Critics’ Picks

Oliver Husain, Isla Santa Maria 3D, 2016, stereoscopic video, color, sound, 17 minutes.

Oliver Husain, Isla Santa Maria 3D, 2016, stereoscopic video, color, sound, 17 minutes.


Oliver Husain

Western Front
303 East 8th Avenue
May 20–June 30, 2016

It’s 1893, and a crowd has gathered on the beach. They’re dressed in frumpy Victorian garb, sporting elaborate hats, fans, and binoculars as they look placidly out over the water. These might be the inhabitants of Isla Santa Maria—that mythic island that is said to have formed from the wreckage of a replica of Christopher Columbus’s ship, and which does not appear on any maps—or maybe they’re just out in their Sunday best, hoping to catch a glimpse of utopia. Visitors to the gallery put on 3-D glasses, plucking them from their resting places on an army of comically face-shaped holders. A blue, orange, or purple tassel hangs from each pair, transforming viewers into distinguished guests at a masquerade ball.

Commissioned by Gallery TPW and Images Festival in Toronto, the Vancouver debut of Oliver Husain’s Isla Santa Maria 3D, 2016, is a spectacle of the highest order. Miming familiar tropes from science-fiction films—The Hunger Games comes to mind—the artist’s first-ever foray into 3-D video fuses utopian imagery with aspirational technology. With this tongue-in-cheek comment on the broader apparatus of film, Husain implicates viewers by recasting them as participants in a problematic colonial narrative. As the narrative skips among 2294, 1893, and Columbus’s arrival at North America in 1492, a lone explorer dances with a horizon line against a backdrop of skyscrapers. Later on, a freakish, futuristic clan gathers around a hologram in a museum of model ships. History, the work suggests, does not simply unfold, on-screen or otherwise—rather, it is unraveled.