Ottawa

Eric Cameron

National Gallery of Canada

The moment one enters Eric Cameron’s installation, “The Divine Comedy,” the space is plunged into darkness. After a minute of tape-recorded laughter, a slide projector’s flashing strobe and intermittent glimpses of ghosts in museum vitrines, the lights come on. Though Cameron advises his audience to attend to the material reality of the sculptures, his wraithlike white shapes look more like manifestations at a séance than the result of the mind-numbing project he initiated a decade ago. Cameron applies thousands of half-coats of acrylic gesso to ordinary objects in his apartment and the “thick paintings” that result retain only the vaguest resemblance to the newspapers and empty boxes from which they are derived. Meaning is evacuated in the process and the objects that result are curiously blank. They are simultaneously anthropomorphic and imbued with a kind of New Age aura.

This initial disorientation is repeated every time another visitor opens the gallery door. Reaction oscillates between delight at figuring out what object is buried beneath the layers of gesso, and uneasiness provoked by the spookiness of Cameron’s enterprise. The accumulated layers of gesso don’t explain all the irregularities in the softened contours, and when the artist first noted the emergence of distinctive characteristics in each piece, he attempted to suppress this development. More recently, he has identified his sculptures’ autonomous growth with the hand of fate. Now the artist refuses to edit or correct his accretions and as he enacts this ritual of envelopment the erotic emerges. Since such influences were generally assumed to lure both artist and public into the circles of hell, it is as if Empty Box, 1988, is a heresy, ensuring entry into Dante’s underworld. In order to appreciate the fantastic quality of Cameron’s coated objects, we have to remember the original uses of his pieces, but our interest in their former state is proportional to their power to lure and seduce our attention in their transformed condition. Metaphorically, Cameron’s “Divine Comedy” alludes to the heavenly power of judgment that envelopes and to the absolution that releases, during a soul’s journey. The Empty Box is not only freed physically, but absolved of its sins.

Charles Green