Sunday, August 23, 2009

Clark Ferguson: In Search of Desire, REVIEWED by Noni Brynjolson

For the past month, the offices at Plug In ICA (my current place of employment) have been permeated by the abrasive howls of a hypnotized Matt Mullican. The video documentation of a performance features Mullican pacing around on stage, repeating nonsensical words ad nauseam and performing irrational actions that are usually constrained by one's consciousness. The piece is conceptually interesting, but hard to watch for more than a few minutes, let alone listen to for eight hours while trying to work. Looking for a respite during a recent lunch break, I visited Clark Ferguson’s exhibition down the street at Platform Centre for Photographic + Digital Arts. Consisting of three videos with accompanying photographs and models, the works in Ferguson’s In Search of Desire are both entertaining and engaging. 

Ferguson, who describes his age as “twenty-fourteen,” brings a teenage boy sensibility to his work. It’s as if he and his buddies were sitting around in his bachelor pad one day, and hatched a plan to make an awesome video out of whatever they had lying around. How else would Ferguson have decided, in “Teenage Wasteland,” that it would be a good idea if he created a harness that he would hang upside down in, in his underwear, while twirling his condom-covered fingers around and around in front of a photograph of his bedroom to look like seductively dancing legs? The finger-leg dance cuts to shots of Ferguson looking guiltily seduced, and we only find out at the end that he has been seducing himself with his own hand (masturbation, which Graham and Jaimz Asmundson discuss avidly in an essay accompanying the exhibition). 

All of Ferguson’s videos deal with male sexuality in some way. Ferguson has described himself as “not gay but not quite straight.” This resistance to heteronormativity results in a complete lack of females, female body parts or other objects of desire. It’s about the search for Ferguson, not the catch. In “Dead Meat,” a hunky blonde boy goes on a journey from the wintry prairies (Ferguson lives in Saskatoon) to the desert. Arriving at his destination, the boy sheds his clothes, which turn into animals - fur hat bunnies, pants owl, leather jacket raven. The pants owl beckons him forward, and the boy pushes his head through a slit where he sees a glass of water, the form his desire has taken. He asks in a typically dudish way, “is that a tall, juicy, glass of water?” To which a voice tells him that the water is not actually there, but is a metaphor meant to teach him about “self discovery, life, and...stuff.” 

Image Credit: Platform Centre for Photographic + Digital Arts

The third video is “The Ratspectacla,” possibly my favourite because of the absurd plot, hilariously lo-fi aesthetic and catchy soundtrack . The video again features constructed models and inserted photographic cutouts that simulate reality. It begins with a miniature circus designed for rats. Then, Ferguson and his friend Darryl realize that they’ve lost one of the rats, which becomes human-sized and starts to chase them. The climax comes when Darryl enters a room with a table filled with cream covered donuts. The rat finds him hiding, and starts to eat him. Cream erupts out of poor little Darryl, filling up the screen in an obvious reference to ejaculation. Like “Teenage Wasteland,” “The Ratspectacla” ends with Ferguson revealing his magician’s hat of tricks, and we are shown the models he has used in creating the giant rodent-filled fantasy. 

Conceptual artists such as Matt Mullican have produced valuable works examining language and the subconscious. It seems as if the work that Ferguson makes is miles apart, and more influenced by the aesthetics of music videos, popular culture, home video and even comic books than by serious aesthetic concerns coming from the art world. Ferguson certainly connects his work to larger aesthetic ideas, though, by examining the mediated ways in which spectacle is constructed. Engaging with an audience is essential to Ferguson, and he has succeeded in doing this with these works. I’m sure his videos could play on Much Music, or the Comedy Network, and get a positive response. However, In Search of Desire is not just about entertainment and visual appeal, but also deals with desire and male sexuality in an honest, inquisitive and very personal way. 

-N.B. Winnipeg

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