ANNA OPPERMANN: Filiations
ANDREA PINHEIRO: Bomb Book
MARIANNE WEX: Let’s Take Back Our Space
Presentation House Gallery, North Vancouver
January 19 – March 24, 2013
By Amy Fung
Walking through these three distinct exhibitions by Anna Oppermann, Andrea Pinheiro and Marianne Wex, there is a natural inclination to seek and understand how each room and artist correlates with one another. While Oppermann and Wex are both presented through works from the 1970s and 1980s in Vienna and Hamburg, respectively, Vancouver/Sault Ste. Marie-based Pinheiro looks back at recorded histories of the atomic bomb.
No lines of thought follow from one room to the next. Wandering from one end of the gallery to the other and back, there is perhaps a shared visual palette of grey and grainy, each holding a certain responsibility to be a record keeper. Through their different methodologies in documenting the personal, traumatic histories, and society, there is enough footage here for hours of contemplation.
In her 12-volume, 2,450-page Bomb Book (2012), Pinheiro entombs the name of every atomic bomb in text, translating each into basic monograms that read Magnolia, Trinity, Solano, etc. A photogravure print accompanies the exhibition, featuring a lone bunker on the site of Operation Plumbob in Nevada in 1957. While most atomic bomb histories and documents focus on detonation and aftermath, the focus here shifts to the implications for human life and survival, or what is titled Test structure for a future without windows (2009). Is a bomb a book or is a book a bunker? A book is a bomb and a bunker, and for most, a book is an open window.
For three decades, Oppermann reconsidered what it meant to be an artist through a series of ensembles, structures built from collecting and enshrining paper and photographs through her perpetual research as an artist. Seeing the potential in everything, there is an undeniable focus on tangible material, scrap ephemera that holds meaning through its accumulation. Collecting and presenting materials and objects without distinguishing between official and unofficial knowledge, each ensemble highlights the inherent messy contradictions of everyday life.
In the decades after the cultural, civil and feminist revolutions of the late ’60s and early ’70s, Wex reconsidered what it meant to look like a woman in a patriarchal society. In other words, in a post-revolutionary world, how were subclasses integrated into dominant culture? Beginning as a painter who could not escape socialized body postures, Wex turned to candid photography, using her twin-reflex camera to capture thousands of portraits of men and women waiting in train stations and lounging in parks and on beaches. Producing a book of her findings that serves as the basis for most of this exhibition, Wex argues for correlation between socialized behaviors, or what is now better known as gender performativity in how men and women posture in public spaces.
A survey of photographs includes sections on class and age. Wex postulates that the lower the class position of the women, the less likely they were to behave as feminine, having less to lose in not conforming to idealized standards. Similarly, women in their teenage years were the most likely to strike feminine poses of crossed knees and ankles locking one behind the other with arms down, to appear more like the mature, submissive and idealized feminine.
The most striking aspect of Wex’s visual research is that 40 years later, not much has changed, although there are more complicated readings of what is singularly male or female in contemporary gender politics. While these three exhibitions are not speaking directly to each other, they are running alongside one another in asking what it means to be an artist, a woman, and to look, actively.