Mircea Cantor: Art beyond the eye

by Yasmine Shemesh

Marcel Duchamp once said that his purpose was “to put art back in the service of the mind.” The artist’s conceptual approach to creative expression rejected purely “retinal” work only intended to please the eye, emphasizing the importance of evoking narratives and peering beyond the layers of the obvious. Being both contemporary and provocative, it’s quite fitting that Romanian artist Mircea Cantor was awarded the Marcel Duchamp Prize in 2011. Cantor works with a variety of mediums but is most recognized for his video and mixed-media installations that, in the vein of the aforementioned master, seek to initiate dialogue by addressing uncertainty, confronting ideologies and commenting on social roles within abstract, if not absurd, settings.

Cantor’s first individual Canadian exhibition, Mircea Cantor: Collected Works, arrives in Vancouver this November through the Rennie Collection at Wing Sang and features a body reflective of the artist’s compelling catalogue. Amongst the highlighted is the acclaimed short video, Deeparture (2005), an unnerving depiction of a deer and a wolf confined together in a white room. The animals share the space silently, tensely yet ambivalently aware of each other and project an upset of hierarchical expectations in the anti-climactic finale. Are they unaware of their allegorical conclusions? Is this a case of the disruptive effects of human environment on nature? Suggested violence is also present in Wind Orchestra (2012), which shows a child carefully standing three large knives on a table and then blowing them down, as if they were candles on a cake. The video’s repetitive loop is continually disturbing and seems to play with the anxiety toward the metaphorical implications of the young boy’s dangerous game.

For Cantor, there is no detachment between reality and illusion; such is prevalent in The Landscape Is Changing (2003), a 22-minute short film following a group of protestors carrying wordless, mirrored placards through the streets of Albania. Vaguely reminiscent of rallies held before the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the demonstration physically reflects back everything in its environment, neutrally and ironically intertwining the demanding language of protest with intentional ambiguity. Enigma, here, reins powerfully.

Like Duchamp, Cantor puts forth ideas that are lucid yet deeply paradoxical. Although the equivocality is deliberate, its effect is perhaps what speaks the loudest in Cantor’s work. Art so open to interpretation reveals that everything is truly subject to perception; through questioning, narratives are maintained and developed. Something, indeed, to keep in mind.

Mircea Cantor: Collected Works will be on display at the Rennie Collection at Wing Sang from November 8, 2014-March 28, 2015. 

Published in print and online at www.beatroute.ca, November 2014


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