For Diary w/o Dates, Allison Katz has created a monumental, twelve-sided installation of paintings “in the round.” The structure responds directly to its exhibition location: both the interior theatrical black box design of the gallery, and the external concrete geometry of Centennial Square’s courtyard. The defining idea that connects these works, however, is the notion of time. The circular sequence of paintings suggests various passages of time, such as the months in a year or hours in a day. It also evokes a more subjective understanding of time, one that defies the calendar’s grid or the mechanical ticking of the clock: the body’s internal rhythms, jump cuts of memory recall, the tempo of a passing mood, and the concept of Eternal Return. Choreography, circulation, obstruction, memory, iconography, and peripheral vision all play their part in apprehending these works. The source of this yearlong reckoning could be retrospective, or it could be a projection; the subject may resemble the artist, but may also be an intimate mask.
The symbolism at play in Katz’s work is slippery, unstable, ambiguous, and suffuse with personal meaning. It is an iconography well suited to an age in which collectively understood symbols of seasonal change—such as the grape as a signifier for autumnal harvest—or of human life cycles—such as winter as the equivalent of old age—are rendered unreliable and obsolete. Dramatic changes in the environment are likewise reflected in the work’s titles, although they point to an earlier age. Katz has named her paintings after eighteenth century British satirical versions of the newly-named French Revolutionary months, which combined Latin terms with French weather patterns to create rhyming neologisms like Brumaire (mist) or Frimaire (frost). The English instinct to react with bawdy humour (their translations: Slippy, Drippy, Nippy, etc.) is a joke, but one that calls out the nostalgia of idealizing rural, pastoral symbols at the onset of an industrial age.
Sometimes a motif the artist frequently uses—such as mouths, monkeys, black pears, cocks, clocks, circles, and grids—is echoed by chance in an architectural feature where she is showing her work. In this exhibition, there are a number of such instances, not least the clock-like steel sculptures on the exterior of Centennial Square. Katz guides our attention to these fluke moments of visual rhyme, in which the work’s meaning is not governed by the artist alone but is given away accidentally by chance intrusions from outside the canvas. Just as puns, witticisms and slips of the tongue make us pause, laugh and think, these works challenge visual conventions, and ask us to think about images in new and more attentive ways.
Diary w/o Dates by Allison Katz
Oakville Galleries, Oakville
Through March 18