessive need for stories? From the nursery rhymes and bedtime stories of childhood to the gossip and novels of adulthood, we crave stories. It is this need and its many guises that Geoffrey Shea has taken for the subject of this exhibition, probing the ways in which we individually and collectively interpret the world—the truths as well as the lies, whether unintentional or deliberate.
For A Pathless Land Shea has selected five video-based installations from the many new media projects he has created throughout his artistic career. Gathered into a single open space a visitor’s first impression may be the chaotic chatter of the competing voices and images echoing about the gallery—a verbal hubbub much like that which we experience each day due to the voices and images, both familiar and foreign, vying for one’s attention. Yet as one approaches each piece and concentrates on it, a poetic questioning of the stories we tell others and ourselves begins to reveal itself.
On the two video monitors of Pilgrim’s Progress a brother and sister retell radically different interpretations of a single unique experience they once shared. Shifting between characters and monitors a testament to the thin line between delusion and enlightenment is dutifully recorded by a stenographer in a scenario reminiscent of the absurd tales of Franz Kafka.
Elsewhere a radar antenna sweeps the skies, while embedded in the wall a small video is framed by an electrical outlet. Moving closer to this piece, entitled 1,000 Glances, the viewer discovers that each sweep of the radar disrupts the poetic narrative recounted by a frail woman sitting by a river; while through the static which continually garbles her train of thought seep hope and despair.
Even our attempts to type out our own tale on the virtual typewriter of the Writing Machine are ironically thwarted, as nothing is written and a seemingly arbitrary word or phrase is spoken with each tap of a key. Yet abandoning oneself to the keyboard one might discover a more musical solution to the need to communicate.
Meanwhile, quietly cradled in a satin-lined oak case, Spiral Text continuously swirls on a small video monitor made ever the more precious by the refined settings of its display. Try as one might to discern what is written there, with each rotation the fragments and phrases seem to slip further away escaping comprehension.
But it is in the installation entitled Speech (I Want to Know) that Shea not only reveals himself but also the powerful influence that the medium has on the message. A video documenting an actual political speech given by the artist—and former West Grey councillor—takes the spotlight while a catalogue of bylaws he proposed scrolls past. The seriousness and sincerity of the message however is thwarted by the clever use of a canned laugh track like those commonly heard on television sitcoms.
Stories. Trying to cope with reality we tell story after story, fragments of the life which flows by heedless of our desire to capture it, no matter how strong the need to create a narrative from the spray and eddies. We carry on dictating our lives “as if understanding could substitute for being”—a comforting folly gently revealed by Geoffrey Shea in these five poetic installations.
by Michael Tweed
Geoffrey Shea is a Canadian media artist whose work highlights the intersections and opportunities between technological systems, belief systems and identity. His productions incorporate interactive programming, site-specific installation, mobile phones, a philosophical twist and a critical voice.