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The Helen Pitt Gallery ARC

882 Homer St., Vancouver, BC, V6B 2W5, (604) 681-6740,,

October 2nd, 2003

Jeremy 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 after, Modernity?

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 is constructed.

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 Lucy re-runs.

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 stuff.

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 bit.

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 personal level.

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 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 my work?

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,,

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.

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