Review of an Exhibition

Recently I went to see Sara Cwyner: Tracy, an art exhibit featuring work by photographer and cinematographer, Sara Cwyner. The show explores many themes including consumerism and sexism using collage, photographs and film. The majority of photos depict Tracy, a model and friend to the artist (who I initially mistook for the artist herself), in a reclining pose on a coloured fabric. A collection of props was arranged to obscure the model in nearly every photo, including beauty products, photos of a variety of women, iPhone accessories and definitions clipped from dictionaries. I noticed that Tracy’s hands were deliberately left visible, and that the photos seem to have been done in pairs. This can be seen most clearly in the two suits of armor displayed across from each other. Both have black and white photos of objects being touched by a pair of hands. But while one of them has a closed helmet, the other is left open. This duality is also reflected in the short videos located in each of the three rooms in the centre, with the contrast between masculinity and femininity, or the colours Pink and Gold.

Entering the dark rooms, I saw a row of chairs positioned in the middle of the room. On the screen was a seemingly unrelated series of clips, alternating between shots of various objects and the artist in the process of taking the photographs on display. The first video focused on the fashion and makeup industry, contrasting the bright attractive colours worn by Tracy with the dull artificial colours and sounds of a factory producing makeup. A woman’s voice, presumably that of the artist, mused that colour, is something that is experienced uniquely by each individual, yet they are altered to look more pleasing than reality. In this world created by men, a women’s face doesn’t belong to her alone. The video was entrancing, with the voiceover constantly overlapping and being interrupted by both her own and an unknown male voice. This combined with the rhythmic drones of the factory in the background and the frequent change of visuals, left me unaware of how much time has passed, but intrigued to keep watching. This feeling continued with the other two videos, but with the man was the primary speaker. In the second video, the man seemed to talk to the viewer directly, about his thoughts on the rose-gold iPhone, a “new” colour designed to sell more products. We seem to communicate through touch, but “When did we learn to swipe?” he asks. It is this video that we first see the artist herself, where she can be seen mimicking Tracy’s pose but in a way that is unflattering. Typically Sara uses old cameras for her work, but this video made it most apparent, with desaturated colours and credits moved by hand. The final video used trinkets and mementos that the artist purchased online to demonstrate that they are only imitations of real life, something we are fooled into paying for.

After watching the videos, I began to get a clearer picture of the show as a whole. The suits of armor represent idealized strong, protective masculine figure, compared to the beautiful reclining image women have typically been portrayed as. The choice to have Tracy, an Asian woman, as the model was a deliberate decision to make a point about the classic standard of beauty. The three pink roses and three gold presidential busts reinforce the difference in gender roles while also referring to the rose gold iphone featured in the second video. Overall I would recommend checking this show out, whether you’re interested in photography or not, It’s worth seeing.

The show is on display at the Oakville Galleries at Centennial Square until June 3rd.

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