Saturday, October 18, 2014
2:00 to 5:00pm
Artist in conversation 3:00pm
October 18 to November 14, Monday to Friday, 10am to 5:00pm
It might have started with the Greeks. The earliest reference to “walking a red carpet” is in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon in 458 B.C., when the title character is greeted by his vengeful wife Clytemnestra, who invites him to walk a “crimson path” to his house. Not wanting to show hubris, the returning warrior opines that such luxuries are the preserve of the gods and he, after all, is a mortal. But step he does, and die he does, albeit off-stage in this curse-ridden, blood-soaked tragedy.
Fast forward a couple of thousand years and we have grown accustomed to the sight of the crimson path in countless images of award ceremonies, heads of state visits and all the other “celebrity” events that the media deem worthy of attention.
Lisa Birke’s version of the red carpet is decidedly different. Instead, the viewer witnesses an extended performance-for-video work that was filmed by the unaccompanied artist over the course of nine months.red carpet follows a glamorous female figure in a black glittering gown, teetering down a seemingly endless red carpet—a carpet that cuts its way through an ever-changing landscape. Humorously unfettered by the obstacles in her way, we witness the heroine tripping over uneven surfaces, navigating through trees and dense grasses, plunging through a river crossing, maintaining equilibrium on a carpeted log, baring skin bitten by snow and ice, careening down a deep snowy slope, mounting sand dunes and finally disappearing into the waves all while wearing a pair of black, three-inch heels.
The most arresting aspect of the work is not just the physical engagement of the artist as she walks into the horizon, but her steely denial of our gaze. Resolutely anonymous, back to the camera, she recedes through each landscape into terrain that is swampy, or snowy or waving with vegetation, always moving away from us even as she claims her status as worthy of the red carpet that has, inexplicably, been laid for just her use.
But this is not quite how it was either. Lisa Birke is a wry observer of her own process, writing,“In the final product, romanticism glosses over the reality of the process that involved getting up at the crack of dawn, finding accessible yet secluded spots, and trudging there weighed down with gear—sixty feet of red carpet strapped to an external backpack frame, props, camera, and tripod. I was simultaneously sex object and pack-mule.”
Lisa Birke is a multi-disciplinary Canadian artist who situates her practice between the tradition of painting, digital video and performance art. She is a recent MFA graduate from the University of Waterloo (2013). She examines notions of ‘self’ through the lens of gender, bringing the cultural tropes of women into focus and into question. Filmed unaccompanied in the Canadian landscape, absurd yet insightful performative acts become entangled in nuanced and complex narratives in single and multi-channel video works that make reference to art history, mythology and popular culture. She has had solo exhibitions and screenings across Canada and her short films have been shown at film and video festivals internationally.