The Helen Pitt Gallery
882 Homer St., Vancouver, BC, V6B 2W5, (604) 681-6740,
Todd (Gallery Director/Curator): Both of your practices seem to
be identifying a strange overlap of ways of seeing. I think one
comes out of the Renaissance and the invention of perspective and
the other has to do with the fragmentary teletopological visual
environment of the Global Market...
Heidi May: In terms of space?
In terms of how the viewer is positioned.
The conventions of perspectival space place the viewer at the centre
of the Universe - everything comes back to the eye - but what is
happening to that conception of the world and the self during, and
HM: That's something I hadn't thought of but my work does involve
all of those things in terms of how viewers relate to images. I
guess more specifically it's about how viewers identify with what
they see - so it's much more psychological in terms of how the self
Sean Alward: I agree. You're talking about ways of representing
space. I think I'm interested in where the viewer's consciousness
is in relation to the picture they are looking at. There is a kind
of perspective situation there where you put yourself into the picture,
and then there is maybe the possibility of the picture happening
inside of your head. Where is the viewer in relation to that thing
in front of them?
HM: You are talking about that initial moment, but I think it relates
to what Jeremy is bringing up - the teletopologically fashioned
subject. Paul Virillio talks about it as a puzzle and then Victor
Burgin develops it further - where the individual in today's society
is absorbing all of these images from different sources. Identity
formation results from the mixture that results from this accumulative
process. Personal memory and experience combine with what we see.
So the initial moment of looking Sean is talking about relates.
Do viewers put themselves into the image or does the image form
in their minds? Then that whole thing gets wrapped up in this accumulation
of moments of viewing. That does become this larger puzzle in a
person's mind. It's like Sean is getting down to that base moment.
You're both talking about a desire to identify.
''I'm wondering if either of you address in your practices the manufacture
of this desire within our global culture of consumption? I see sinister
manipulations of image flux and this need for identification constantly.
It's as if everything is intentionally rendered unverifiable in
order to maintain a kind of continual neediness or anxiety.
SA: Yeah. I think an addressing of those things is implied in my
stuff. Obviously my work is not explicitly talking about consumerism
or that kind of thing. With my Wols series there's sort of an uneasy
sense of the hybrid. I'm trying to understand and act out - mimic
- an attitude from an image. It's very specifically about painting
portraits -- but you see people engaging in the same sorts of processes
of mimicry all the time with their habits of consumption in relation
to media images. Look at the phenomena of "Wiggers" -- suburban
white kids imitating inner-city black kids as seen in music videos.
They are attempting to enact images through mimicry.
It happens to me all the time with I Love
SA: (laughs) I did not know that. (laughs) In
terms of experiencing the world optically we do see things using
a sort of Renaissance model of perspectival space - sitting here
in this room - that's kind of what we're seeing. But mentally --
our mental space is completely fragmented. So optically I'm sitting
here with a coherent picture but in my head I could be all over
the place. How can there be a relationship between these modes?
How does it function?
HM: Yeah. I feel like the space I'm dealing with is in between what
we see and what's in our heads. It's almost time-based. It's about
trying to capture that moment before the image becomes a part of
your collage of moments - your puzzle.
SA: You're not trying to create a resolution or answer. The work
comes from an engagement with a process.
HM: Yeah. And it comes from a personal perspective too. It's like
I'm trying to simplify all of this overwhelming visual-cultural
SA: You could make an analogy and say it's kind of like looking
at a Cezanne painting. He's sort of showing you his process - breaking
down his analysis of whatever - a mountain and some woods, bit by
HM: I do feel that when I'm forming my images I am a painter and
I am taking from that experience of looking at things. So I am very
conscious of the aesthetic appearance, composition -- piecing things
together -- of this overwhelming... what I call a collage of imagery.
I'm glad this has come up because I've been
trying to get my head around how perceptions of different media
are changing in a contemporary art context. I think a sense of the
present being perpetual is a normative experience these days when
you consider how we react to new forms. The idea of new media has
very quickly become a bizarrely historical imagining of the future
- of a kind of depoliticized avant gardism. Painting is once again
being reconsidered, but this time for its use value as a thinking
tool or process - not as an array of totalizing styles or as an
outmoded technology with critical potential through a conscious
return to the obsolete.
SA: My take on painting is that it is about process. It is a process
driven art form. My hope is that people are coming to realize this.
It's not about an obsession with, or fetishization of, a medium
or object. It's about the dynamic of interacting with these things
that is important.
Perhaps a new hierarchy of media will establish
itself. It would be determined by a very different value system.
New forms are no longer the priority. The future came and went.
It'll come and go.
SA: I think at the height of Modernism the future seemed rosy, generally
-- in spite of the cold war. There was a belief in progress - that
whatever was ahead of us was probably good. Now, especially in the
last couple of years people may not feel so certain about anything.
Politically the things that are going on in the world... It would
be very easy for someone to say: "Smoke your cigars and eat your
steak right now cause any day now it's all going down the toilet."
HM: I'm addressing that in my work. I'm putting some of that negativity
and anxiety about the future within it. It might not be very clear
- like in the drawing works, which are very scattered. The references
I am using to culture phenomena at large are so trivial and superficial,
but there's this weird mixture - like Madonna and Britney Spears
kissing and CNN war coverage. I'm addressing the absurdity of what
we have to negotiate. I'm questioning it all in terms of how we
feel about it as a society.
SA: How do individuals personally deal with these things? Can we
relate that to a larger social effect or agency that, say, the historical
avant gardes aspired to. I think now we're dealing with a situation
that is like "one person at a time."
HM: Yeah. That's part of a reaction to our culture's overwhelming
amount of information/image flux. We've got to slow things down
- break them down -- into smaller and smaller units in order to
think intelligently - to reflect.
SA: At the same time we have to construct systems for dealing with
this mass of information - the stimuli from living in the world
each day - and that's where art has a vital role - at least on a
HM: I do think the general public finds it hard to think critically
about visual imagery. So, whether it's "avant garde" or whatever,
because of the amount of stuff we're taking in and the disparities
within it all Ð the contrast between all those things becomes...
I have a negative attitude sometimes. I wonder how people could
possibly be able to relate to art now. What could they get out of
Are you overcome with cynicism?
HM: I just question - and I have been for the past few years - the
importance of art and if it has any ability to make people think.
I am making art that I want people to think about. I want them to
contemplate. I question how that is possible in the circumstances
we find ourselves in. I use cultural phenomena already existing
within the popular imagination to draw people in while changing
the context. Hopefully this change of context is surprising enough
to make people question what they are looking at. Then again, the
negativity may come from being an emerging artist... I have to keep
going and solicit feedback - get responses - build confidence.
Sean Alward and Heidi May's exhibition Let's
Get Lost runs from Oct.17-Nov.23, 2003 at the Helen Pitt Gallery.
882 Homer St., Vancouver BC, Canada, V6B 2W5 (604) 681-6740, email@example.com,
The Helen Pitt Gallery gratefully acknowledges the financial support
of the Canada Council for the Arts, the City of Vancouver, the Province
of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the BC Gaming
Commission, as well as our members and volunteers.