Plexiglass Box

Toronto, ON – supported by YYZ, April 2005
Regina, SK – as a part of Cartographies, Dunlop Art Gallery, July 2003
Prince Albert, SK – supported by the Art Gallery of Prince Albert, May 2003
Edmonton, AB – as a part of Visualeyez, Latitude 53, May 2002
Vancouver, BC – as a part of the Live Biennial of Performance, November 2001
Winnipeg, MB – supported by aceart and Send and Recieve, October 2001
Brandon, MB – supported by the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba, October 2001

Plexiglass Box

As much as artists would like to assert that we exist within the ranks, working alongside the common man to reflect a true view of life (critically or not), we truly are working within a privileged bubble, able to dismiss objections or criticisms that come from outside the art world by simply saying, “but it’s art!” Conversely, those whom we insist to be working alongside can similarly dismiss us by saying, “Bah! It’s just art!”

Art is seen by the ‘non-producing’ public as untouchable; pristine or alien, but also, from the artist’s point of view, art offers them a vantagepoint from which they can safely view the world, removed from it. Many times I’ve seen that “I don’t get it” look on a viewer’s face, as though unable to penetrate the forcefield shielding the art, but at least as many times I’ve seen a similar look on artists’ faces when confronted by the public, that “boy am I ever glad I’m inside this glass box” look.

I have constructed a glass box in which the artist may view the world, immersed yet safely separate from society, as artists should be. This glass box allows the artist to draw attention to herself yet allow her to completely ignore the world if she chooses. It gives her authority, anonymity, simultaneous exhibitionism and isolation. It is a shark cage from which to record nature’s dangerous creatures, a bank teller’s cage, a germ-free zone (a la the boy in the bubble), a portable popemobile ­ all implying a need to protect the person inside. It references the annoying mime in his glass box, entertaining all who will pay attention, Houdini’s ‘inescapable’ glass waterboxes, Penn and Teller’s clear magic tricks with which they literally shatter the illusion of the magic establishment, women’s “glass ceiling” (and walls), a metaphor as relevant in the art world as it is in business, simultaneously referencing Dempsey and Millan’s arborite housedress, an uncomfortable, confining, defining construction. Is the artist inside a work of art, a scientist or examiner, an alien, a magician, mime, clown or other performer? Is she perfect, pristine, a specimen, an example?

Physically, the box is slightly bigger than a phone booth, with no bottom and on wheels, holes for ventilation and speaking, a small slot through which paper may be passed, a door that locks from the inside and handles on the inside for its’ inhabitant to push it around. It weighs approximately 300 pounds and therefore when inside one may feel either safe or trapped, and those on the outside may be stricken with either that person’s dramatic sense of purpose or insanity.

In Canada, our art communities may be close, lush, and vibrant (relatively speaking, or not), but the rest of the population is extremely removed from art. Regional isolation affects us in that we are not only removed from bigger centres and other artists, but we are removed from audience.

This glass box is a tool for intervention; in it, the artist visits gatheringplaces of isolated areas, places where, were she not inside her glass box she may be in grave danger. Conversely, being in the box puts her in a very vulnerable position. She will examine the masses in an attempt to understand them and she will put herself on display in an attempt to allow them to learn more about her own species. She will not contaminate them nor allow herself to be contaminated by them, yet a mutual understanding of each others’ cultures shall be aspired to. She will probe, entertain, study, expose herself to, and provide services to these people in malls, parks, and other public and private spaces. She shall be at times a scientist, an alien, a woman, a magician, a work of art.

During the course of the project, I’ve had the opportunity to take the Plexiglas box out to places such as Saskatoon, Brandon, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, which has given me the opportunity/forced me to rethink the project a lot. More and more, because the box itself is so physical, so extravagant, so there and because it is so physically demanding, the box is very much about me and my body within it. While out in the box, I am forced to remove layers of clothing, to mop the sweat from my body, to rest often, dress my wounds and clear off patches of fog so that I can see where I am going. I think as a metaphor for the things I am interested in exploring, it is effective, but visually it is a very simple one. Because of the force I must exert to move it and the toll it takes on my body, the project is much more about me and my body than I would have thought. I am on display, but it is certainly not for the enjoyment of others, as I have encountered fear, shame, disgust and puzzlement far more than I have encountered awe or admiration. For the most part, though, the people that I have encountered have refused to interact or even acknowledge my presence. It truly is about isolation, in ways that I had expected but also in ways that I had never thought.