Miles Greenberg at Arsenal Contemporary Art

Behind the rolling doors of Arsenal Contemporary stands one of the west end’s newest public pools, although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a swim.

The sensorially-immersive exhibition is the brainchild of Montreal-born artist Miles Greenberg, a bold newcomer onto the international stage of live art. The installation’s pearly pool acts as a reflecting pond for durational performance and new treatments of the body as sculptural material.

Miles Greenberg, LO B-13, 2021, C-print, 40.5 x 72 inches

In Late October, the artist’s previous seven-hour performance is condensed into three-channel video. The twenty-six-minute film partially encompasses a small cubic gallery tucked into the far corner of Arsenal’s warehouse space. Sand carpets the hideaway, ceramics scattered throughout, while other pots are staged upon glistening cylindrical plinths that rise from its makeshift terrain. The room is intimate, a cave beyond the sterile glow of the exhibition’s artificial lagoon. In the video, seven figures are reflected upon dark pedestals — slowly rotating in place as the black colour of the podiums they stand upon mirror the oily reflection of their lacquered bodies. Milky contacts shield their eyes. They are human though inhumane, alive though statuesque. Victims of modern gorgoneia.

The filmed performance was originally staged over one year ago at Galleria Continua Les Moulins, a contemporary exhibition space housed approximately one hour east of Paris, France. It involved seven performers, each enacting elaborate sequences of slackened movement over seven consecutive hours.

Installation view of works by Miles Greenberg at the Arsenal Contemporary Art, 2021

Greenberg is known for solo creations of this type. As a student of the Abramović Method, the young artist is well learned in ambitious durational performance. In 2020’s Oysterknife, he walked atop a rotating conveyor belt staged at Montreal’s Centre PHI for twenty-four hours straight — a meditative test of physical and mental endurance. He entrapped himself with his worst fear for his solo New York debut LEPIDOPTEROPHOBIA at Reena Spaulings Fine Art, encased in a Perspex box for five hours while a collection of moths and butterflies danced round his seated frame.

Stills taken from Oysterknife, 2020. Concept and performance by Miles Greenberg; presented by Marina Abramović Institute (MAI); produced by Phi Studios; sound sample by Kelsey Lu; shot at Phi Centre Montreal

Extended productions of this nature are inherently unwatchable. It is not realistic to assume that a viewer will sit in audience for such long durations, nor should this action be expected. I suspect that Greenberg has taken this into consideration as he transitions his work toward dynamic group tableaus. As I gaze upon his performers in Late October, their monumental presence transforms their human form from active entertainers to solid architectural objects. Greenberg begins to fashion a middle way between live art and sculpture.

Installation view of works by Miles Greenberg at the Arsenal Contemporary Art, 2021

The concept of performance turned sculpture is further embodied in the exhibition’s main gallery. Returning to its mystical lagoon, Greenberg takes an absorbing new step in his practice. The supernatural pool is populated by three solid sculptures, the first to be produced and displayed by the artist. The figures are familiar and humanoid, yet jagged and abstract. They originate from 3D scans of the artist’s body in motion. Specific settings were disabled in the machine to hamper its spatial and self-corrective capabilities. Like traditional long exposures on film, the broken digital scans create glitch-like figures. Their limbs fan outward, their bodies embed into one another. Each sculpture is a durational performance frozen at the threshold of motion.

Installation view of works by Miles Greenberg at the Arsenal Contemporary Art, 2021

Though ultramodern and forward-looking in style, the sculptures face backward upon Western art history. Their positionality recalls the placement of Baroque bath décor — dramatic group tableaus that populated steamy halls and exterior fountain spaces carved out of stone by masters such as Bernini and Duquesnoy. It is not shocking, then, to learn that each member in the trio shares its namesake with legends from Greco-Roman mythology. Young figures of tragedy fallen victim to fallibility: Icarus, Narcissus, and Orpheus. They float upon milky indigo waters moated by mercury pebbles — an Afro-futuristic bathhouse.

Installation view of works by Miles Greenberg at the Arsenal Contemporary Art, 2021

I do not think it is out of turn to reflect upon the aestheticization of Black bodies here — a sterile and perfected, though haunting, beauty along the lines of ancient Doryphoros-type figures. Perhaps Greenberg is proposing a new ideal. Perhaps he is criticizing old ones. Either way, the artist weighs and balances these themes well in Arsenal’s reedition of Late October. He holds history while looking toward new horizons in sculpture and performance. I am captivated by the dawn.

Megan Kammerer

Images are courtesy of the Artist, Toni Hafkenscheid, and Arsenal Contemporary Art.

*Exhibition information: Miles Greenberg, Late October, September 17 – December 18, 2021, Arsenal Contemporary Art, 45 Ernest Avenue, Toronto: Gallery hours: Tue – Sat, 11am – 6pm.

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