Ross Muirhead | Video-Still Series


Since the introduction of mass media technologies, visual artists have either rejected or acknowledged new developments in image-making technology as they entered into popular culture and began to shape the modern consciousness. Ideas of what can constitute the fine art object led to experiments in the multi-media art form. This series attempts to extend the efforts of ‘critical modernism’ to integrate mass media forms with the art object leading to a self-reflective and critical look at the modernist project.  The pieces in this exhibition integrate photographic print, video and text into a wall-mounted art work.  This format layers several viewing experiences: moment-in-time, real-time and narrative. The pieces are influenced by histories in photography, film, storytelling and documentary traditions. 

Framed prints exist on the same picture plane as the monitors providing a seamless reading. Video footage is looped with introductory scrolling text and audio components. The text ranges from storytelling to documentary and acts to ‘ground’ the images to a context. The idea of the pure or the isolated image that is a repository of a universal truth is challenged as a construct that can be used by the author to present a single viewpoint, or at worst used for propagandist ends. The text is written from the perspective of whatboth poetry and data (facts) bring to our understanding of the world. These two different types of ‘narratives’ could be seen as contradictory and it is the challenge to find a balance that the viewer is required to navigate. 

The content of the pieces is focused on regional issues such as impacts on the landscape, the replacement of the environment with urban sprawl, issues facing the forestry industry as well aslocal responses to global issues such as the invasion of Iraq and the politics of oil. Several fall into the travelogue category from the artist’s trips to UAE and Nicaragua. Some of the compositions such as in Selling off the Parts, 2007, are staged for dramatic effect mimicking old masters’ paintings. The protestor’s gestures and subject of the hero in the face of adversity is reflect in the Jacques-Louis David’s painting, Oath of the Horatii, 1784.

Other pieces use video in a Direct Cinema approach whereby the subject-matter and site are revealed in real-time with long un-edited pans. The viewer can be drawn into the scenes allowing for contemplation of the images. Direct Cinema emerged from a desire to compare common opinion with reality. It attempted to show how things really are, outside the studio, far from the editorial control of the establishment—be it governmental or big press. What was noteworthy was the goal to test common opinion and show reality was constantly kept in check with an acute awareness that it is easy to lie, or fabricate with sound and image.

Foremost, this series attempts to provide the viewer with an experience of a place depicted from multiple viewpoints through the use of different media.  It is hoped that the viewer can find a personal articulation of the subject matter within the greater context of modernist forces that have shaped current reality.  By providing a text that widens the interpretation of the scenes depicted by the camera, these works lean towards a de-construction of the image.

Ross Muirhead is a photo-based artist working out of Vancouver, BC. He graduated from Emily Carr of College of Art in 1980 and with a MFA from the University of BC in 1990. He combines an interest in the effects of modernism on the human condition with environmental activism and this informs his practice in photography and video. Theresults in a quasi-documentary approach to picture-making. Muirhead has exhibited across Canada and was selected to participate in the Un-Natural Traces exhibition held at the Barbican Art Gallery, London, UK (1991). The show was the largest exhibit of Canadian contemporary art in the UK with a focus on the changing Canadian landscape and was held in conjunction with a Group of Seven exhibit.  The artist has pursued other interests while at the same time developing a new body of work. This show at the Penticton Art Gallery is the first public showing of 16 new works from the series: Photo-Video Works.