press release

Residue: The Persistence of the Real features recent work in photography, video and film by notable Canadian and American artists Robert Burley, Stan Douglas, Babak Golkar, Geoffrey James, Brian Jungen & Duane Linklater, Catherine Opie and Amie Siegel. Although diverse in approach and subject matter—which ranges from photographs of Elizabeth Taylor's closets to a meditative portrayal of a moose hunt—the works in this exhibition deploy a documentary impulse in pursuit of the real as something that cannot be entirely reduced to representation, while acknowledging the play between artifice and truth that must be traversed in that process.

Documentary has often been seen as a "bad object" in the art world since the post-World War II era. As an idiom at odds with what art is expected to accomplish in modern and "post-modern" paradigms, documentary has been held up to scorn for its perceived attachment to linguistic transparency—the sense that an image can reveal the full truth of the situation or object it depicts. As the German playwright Bertolt Brecht famously noted some 70 years ago, a photograph of the exterior of a factory tells us next to nothing about the factory as an institution or the human relations embodied within it. This scepticism toward the truth or objectivity of the image was extended in the late 20th century with the rise of conceptual art and the development of critiques which proposed that, in a world pervaded with spectacular images, the task of the artist should be to deconstruct the systems through which images flow and provide critical considerations of the ways images act upon us.

Although these challenges to the true value of the image, along with the proliferation of digital imaging technologies, may have changed the way we perceive "documentary" imagery, interest in work that describes the world has persisted and even expanded in terms of both artists' production and interest on the part of gallery-going audiences. The most evident indication of this is the shift in the status of photography and film, which have been transformed from subordinate media to areas of activity with status equivalent to that of traditional media like painting or sculpture.

Residue: The Persistence of the Real is organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and curated by Grant Arnold, Audain Curator of British Columbia Art.