Critics’ Picks

View of “Oliver Husain,” 2010.

Toronto

Oliver Husain

Art Gallery of York University (AGYU)
4700 Keele Street Accolade East Building, York University
January 21–March 14, 2010

Occupying two adjacent galleries separated by a transparent vinyl curtain, Oliver Husain’s multivalent exhibition “Hovering Proxies” mischievously refigures the boundary between subject and object. Surrounded by a tropical suburban panorama depicted in fourteen framed photographs, The Dupe’s Garden, 2010, dominates the first room. It is an open architecture delineated by sheer fabric panels, handpainted silk scarves, and a beaded curtain suspended from commercial light stands. Materially, Husain’s sensitive yet lush approach echoes the porousness of this liminal space. At the structure’s center, a pile of linked block letters cut from newspapers points to additional encrypted texts—a tangible “garden of forking paths” in the Borgesian sense—that when fully unraveled reads as a lyric poem set in an exotic locale.

Beyond the curtain, in the nearly empty second gallery, a three-and-a-half-minute silent film is projected on the narrow band of wall space above this permeable membrane. In it, the camera voyeuristically follows a number of helium balloons as they bump, meander, and hobnob around the diaphanous planes of the Garden.

Husain’s double framing of the first gallery viewed through the curtain, and the same space depicted on film but populated with his latex “proxies,” delivers a clever disjuncture. By separating the two spaces with this proverbial “fourth wall,” he stages a theatrical setup that on one level brings to mind Dan Graham’s two-way-mirror or time-delay installations, except replete with delightful indulgences, like ostrich-feather finials and the proxies’ gossipy banter recorded in snappy, interjecting subtitles. This playfulness extends to the film’s end, when Husain engages a simple parlor trick to disrupt a static portrait of the proxies huddled in the gallery. A sudden swift breeze that whips the balloons into a frenzy on-screen is simultaneously felt as two electric fans in the room are triggered on cue, thus returning us to the present but vividly inserting us in the garden, too.