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"The Zone of Conventional Practice and Other Real Stories" is an exhibition (and book) of contemporary narrative photography created to recognize the activity of Canadian photo-related art in the 1980's. This decade has been significant both for art and photography as one where the boundaries between the two disciplines have begun to disintegrate. More importantly it is one very much influenced by this same conflation in communications, social, psychoanalytical, literary and aesthetic theories. "The Zone of Conventional Practice and Other Real Stories" combines the works of established and lesser known photographers, artists, and writer to contextualize this period within the common ground of narrative.
To different degrees and in different ways the work in "The Zone of Conventional Practice and Other Real Stories" are concerned with narrative in relationship to power and authority. While many of the works here examine the function and effects of narrative as it is perceived within social and psychological experience, and as it manifests itself concretely in social and cultural production, others utilize narrative forms to relate and restate stories of the human situation.
Eldon Garnet's Heavy Industry, a picture-history recounting the contest of human evolution from the primitive to the corporate, can be seen as a point of critical departure for the other works in the exhibition.
In Robert Moore's Harmon, a contemporary narrative of the continuing social and economic relationship is told through the personal history of the family snapshot album. Jamelie Hassan's The Mukharabat State or Zenobia's Wall, a scroll of photographs, diary entries, watercolours and archeological fragments, describes the human struggle for power in specific and concrete terms. "Mukharabat are the information-collection/control agents (from the arabic work Khabr, news)", encountered during the artist's visit home to the Middle East.
The authority of narrative as it occurs in the literature of science, history and popular culture and the evident male orientation of this domain, comes under investigation in the works of Nicole Jolicoeur, Susan McEachern and Nina Levitt. Injecting a footnote into the biography of Jean-Martin Charcot, Jolicoeur insists on the recognition of the presence and influence of the feminine (here, specifically Madame Charcot), in history. In the same vein, Susan McEachern's photographic project—On Living at Home—examines both historical and contemporary literature and other media from a women's perspective commenting on the impression made on the domestic sphere by the workings of the "real" world. And Nina Levitt representing popular romance book jackets as mediated "negatives", satirically addresses the conventional representation of female sexuality, in particular lesbian sexuality, in popular culture.
In a critique of the traditional linear, closed narrative form, many of the works of "The Zone of Conventional Practice and Other Real Stories" use non-conventional structures. Angela Grauerholz works with single image narratives in portfolio. Within the space of each of the individual works, the familiarity of vast generality set against the irony of obvious photographic and literal specificity creates an ambiguity that invites an infinite number of narrative possibilities. Raymonde April marrys similarly ambiguous photographs to very specific story-lines, which together create alternative interpretations. Neither story nor image dominate. No one meaning is definitive. The same effect is achieved in Cheryl Sourkes spatially developed collage works. The "story" and its meaning(s) remain open to personal interpretation. In the works of Blake Fitzpatrick and Sorel Cohen, the use of pairs of temporally and contentually disjunctive photographs speak to and of narrative perception. Absolute meaning is deferred.
The authority of any given photographic representation is the subject of Arni Haraldsson's and Sylvie Readman's projects. The influence of photographic representations is described in Michel Campeau's "Les Tremblements du coeur". When Haraldsson and Readman isolate individual elements of a single photograph the presence and importance of all the parts in the interpretation of the "original" image is exaggerated. For Readman the unpeopled photograph becomes animated and assumes monumental significance. For Haraldsson the social documentary image he has chosen is deconstructed to reveal the elements of the script of representation. For Michel Campeau the combination of images from his personal and professional archives with the imagery from the archives of "the history of photography" acknowledge the effect of photography on the construction of one's personal identity.
Even while the artists here seek a departure from convention, paradoxically the creation and reception of a narrative is dependant not only on the acknowledgment of convention, but as well on its utilization—in form or content. The title, taken from Recent Theories of Narrative by Wallace Martin: "conventional practice"—a zone lying somewhere between literature and life (between art and experience), or encompassing both—as a formative element in the genesis of narrative", refers to the conceptual and formal issues central to the works of this project and to this paradox that governs them.
The book The Zone of Conventional Practice and Other Real Stories will be published this spring.
- Cheryl Simon
Simon, Cheryl, "Cheryl Simon talks about The Zone of Conventional Practice and Other Real Stories", Views, vol. 7 no. 3, (September 1990), Published by the Toronto Photographers Workshop, p. 6 -16.
Gravel Claire, « Une photographie canadienne particulièrement riche », Le Devoir, 8 avril 1989, Montréal.
Dion, François, « Bain D'arrêt, entre la photographie et la narration, l'art s'ébat en toute liberté » Voir, 6 avril 1989.
Varty, Alex, "A Thickly Intellectual Zone", The Georgia Straight, 19 septembre 1989.
Wilkie, Bob, "Telling Pictures, Revealing Stories", Afterimage, April 1990.
Braun, Martha, "Text and Narrative in 'the Zone Catalogue' ", Views, May 1990.
Campeau, Sylvain, "The Zone of Conventional Practice", ETC, no. 19, September 1990.