Over the decades, film and video recording have become commonplace aspects of modern culture as the technology became more portable and popular. Yet what is a film but a sequence of still images; what is suggesting motion is actually a series of motionless representations of the actual scene. A moving object appears in one frame, while each of the subsequent frames display its blur, struggling to transfix the same object in two separate places and two different states: motion and stillness. In his aptly-named exhibition Between Motion and Stillness, David Rokeby explores and documents urban landscapes rife with boundless activity through a variety of mediums that cleverly capture the abundant sense of mobility and temporality. Rather than relegate these subjects directly to film, Rokeby instead uses still images that are manipulated to convey motion while still being stationary. Despite film’s potential for accuracy and convenience, the constant transitioning between scenes may distort or undermine the more emphatic details. The use of traditionally “fixed” mediums retains these elements that are otherwise overlooked.
The largest theme present in Rokeby’s collection is the exploration of city squares, which are usually bustling hubs of activity. Here, he represents four: “San Marco Quartet (San Marco Square)” in Venice, “Trafalgar Square” in London, “Dundas Square” in downtown Toronto, and the Suburban Suite (Square One) in Mississauga. While Rokeby begins with the same recurring concept for these explorations, he then chooses different means of representing each square in particular. “Dundas Square” is a lenticular image (known informally as a “ripple image”) where two images of the same subject taken at different points of time are placed on a corrugated plastic sheet: the first image is placed on one side of the corrugations and the second on the other side. As viewers change their perspective, the lenticular innately elicits an optical illusion where the eyes try to ameliorate between the still images, thus conveying the sense of motion. A dynamic scene changes as the viewer moves within the gallery space: a streetcar passes along its rails, people scour the sidewalks, and cars fill the streets.
“Suburban Suite” envisions another familiar, relatively quiet setting within the Greater Toronto Area. Square One, although the heart to Mississauga, is portrayed in Rokeby’s works more solemnly and desolate in comparison to the traffic of San Marco or Trafalgar. Here he presents eight canvas paintings and each focus on only those objects that are moving within the scene. Buildings and scenery are muted into the gray undercoating and are distinguished only by a subtle layering of paint that creates shallow models of the space. Simultaneously, Rokeby paints the intricate details of the people and cars so that against the monotone background, these objects burst with life and anticipate.
David Rokeby, Suburban Suite, 2017, printed on canvas, 72″ x 42,5″. Courtesy of Pari Nadimi Gallery
By comparison, “San Marco Quartet” delves into another means of perception: the movement of light. In this set of combined lightbox pictures, luminescent strands flood and illuminate the square. Though they are meant to represent the blur of the bustling crowd, Rokeby strays from the representational and concrete to convey something more abstract, fluid, and vibrant.
Between Motion and Stillness is an awe-inspiring and thought-provoking exploration of the concept of motion and the different means of dissecting and describing it through visual media. This only describes a portion of the full collection; the rest must be experienced and enjoyed personally.
*Exhibition information: April 13 – May 27, 2014, Pari Nadimi Gallery, 254 Niagara Street, Toronto. Gallery hours: Wed – Sat, 12 – 5 pm.