944 Queen St. West
September 9 to 21, 2014
An integral function of the work of Toronto-based Brett Despotovich is its resistance to apprehension. His precise and simple drawings are concise in form, restrained in palette and particular in material but, despite the relative straightforwardness of their production, the compositions remain elusive. Outwardly, this is due to Despotovich’s choice in materials: roughly half the work is on reflective mylar, its mirrored surface scored with lines that bend the flimsy material convexly and concavely, revealing a drawing through the warping of the gallery’s light and space, while the other half is painted with washes of raw, pulverized minerals that temper the deep, unremitting black of their cinefoil platform. Viewing the work becomes quite an involved process of positioning and repositioning oneself, leaning in and standing back, while parts of the image appear and recede. In some works, the room reflected on the mirrored surfaces obliterates the drawn marks while in others the material of the marks themselves cannibalizes the light through which the imagery would be visible.
In addition to this physical obfuscation, Despotovich plays with specific yet ambiguous subjects. Titles like Backbone of Night and Singularity (all works 2014) point towards cosmic phenomena, but others like Avril 14 are less certain though still evocative. Laniakea III and First Light could be read as visualizations of data, while the diptych Syzygy is diagrammatic. There are visual references to the zodiac (♌ [Leo]), Vodou (Crossroads & Center Post), and Nietzsche (Thou Shalt), and materially to alchemy. This imbricated referentiality comes to the fore in the exhibition’s title, which for the sake of layout we’ll shorten to bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner…! Far from gibberish, it’s the concatenation of onomatopoeic words for the sound of thunder that appears on the 15th through 17th lines of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. As with Joyce, Despotovich’s oeuvre operates allusively, drawing from diverse subjects but refraining from settling finally on any one, floating instead in a referential superposition. Like Joyce’s multilingual concatenation of references, Despotovich’s amalgams of fugitive imagery are an obfuscation of information, a gap that arrests and informs the way the viewer consumes the work. The peculiar physical characteristics disrupt familiar modes of viewing by preventing a shortcut for interpretation or the affixing of meaning (what Heidegger called Gestell, translated as enframing), instead demanding literal space and time. Two of the simplest drawings on display, Crossroads & Center Post and Cardinal Points & Points Between seem to refer to and disrupt this process of situating and centring. Presented with an excess of information − the bending of light, the reflection of the room, the warping of space − the ability to actually calibrate to centre is far from given and there is no recourse for a ‘single way of revealing.’ In a sense, then, Despotovich’s sly refusal to produce a straightforward image generates more information than it apparently conceals.
This puzzling relationship of body to artwork augments the beauty of the production. Despite their austere construction, the works are rich and affective. The imagery is clearly extensively planned and executed painstakingly; the mylar drawings, without colour or tone, demand only sharp and well-formed gestures lest they look accidental, while the elemental accretions of salt and iron oxide trace their entire passage across cinefoil − every brushstroke is for keeps. The work engages a minimalism that isn’t a reduction of form, but a precision; an abstraction in the original sense of the word, being representational, but only just.
Benjamin Bruneau is an artist and writer based in Montreal (Tiohtià:ke), on Mohawk and Abenaki land. He is the Reviews Editor of Magenta Magazine.