Black and White
Douglas Udell Gallery, Edmonton
October 22 to November 5, 2011
By Ross Bradley
“What happens when we believe in something with all our hearts at the risk of inflicting pain upon others? How do we utilize emblematic objects and images to unify participation in cultural practices associated with absolute power and zealous conviction?”
- Dean Drever
As the exhibition title suggests, Dean Drever does not leave much middle ground in his exploration of the power of symbols in the struggle for power. His exhibition is black and white in both the literal and figurative sense. The works are produced with manufactured precision and bear little indication of the artist’s hand. These are ideas expressed in precise visual form; objects which also stand alone as pristine works of art.
To put the recent work in perspective, the exhibition includes earlier pieces that show the beginning of the conceptual exploration of power on an interpersonal level. One of these features a pair of classic brass knuckles that are topped with a steel text bar, designed to leave the messages “This is not going to be OK” and “This will not go over your head” imbedded in the flesh of the intended victim. On a more personal, romantic theme there is an exquisite metal and Plexiglas sculpture which, upon investigation, is in fact a set of bullets mounted as they would be in the chamber of a gun, alternatively engraved with either “She Loves Me” or She Loves Me Not.” This sets the tone for the recent work which has also been exhibited in Toronto and Vancouver earlier this year.
The Black and White series looks at the symbolic expression of power through both historic and contemporary images. One of the most striking works is “Home and Away,” two sets of authentic National Hockey League jerseys hanging on racks awaiting both teams’ arrival., One set is solid black and one solid white both bearing on the front a large swastika and on the back the names Hitler and his key henchmen. Historically, the swastika was a religious symbol common to many cultures and generally standing for peace. This of course changed with its adoption by the Nazis in the Second World War. It is very interesting, in light of the current controversy over violence in hockey, that in 1916 Edmonton had a women’s’ hockey team that also used this as their team logo.
Also on a sports theme is “A Nice Pair” which has two baseball bats, painted black and white sitting against the wall awaiting their turn at bat. In this piece we are presented with two opposing possibilities of power with one bat inscribed “I Need to be Held” and the other “I Need to be Hit.”
Two of the more contemporary images of power are the Black and White Masks reminiscent of Darth Vader from the original Star Wars Trilogy. In the best of cowboy traditions, we have the good guy in white and the bad guy in black pulling in opposite directions. Another Pop Culture image, of a very different kind, is the Playboy bunny, emblematic of the hedonistic male life style. Here the image is interpreted as a traditional aboriginal button blanket, with its bright red rabbit head being one of the only deviations from the black and white theme.
The most imposing statement of power is the totemic White Klansman. Created out of thousands of individual sheets of paper stacked over seven feet high, this towering figure embodies the stern resolve of the white supremacists in their quest for racial purity. What is most interesting is the contrast between the solidity of the figure (and what it represents) and the ephemeral nature of the medium which, with a bit of wind, could easily be blown away. But then, perhaps this is the case with all symbols of power.