October 1, 2009 - May 1, 2010
Every Fall the Blackwood Gallery commissions an artist to produce a work for the Bernie Miller Lightbox, a billboard sized (268.0 cm x 176.5 cm, 108" x 72") venue installed on the outside of the William Davis Building (formerly known as South Building) where the two wings of the building meet at the end of "Five Minute Walk". The commissioned work stays throughout the school year. In the summer, the Lightbox displays the original work by Bernie Miller, Five Minute Mirror (2001), which inaugurated the site.
Alison S.M. Kobayashi is an identity contortionist.
In her work, Kobayashi incarnates a panoply of personas that are both studiously and playfully rendered. She strides a tense line between portraiture and caricature which presents a palpable commentary on the strictures our identities are continually subjected to. In each performance (usually made specifically for video), she synthesizes both the nuances as well as the stereotypes of each of the characters she embodies. Back and forth from finesse to crudity.
In The Seven Inch Fall, commissioned by the Blackwood Gallery in connection with its Fall 2009 exhibitions exploring notions of gravity, Kobayashi draws from the experience of her own recent graduation from the Art & Art History Program at UTM. To compose the image the artist references specific components of three films: Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality, Disney's Alice in Wonderland, Powell and Pressburger's 1948 classic The Red Shoes (see video clips below). The latter is particularly germane as a latent theme of the film is the fraught relation between apprentice and mentor, novice and veteran, teacher and student. Kobayashi is also playfully addressing the recurring scenario found in romantic comedies where, in her words, "a character turns heads with confidence and sex appeal in her stride, but suddenly, heels wobble, balance is lost, and she comes tumbling down from the film's pedestal of feminine perfection."
The provocative image stages a fall which derails the reception of her diploma. The diploma is held in suspense by an anonymous man, an abstracted personification of authority. The final act of graduation is put on hold. Will she ever graduate? Does she actually want to? Perhaps the answer to those questions lies in the incongruous elements of the image—the movement of the face versus the rigid pose of the legs. The paradox of a still fall. The perplexing red shoes with their implausible angles further heighten the tone of ambiguity pervading the work. In other words, the image does not provide an answer, rather it poses a critical set of questions. Prominent amongst them is the specter of failure that is brought to the fore within an institution whose maxim espouses success. While accomplishments are undeniably laudable, the artist seems to unabashedly embrace an alternate scenario to the one where a diploma is the end goal. What could be the fallout from such a dissident position?
- Christof Migone, Director/Curator
In my final year at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, I enrolled in the course "Feminism and Pop Culture" and wrote a paper about a woman’s walk as an everyday performance of gender. Graceful, sexy, or strong, and executed in heels of a variety of heights, a woman’s walk and its ability to communicate different messages is curious. After studying several romantic comedies, I became obsessed by the image of a woman who trips and falls while walking. The pattern is repeated over and over. A character turns heads with confidence and sex appeal in her stride, but suddenly, heels wobble, balance is lost, and she comes tumbling down from the film's pedestal of feminine perfection. The higher the stakes of the walk, the more humiliating and humorous the fall. This device is often used to make the character more accessible, whether she is actually played by a supermodel or not. Most often, falling is different for a male character. For him a slapstick fall usually doesn’t involve this failure to perform gender ideals.
The Seven Inch Fall is my attempt to draw attention to this pattern, while relating it to my own experience as a student at UTM. Convocation is the final and most exaggerated act that we students must successfully perform. Dressed in gowns and hoods and lined up in front of our parents and peers, we are given one precious moment to accept a piece of paper showing our success at the institution. In this image, however, I do not quite make it. My path is sabotaged by a pair of shoes out of a bad dream. The extreme fetishistic "en pointe" heels work in part as a reference the film, The Red Shoes, which is based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale about a ballet performance. In the story, the ballerina’s feet become possessed by her red shoes, which carry her to the edge of a balcony where she loses her balance and falls onto the tracks of an oncoming train. This is a tragic alternative for the woman falling, but my image also references a comedic fall from Alice in Wonderland. During the croquet game with Alice, the Queen of Hearts endures a mortifying fall revealing her fantastic heart-patterned knickers. With these references, I hope to capture some of the ambiguity I feel about falling. Though my actual walk across stage was fairly uneventful (considering it took me six years to get there), a fall like the one imagined by this image might have better marked the moment.
Alison S. M. Kobayashi is a visual artist working in video, performance, installation and drawing.
She was born and raised in Mississauga and is currently working in Toronto. Her interest in found narratives resulted in two video works, From Alex To Alex and Dan Carter. Finding a lost letter in the first case, and a discarded answering machine tape in the second, Kobayashi imagines identities for each person mentioned in the narrative and then performs all the roles herself. In 2006 she won the TSV Artistic Vision Award for Best Local Short Film at the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival and in 2007 was awarded the Mississauga Arts Award for Best Emerging Artist. Her films have been shown in Canada, the U.S. and Hong Kong.