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Shaping the world around you

New exhibit asserts people’s control over public spaces

At first glance it’s hard to know what to make of Victoria Stanton’s current photo exhibition, (Being) One Thing at a Time. Individually, each of the seven photos in the exhibit appeared simple, almost boring. Indeed, some of them wouldn’t stand out in a family photo album your little brother made. Half of the photos were taken on a digital camera. All of them feature normal -looking people in normal-looking places. It’s only when all the photos are considered together that Stanton’s art begins to make sense.

Stanton’s exhibition, on display at Corrid’Art de Compagnie, is part of a larger body of her work responding to public space in Montreal. Stanton aims at “highlighting the mundane…turning what we take for granted into something artful and meaningful…to find (or uncover) the ‘performative’ in the everyday.” And, with very few photos, she does just that.

(Being) One Thing at a Time proposes to “open up a dialogue between the body and the space it traverses,” and it is Stanton’s attention to this dialogue that turns average people in average places into expressions of visual language – a language that alters drastically depending on place and space.

In one photo, a group of eight people (including Stanton) feed each other soup across the table in a restaurant. In their subtle, relatively impolite way, they alter their relationship with the environment with this simple action. “When we feed each other, as adults…not for one bite but for an entire meal, we are creating another dynamic and visual language that seeps into the environment around us,” Stanton said. What stands out is not the gesture, but the gesture in relation to its surrounding space. In a public place, this simple and infantile action appears transgressive and slightly unethical. It’s hard to pinpoint just what about this is incongruous – the place, for passive-aggressively imposing such tacit rules, or the people, for so passive-aggressively violating them.

Similarly, another piece shows groups of couples kissing on a sidewalk, a street corner, and what could be a café. The background is indistinct and ordinary. But the couple’s collective gesture, though simple, looks discordant against it. Removed from its typical context, kissing appears ludicrous.

In a third photo, 11 colourfully dressed people are shown in a grassy park, lying awkwardly on bicycles as if they had all fallen off and promptly gone to sleep. A line of text beneath it reads, “We make a small blanket of our bicycles and bodies, warming our skins and the side of the mountain. Does the grass feel us? Does the sky notice?” Not necessarily; but certainly the people do.

Stanton’s art emphasizes precisely that point – that to us, no space is neutral. Spaces and places exists to us as sense data and, later, memory. Like people, they hold memories and emotions. And in the same way that we influence people, we influence public space.

In another photo, for example, four people hold doormats saying “Welcome” on a sidewalk in front of a carpet store. A mundane place becomes cordial through a simple human action. This is the highlight of Stanton’s art: more than anything, the photos emphasize human freedom in space and place. And they did it in such a simple and subtle way that they emphasized the degree to which this freedom is easy. Hold up signs by a carpet store and it becomes a place for gathering, kiss on a sidewalk and it becomes a place for romance, fall onto the grass and it becomes sensual and curious. Subjectivity manipulates objectivity.

Stanton’s art captures human possibility – taking the given, inert world, and making it better, more humane. It depicts with witty simplicity the degree to which each act is public and powerful, and the degree to which even the most banal places and spaces are responsive and instrumental. Places are malleable, Stanton tells her viewers. We have creative power over them.

(Being) One Thing at a Time is on display at Corrid’Art de Compagnie (6323 St. Hubert). For more information visit