1 of 4
"Discarded Chairs Geneva (#1)"
Roy Arden, "Discarded Chairs Geneva (#1)," 1981-1985, cibachrome print. Courtesy of the artist and Monte Clark Gallery.
2 of 4
Roy Arden, "Cordova Street," 1995, chromatic print. Collection of Claudia Beck and Andrew Gruft.
3 of 4
Roy Arden, "Solar," 2005, archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artist and Monte Clark Gallery.
4 of 4
"Kevin Hatt (#1)"
Roy Arden, "Kevin Hatt (#1)," 1981-1985, cibachrome print. Courtesy of the artist and Monte Clark Gallery.
ROY ARDEN, Against the Day
Vancouver Art Gallery
October 18, 2007 – January 20, 2008
By Ann Rosenberg
His career began with “Fragments”, a series of approximately 90 small-format square colour photos on many subjects, shot between 1982 and 1985. With “Fragments”, Roy Arden developed his personal “pictorial skills” while still at art school, self-generated extensions of some of the categories already established in the bank of visual materials he collected as a child. His own early photos laid claim to several recurring subjects that, whether at home or abroad, Arden would record with his Rolleiflex.
Works from “Fragments” are among the remarkable collection of images in Against the Day, the artist’s 25-year retrospective at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The work easily shows why Arden is one of several artists credited with making Vancouver an internationally renowned centre of Photo-Conceptual art.
The scruffy tree root documented in Geneva, the jumble of stuff photographed in a Paris flea market, the detritus recorded on the sidewalk in Venice are companions to similar photos shot in Vancouver. Shop window displays, reflections in windows, old and new commodities are common subjects in this seminal group.
His later work, so far, has included no portraits like those in “Fragments” and “Fragments” embraced none of the land-site, building construction images or the gritty Downtown East Side and Vancouver East photos. These were created after the brief hiatus from 1985 to 90 when Arden’s art was substantially based on archival photos of some of British Columbia’s most shameful moments.
“Rupture” was the first in Arden’s series of historical art dramas. In nine vertical diptychs, the work summarizes Vancouver’s infamous “Bloody Sunday” riot in 1938. A group of unemployed men who had occupied the Georgia Hotel, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Old Post Office in protest was brutally suppressed, and violence exploded like a burst aneurysm. In each segment, Arden’s photograph of a square of clear, untroubled blue sky surmounts a black and white archival image that presents a moment in the chaotic debacle. In most of the images, garbage litters the streets and the interiors. The last panel depicts bandaged men lying on the grass like wounded soldiers.
“Polis” — the five- part 1986 sequel with a different ‘telling’ of the same story — is composed in a similar fashion. In this work, five vertical diptychs are created by superimposing square vignettes featuring the debris strewn on the sidewalks during the riot (including several corpse-like mannequins) over a five-stage sequence that shows Vancouver’s City Hall in various stages of construction during the late 1930s.
Polis is the Greek word for city state, which sounds like “Police”. Arden’s political cynicism, at the time was being fueled by French author Georges Bataille’s idea that progress would come from “excavating the fetid ditch of bourgeois culture.”
Arden’s early work is particularly relevant today, given Vancouver’s recent civic strike and the city’s woeful record — during this period of high employment and prosperity — with the problems of drugs and homelessness. It is astounding that these and three other restrained yet highly critical, substantial documentary works were executed and first put before the public by an artist who at the time was not yet 30.
Unfinished housing projects, dumps of earth, huge bits of equipment, forlorn hydrangeas and ruined trees are frequent subjects for large works created in the 1990s, after Arden’s return to photography. He was also often drawn to derelict dwellings teetering on the brink of extinction. His continuing desire to document bits of rubbish also found expression in photography as well as the single-image Hole and multiple-image Eureka DVDs produced between 2002 and 2005. Like anthropological middens, layered with detail, all of these works will offer clues for years to come about the 21st century’s aesthetics and business practices. Eureka exposes the sites that desperate drug addicts excavate with their fingernails in the hope of finding the surprise of a fix among the used condoms.
Arden’s most recent work includes several works on paper and two DVDs —Citizen, a short documentary of a young homeless man recorded from a moving car and Supernatural, a summary of videotaped events that occurred during the 2004 riot after the Canucks lost a critical game in Vancouver. He brings back the cynical titling he used with “Polis”, in this case a twist on the word supernatural, typically used as part of British Columbia’s official provincial tourism ad campaigns.
He has also produced The World as Will and Representation, a DVD comprised of 28,000 images appropriated from the internet. You can watch it at the Gallery or at home at www.royarden.com. The multiple-image graphics are among the most recent and most playful pieces in the show.