Kelly Mark Makes a “Public Disturbance”

THE DAILY PIC: The Toronto artist tugs at the line between fact and fiction.

kelly mark

2014-09-12-mark

This is a still from Public Disturbance: HB Series, an utterly compelling video by Toronto artist Kelly Mark. It’s the one real show-stopper in “Oh, Canada”, the grand survey of Canadian art launched at MassMoCA and now (partly) on view at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. In its latest configuration (it’s had a few) Mark’s piece consists of three almost-identical videos that play in sequence on a monitor. (Click on my image to watch one segment.)

In each iteration, a man and a woman—that is, an actor and an actress—have a lover’s tiff. It begins with a mild debate about where to go for dinner (Mr. Chow’s or Le Petit D’Or?) and escalates into a full-blown screaming match about their philosophies of life and knowledge. (Her: “Are you aware that you’re yelling?” Him: “My voice is pitched high for emphasis.”) The same two actors follow almost the same script in each five-minute take, with a bit of room each time for improvisation, but the three similar segments are shot, live, in very different settings: By day, on the steps of some modern building; in early evening, over drinks at what seems to be an art opening; and later at night in a tent where some kind of gala reception is going on. And each time, a different group of unwitting bystanders takes in the squabble, clearly noticing Mark’s video camera but never being quite sure of where the border sits between fact and fiction. Even though we gallery-goers don’t have quite the same confusion, we get pleasure both from being voyeurs at a fight and the audience for actors. No matter how hard we try, we can’t help parsing the meaning of what’s going on in the couple’s squabble; we can never just dismiss it as make-believe. Mark makes us unwilling suspenders of disbelief.

A final note: It turns out that the three videotaped performances actually took place at three different moments and locations at the annual Power Ball fundraiser for the Power Plant art center in Toronto. That gives a unique circularity to Mark’s piece, since it turns art’s ultimate insiders into the outsiders that we watch get taken in—or not—by her fiction. That is, they are players in her piece, but they’re also us, looking on.

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.


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