Runs until January 30
Plus-15 walkway (Epcor Centre)
Dead dogs dont bite, right? Its a question that comes to mind when viewing the three paintings of Victoria, B.C.-based artist Megan Hepburn.
The works, Terminal Modern, are co-presented by Bubonic Tourist as part of its Mutton Busting Performance and Visual Art Festival, and Stride Gallery. Located in a window gallery on the Plus-15 walkway connected to the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts, one of Hepburns three paintings shows a dog lying on a bathroom floor, partially wrapped around a toilet bowl. The first reaction on seeing the glassy-eyed canine is to assume its dead yet its body still seems to hold out the possibility of life, that it could stand up on its four feet and walk out of the frame.
This paradox is what draws us into Hepburns work and confuses us at the same time. Increasingly frustrated by the lack of concrete evidence about the animals state, we create a narrative in order to fill the vacuum the artist has left. Each of Hepburns paintings offers up a wealth of possibilities and its those who stop to take a look that complete the storyline.
The next painting is of a fox, this time unceremoniously strewn across a dark surface, its mouth wide open dead, to be sure. And the final painting is of another dog this time in a modern kitchen that could be found in almost any Canadian home. Shiny appliances and gleaming floors suggest order. But the order appears ominous as it closes in on the dark coated canine staring out from the canvas. What is the animal saying to us? Save me? Help me? Leave me alone?
Viewed as a series, Hepburns paintings provoke tantalizing questions about the human world and its relationship to animals. Are we their masters? Protectors? Exploiters? In a culture that supports "doggy day cares" for city dwellers who are too busy to care for the animals that they have chosen to bring into their homes in the first place, its no wonder the sight of a seemingly dead dog on a bathroom floor stirs such reactions from those who walk by the window, jolting them out of their complacency.
One passerby says, as she walks on, "These paintings have caused quite a bit of debate around here." Another chimes in, "I dont think they should have them here, where children will see them."
And its not just this inquisitive journalist who is getting an earful. The curator of Mutton Busting, Eric Moschopedis, has also received spontaneous feedback about the paintings.
"Somebody yelled at me the other day that theyre offensive," he says, adding that it isnt the festivals motive to anger and upset people. "We don't program for shock value. We try to present work that interprets the world (as) we see it."
Its at this point that Hepburns exhibition transcends its state as a static series of three paintings and becomes theatre as powerful as any being performed on the stages in the auditoriums of the arts centre. The very public window space supports the notion that every pedestrian has a right to voice his or her opinion about these three animals, which raise questions about freedom, death, relationships and our place in the world.
Three other Plus-15 windows also contain visual art as part of the Mutton Busting festival: Are You Scared? by Geneviève Castrée of Anacortes, Washington, Gaylord Phoenix in the Flower Temple by New York City-based artist Edie Fake and We Are Constantly Deceiving Our Eyes by Kit Malo of Montreal are on display until the end of the month.