A Question of Perception

November 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Toronto-based artist Evan Penny has been creating works for over twenty-five years, but only in the last decade has he really been pushing the boundaries of his own practice. The touring exhibition Re Figured, currently on display on the fourth floor of the Art Gallery of Ontario, is an examination of the various issues Penny explores through his creations.

The decision to include one early work, a less than life size nude male sculpture entitled Jim (1985) offers a point of reference for the viewers.  Jim demonstrates that Penny has been focusing on the human body since the 1980s,  and particularly issues related to the representation of the human body in the media, and also our perception of the body in three-dimensional space. Jim Revisited (2011) is also included in the exhibition as a means of examining the advancement of Penny’s practice since the 1980s. It is also relevant because of its play on perception – it is distorted in a way that forces the observers to question the viewpoint or angle from which they are observing the work.

Re Figured consists of two large open spaces, as well as five smaller rooms. Four of the smaller rooms contain works from various series, such as Backs (2004-2008), No One – In Particular Series 1 (2001-2005) and Series 2 (2004-2007), and Old Self, Young Self (2010-2011).  The fifth room is dedicated solely to the step-by-step process of the way Penny creates his silicone casts. There are posters in this room, a video, and samples of the materials he uses so patrons in the gallery can directly experience the way his sculptures might feel, without actually touching the finished products themselves. The artist is clearly interested in process and progress.

Upon entering the gallery, visitors are confronted by Penny’s Stretch #1(2003) one of his silicone casts. While the skin looks extremely real, enough to make the viewer think that touching it would evoke the touch of human skin, the features of the abnormally large face are not proportionate. This is one way the artist articulates his thoughts on the influence of media and the way that the images we see affect the way we perceive ourselves. Penny is also referencing manipulations that can be made in programs such as Photoshop, and what would happen if such two-dimensional forms were projected into three-dimensional space.

It is interesting that related works are placed across from one another, and not beside each other. This underscores Penny’s intentions. The artist is constantly juxtaposing two separate ideas or concepts to demonstrate the way in which they influence or relate to one another. Ultimately the artist is interested in blurring   the boundary between abstraction and figuration.  By placing related works on opposite walls, a conversation is literally created in the physical space that separates the artworks.

People of all ages can relate to the issues that Penny’s work addresses because of the prevelance of our interaction with media in this day and age.

Re-figured, organized by the Kunsthalle, Tübingen, Germany in association with the Art Gallery of Ontario runs through January 6th, 2013 at the AGO.

Jolene McKillop

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