Defacing Art at VAV Gallery

It was another rain drenched evening. A small ocean of acidic slush formed between me and everywhere I needed to go, while threatening to spill into my impractical ankle high boots at every wrong step. With an hour until the gallery closed, I waded through Rene Levesque towards VAV Gallery to check out the last night of DEFACED. Rather appropriate that when I finally got to the gallery and caught sight of myself in the mirror, my makeup was a rain splattered mess of mascara splotches and foundation drips. Defaced.

Through photographs, video and instillation, DEFACED focuses on obscured or hidden subjects’ faces in order to reinforce the presence of body and identity. Oscar Oliver’s inkjet prints, titled Das Ed/Id stood out stark and strong against the bright white walls. Using the same male subject, each of the eight portraits shrouded the model’s face through various means. The first print featured slabs of raw meat draped across his face. Another print showed his head completely wrapped in gauze. In another he had wire wrapped around his head, like someone is about to paper mache him, and the print after that featured snippets of wet black hair—like the pieces that fall to the floor during a haircut—placed sloppily all over his face. Bawh. It’s only in the last portrait that the subject’s face wasn’t completely obscured, except for wire imprints and left behind scratches.

One of my favourite artists was Zoe Koke. Her three photographs titled Tell Me Yesterday, showcased one female model and was primary focused on the body, based in a living room setting, and hosted an antique couch as the prop. The model wore a bra and panties in each picture, showing her bare-skinned silhouette and hiding her face from view. In one portrait you could only see her head, although her face was obscured by a bright blue wig. What grabbed my attention and kept me in front of the photographs was that “lazy afternoon” vibe I felt from it. Koke captured a sense of bored playfulness, in one image as the model was draped over a couch and her legs were flat against the wall with her back on the couch in another.

Washed Up was another triple photography display showcasing the same nude female model. I found it particularly striking because in each picture the model was dropped into a city setting in a vulnerable pose. In the first photograph, she was curled in fetal position in a glass-windowed hallway. The second showed her huddled face down in an open grassy area, like a discarded baby alien dropped from the Mothership. In the third, most stunning, image the nude female was laid out in a gracefully exposed position—breasts facing skyward, arm behind head—in the middle of a damp concrete walkway, with street lamps illuminating puddles.

Erik Naumann showcased an array of vivid photographs with his piece The Rainbow Team. He displayed girls dressed in vibrant Harajuku fashion from the waist down. I was absorbed by the details of each outfit, the vivid colours and the way their feet were posed—a rare focus of a photograph!

Obscuring the subjects’ faces lets you view the photographs in a new way. Instead of being guided by facial expressions, you become more aware of other aspects—like a sepia colour scheme, or an antique couch—that also work to evoke emotion.

We all experience art differently—if anyone else went to see this exhibit, I’d love to hear what you thought of it!

Top Photo by Cindy Lopez

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