Old English offered three words that could convey a sense of darkness: heolstor meant “hiding place” and evolved into holster. Genip, meaning “mist,” survives in the Dutch phrase “in het geniep,” which refers to secretive, underhanded dealings. Scaeadu meant “shadow.” While modern definitions of darkness pivot on a decided lack or absence–of light, of hope, of progress–these oldest terms are interesting in their suggestion of a presence that may be palpable, but not perceivable, or of information that is present, but not accessible. This conundrum is perhaps best metaphorized through contemporary scientific debates about black holes, the physics of which appear to violate either the theory of general relativity or quantum mechanics when scholars attempt to explain how information is retained (not lost) yet irretrievable once it crosses the black hole’s horizon.
A similar “information paradox” might be said to be expressed in the recent work of Vancouver based artists Megan Hepburn, M.E. Sparks, Daniel Phillips, Carolyn Stockbridge, and Joseph Strohan. Each grapples in different ways with darkness, working to operate at the very threshold of the visible. For these artists, darkness describes not a lack or a void, but a density, a presence: a proliferation of information so dense as to paradoxically produce an obstruction, a near total blockage of vision and entry. As such, their works might also offer a means through which to study some of the current debates around the “persistence” and “limits” of painting and photography, and the agency and anxieties registered by contemporary emergent practitioners working in media with burdensome–one might even argue dark– histories.
Megan Hepburn is a painter whose work reflects the ways that aesthetic and political conditions of late nineteenth century painting have shaped current networks of emotion and thought in the visual realm. She received an MFA from Concordia University in 2010 and a BFA from Emily Carr University in 2005. She was shortlisted for the RBC Painting Competition in 2015 and 2010 and won the Joseph Plaskett Award in Painting in 2010. Recent exhibitions include Voices of Fire at Galerie SAS, Montreal, Murmerer at Studio Baustelle, Berlin, and Painting Enquiry at the Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts. Hepburn lives and works in Vancouver.
Daniel Phillips is an artist living and working in Vancouver. His work, which engages with different media, is preoccupied with perception, relationships, vision, and representational modes. He received an MFA in visual arts from the University of British Columbia (2016) and a BFA from the University of Victoria (2009). In the past year he presented his graduate exhibition, True Crime Drama, at his home in Vancouver, contributed to Jonald Dudd 2 as part of New York design week, and produced drawings for Toast on Jam, a painting publication out of Toronto.
M.E. Sparks received a Master of Applied Arts (2016) from Emily Carr University of Art + Design. She holds a BFA (2013) from NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Sparks was a 2016 RBC Painting Competition finalist as well as the recipient of the 2016-17 Nancy Petry Award (in partnership with the RCA and Joseph Plaskett Foundation). She is currently an artist in residence at Institut für Alles Mögliche (Berlin, Germany) and will be attending GlogauAIR Residency Program (Berlin, Germany) and Arteles Creative Residency (Hämeenkyrö, Finland) later this year. Sparks lives and works in Vancouver.
Carolyn Stockbridge is known for large-scale monochromatic painting and experimental sound that addresses the void, spirit communications and the sacred. Originally from Canterbury, UK, Stockbridge received a B.F.A. from The Emily Carr University of Art and Design and studied at the Art Students League of New York and Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. She is also a film score composer for experimental animation, film, and political documentary. Stockbridge currently lives and works in Vancouver.
Joseph Strohan is a photo-based artist who lives and works in Vancouver. His work is informed by the Situationist idea of psychogeography, together with an interest in the poetic genre of the nocturne, as well as the work of many poets and writers. An avid student of poetry and fiction, he is deeply influenced by writers, most notably Robert Frost and Nathaniel Hawthorne. His dual writing and visual arts practices complement one another in indirect ways. Strohan holds a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art and Design.
Curated by Kimberly Phillips, A Terrible Signal marks the seventh in a series of exhibitions and projects comprising The Troubled Pastoral. The series, conceived of by Mark Lanctôt and Jonathan Middleton, takes on a broad set of themes including pessimism, psychedelia, altered states and drug use, black comedy, science-fiction dystopia, class struggle (within the context of an increasingly marginal or absent middle class), the industrialization of food production, the ragged edge of suburbia, and various forms of visual, aural, or perceptual interference, including smoke, static, and electro-magnetic radiation.
Also part of the series and concurrent with this exhibition is Uncertain Reflections, curated by Mark Lanctôt and Jonathan Middleton at Or Gallery and featuring the work of Ann Lislegaard and Neil Wedman. Uncertain Reflections opens on Friday, February 3, 2017, at 8:00 PM.