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"Fifteen Restless Nights -untitled"
Derek Michael Besant, "Fifteen Restless Nights -untitled," 2006, thermal ink on veil scrim fabric, 6.5’ X 8’.
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"Fifteen Restless Nights - untitled"
Derek Michael Besant, "Fifteen Restless Nights - untitled," 2006, thermal ink on veil scrim fabric, 54” X 6.5’.
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"Fifteen Restless Nights series - untitled"
Derek Michael Besant, "Fifteen Restless Nights series - untitled," 2006, thermal ink on veil scrim fabric, 38.5” x 4’.
DEREK MICHAEL BESANT, Fifteen Restless Nights
Kelowna Art Gallery
August 2 to November 2, 2008
By Portia Priegert
Derek Michael Besant infuses the mundane with poetic depth, transforming unmade beds in roadside motels into surreal landscapes of sumptuous voyeurism in Fifteen Restless Nights. His immersive blend of sound, text and image is an intimate yet powerful exploration of memory, language and the body — it lingers like a wayward dream on the fringes of awareness.
This work shares some common ground with French artist Sophie Calle’s 1983 project, The Hotel. She investigated patrons’ most intimate spaces – diaries, clothing, letters – while working as a chambermaid. But Besant is more restrained. He limited himself to slipping into rooms after fellow guests had departed, photographing their tousled linens before cleaners could set things right.
His large-format black-and-white images are layered and visceral portraits of transitory visitations, saturated in shades of grey to evoke the nocturnal. He reverses tonalities, so walls and linens become shrouded, bringing to mind the penetrating visual language of the X-ray. He also outlines the beds with thick white lines that are suggestive both of crime scenes and territorial boundaries on a map. At times, the overall effect is reminiscent of the intimate invasions of the airport luggage scanner.
The beds, close-cropped and shot from high angles, can be read as relief maps that subtly echo Besant’s travels across Canada. Uneasy seas of wrinkled sheets are juxtaposed with mountains of jutting pillows and the rolling hills and sheltered coulees of rumpled bedspreads. Printed on nylon scrim suspended off the gallery wall, the images waver gently in the gallery’s air currents like linens airing on a clothesline, creating a further layering through the ephemeral play of light and shadow.
His images are accompanied by an elegant quilt of audio, including music, sound effects and a series of short texts by Diane Schoemperlen, winner of the 1998 Governor General’s award for fiction. Her loosely thematic text segments resemble movie soundtracks that drift in and out of consciousness like the dreams of a fitful sleep.
In the exhibition essay, curator Liz Wylie notes the emotional intensity created by the work’s ability to evoke the passing moment, which, like a breath, is “gone forever once it is over.” Texts from the audio segments are printed on wall panels, but visitors are free to create their own narratives. “The whole show can act like a portal: a glimpse into a fictionalized world of intrigue and intensity and noir-ish possibility.”
Besant’s background in drawing and printmaking brought him international attention starting in the 1970s. He moved into photography in the mid-1990s, intrigued by emerging new media technologies, which he has used to explore his interest in human trajectories through banal spaces such as alleys and construction sites. “In hunting and gathering my resources from those places, I come up with recurring themes like those out of film scripts: sleeping, wandering, falling, drowning, assembling or migrating,” he says. “But I’ve always found something lingering in those places … some kind of connective tissue to something like a basic truth we collectively understand.”
Fifteen Restless Nights was commissioned by the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto for the city’s 2006 Nuit Blanche cultural event and has since been exhibited at galleries in Hungary and Slovakia.