Gillian Iles: You can only get there from here

The title itself is a little bit strange. Where is here and where is there? Why does anyone want to get from here to there?

A combination of nerve and wit, 2013, 5 panels, mixed media, 102 x 118 inches and sculptures of variable sizes, winterstone

Stepping into the gallery we come face to face with A combination of nerve and wit, a painting of a large dark tunnel that seems ready to swallow us. Above it is a landscape with a bridge and greenery while in the top left corner the image of a bull breaks the peace. But we don’t spend too much time looking at nature as our gaze keeps returning to the tunnel. It is so dark and forbidding but somehow mesmerizing as well. A sculpture of a young hooded girl stands behind a rail and stares into the darkness, maybe trying to decide whether to enter or keep away. The exhibition poster shows a different version of this installation where a boy squats on his skateboard in a suspended moment of indecision. It’s not a question of seeing the “end of the tunnel” at this point as it’s so far away. The boy is all the way at this end and has to decide whether to move into it at all. It is a very scary depiction of starting your adult life and it’s understandable that the young person’s reaction seems rather passive.

A momentary decision of monumental significance, 2013, triptych, oil, acrylic and pastel on canvas, 78 x 66, 72 x 16, 78 x 54 inches, video

The corner piece titled A Momentary Decision of monumental significance has two large red panels and a smaller, blue one, plus a sculpture, a projector and a video. In one panel we see a deer and behind it a bloody carcass that might be its future. In the opposite panel a man is posing as a bourgeois family patriot—someone important. The hunter and the hunted are looking at each other from one panel to the other. The sculpture of a young girl faces the man. Her head is covered by a hoodie and she’s holding some brochures—maybe handouts against animal cruelty. In her other hand is a large flag with a forest bridge projected on it.

Installation image view with the sculpture of girl from A momentary decision of monumental significance, projected image

Can the generation gap between these two figures—between past and future—be bridged, or it is just an illusion like the projected image? Maybe the bridge is there so the deer can avoid a grisly fate.

A combination of cunning, speed and astonishing grace, 2012, oil acrylic and pastel on canvas,  78 x 48 inches

A pack of lions are fighting in the corner of a large painting titled A combination of cunning, speed and astonishing grace. Their sudden movement is in strong contrast to the heavy stillness of the futuristic building towering over them. Most likely the land with its sandy colors originally belonged to the animals even if they seem to be alienated in it now. This composition includes two sculptures of youngsters, one with the face of a lion on the back of its head, and the other, a wolf. Iles mentioned that she often uses animals as metaphors to show the characteristics of a group or to signify what might become of those children as adults. Will these two become fighters for the environment or will they just tear each other apart in social conflicts?

That’s not how we do things here – 02, 2011, oil, acrylic and pastel on canvas, 40 x 48 inches

Sculptures of fragile young figures fill the room and they are often the protagonists of Iles’ paintings as well. She is looking at the social disruption that teenagers face these days and their body language as a clue to figuring out their response. Many of the youngsters wear hoodies to protect their fragile identity. Some of them turn their back to us unready to face the challenges we represent. As Iles says in her artist statement, “The world of youth on the cusp of adolescence is a closed and inaccessible environment of mysterious rituals, customs and codes of behaviour that are unintelligible to outsiders. Sculptural elements have been added which work in tandem with, and react to the paintings, creating a physical void between the subjects and the object of their desire and repulsion. The figures stand tentatively on the cusp of awareness of their potential and the abyss of the adult prerogative.”

That’s not how we do things here – 05, 2012, diptych, oil, acrylic and pastel on canvas, 70 x 140 inches

This exhibition is not for the frail of heart. It is a brave show with a strong message about environmental issues as well as the challenges that every generation faces when replacing the previous one. They want to be better. Hopefully they still have a chance to save our environment and define a morality that supports and respects all. It won’t be easy for them while adults are always saying, That’s not how we do things here – the title of Iles’ previous show.

Iles’ installation is an interactive hybrid of figurative paintings, sculptures and video/projected images that juxtapose the layers of her narrative.

Emese Krunák-Hajagos

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

*Exhibition dates: November 6 – 30, 2013, Red Head Gallery, 401 Richmond Street West. Gallery hours: Wed – Sat 12 – 5 p.m.

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