Jonathan Monk and Michael Snow

Back and Forth (Again)

Jessica Bradley Art + Projects, Toronto

Known for playfully reinterpreting the legacy of his conceptual and minimalist art forebears, Berlin-based British artist and one-man charm factory Jonathan Monk teamed up with local legend Michael Snow for a small collaborative installation dubbed Back and Forth (Again). Representing two generations - and each bearing one-syllable, Zen-like nouns as surnames! - they both work in "soft" conceptualism, involving idiosyncratic, personal material in otherwise rigorous procedural structures. For example, the brief glimpses of a pet turtle and a supine Joyce Wieland during the 360 ° pans of Snow's seminal 1967 "structural" film Standard Time or Monk's glorious My mother, auntie and uncle interpret my holiday photographs (2000), wherein 80 whimsical short texts noting said family's quirky takes are projected as slides instead of the snapshots. Unfortunately, Back and Forth (Again) did not have the great wit and whimsy that marks both artists' practices, and was instead a bit wan in both its lyricism and methods. The gallery was divided into two spaces, each presenting two objects: one organic-everyday and one cinematic-technological. The first featured a 16mm loop by Snow entitled 34 Films wherein rectangular gels - the kind used to tint light - of various sizes and colours are dropped in front of the camera's gaze to fall where they may - and then the film is reversed and they fly upwards. Mirroring this projection is an equally bright bouquet of flowers selected by Monk and installed on a shelf to the side, with petals that paled, withered and fell over the course of the exhibition (never reversing their flight, unfortunately). The second room featured Fireplace , Monk's 16mm film loop of a roaring fire projected low to the ground, approximating an actual hearth. This one-note idea burns itself up quickly in comparison to many of Monk's more affecting, less mechanical pieces. Snow paired it with an illuminated aquarium of small fish (in fiery hues) directly facing it, their aquatic movements wholly unpredictable. The installation as a whole plays with ideas of change and permanence, laws of nature and chaos: the film loops infinitely repeat while the living elements irrevocably decay, but while 34 Films seems a game of chance, each gel follows the law of gravity (as do the shriveled petals) until filmic manipulation intervenes. Despite Monk's twist of media - his fireplace is from a consumer DVD transferred to film - the second poetic juxtaposition seems quite naïve, contributing far less to the duo's reflections on time than the first pair of objects. When placed in the context of Monk and Snow's maddeningly smart and deeply felt oeuvres, Back and Forth (Again)'s highly anticipated meeting of minds ultimately produced a conceptualism that was so "soft" it verged on wilting.

Jon Davies