Gustavo Jabbaz & Joachim Oepkes at CONTACT

Gallery Arcturus is a not-for-profit contemporary art gallery and education centre on Gerrard Street East. Housed in a more than 150-year-old building, nestled amid, and somewhat obscured by, newer, taller buildings, the gallery offers a space to contemplate what may otherwise go unnoticed in the busy urban landscape.

Those who visit the gallery are encouraged to witness the whole process of presentation, exhibition and exploration. The Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival show in the Genesis Gallery is curated by Deborah Harris, aiming to create a series of exhibitions that flow between the two rooms. This place appears to me to be the perfect home for Gustavo Jabbaz and Joachim Oepkes’ joint show—Looking for Sky and Stilled Moments as both artists are deeply rooted in their experiences of life in the city.

Over the years, Gustavo Jabbaz has developed a unique style of urban photography. In his own words, he finds a spot that appeals to him and amplifies it across the viewers field of vision. Instead of capturing space in a particular moment in time these images capture time through a particular space.

Gustavo Jabbaz, Looking for Sky, Panel 3

Stepping into the gallery the piece that captures our immediate attention is a sixteen-foot collage of buildings around the city—an almost recognizable stretch of the downtown core that has never existed. The images are presented in an arched shape reminiscent of renaissance chapels, but the effect is closer to Gaudi’s work—pulling the viewer into a manufactured environment around us. In its own distinctly urban way this artwork imitates a canopy of trees refracting light in a way that has been scientifically considered by the artist. The composition itself covers an entire wall of the gallery giving viewers the perspective of lying in the middle of a downtown road. While moving around the room, the piece seem to be playing with our senses and our perception of proximity.

Installation view of Gustavo Jabbaz, Looking for Sky

Across from this photograph, images of pedestrians printed on transparencies are hung. The building in these images becomes a faint whisper around the people passing through these urban places—the temporary becomes the central point. This focus on movement and the momentary is further emphasized by the ability of the panels of the collage to move within the space.

Installation view of Gustavo Jabbaz, Looking for Sky

Stepping through a doorway into the next room you enter a ‘gallery of faces.’ Joachim Oepkes has three installations on display as part of his series, Stilled Moments. His work, as he says, appropriates images he finds around world and then pulls them out of context; forcing the viewer to create their own interpretations and re-examine their knowledge. Two of his pieces are from a recent trip to London, England.

Installation view of Joachim Oepkes, Stilled Moments, Faces

Another shows a pandemic narrative of Toronto, filtered through several lenses and then presented back to us, creating a sort of visual broken telephone and challenging our understanding of collective narratives.

Joachim Oepkes, Stilled Moments, Face the Truth

When walking through the gallery he told me about his trip to the final resting place of many Knights Templar, the inspiration for his artwork Grotesques. He was looking at the graves when he noticed distorted, agitated sculptured heads staring out at him from the walls—representations of a purgatorial state. This story, among other pieces of his art, illustrates how our perception is shaped by narratives.

Joachim Oepkes, Stilled Moments, Grotesques

Jabbaz and Oepkes give us images of everyday city life, stretched and sorted in ways that challenge our habits of engaging with the world around us. Instead of following the narrative placed before us we must interrogate it in different ways. Together these bodies of work make us think about our own perceptions and presumptions. How can we find clarity in a world of constant motion?

Lily Scriven

Images are courtesy of the artists

*Exhibition information: Gustavo Jabbaz, Looking for Sky and Joachim Oepkes, Stilled Moments, May 6 – June 24, 2023, Gallery Arcturus, 80 Gerrard St E, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Sat 12 – 5:30pm. The exhibition is part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival

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