By Will McGuirk
Artist Olex Wlasenko has a series of new works currently on exhibit at the Art Gallery of Northumberland in Cobourg, ON. The exhibit is titled, “In Reel Time.” and is sourced, as Wlasenko’s work normally is, from found film footage.
Film; see a darkened cinema, projections of light and shadows on a wall, on screen, mere distractions, the stuff of fables, the stuff of myth. But who hasn’t thought to reach through the screen, into the action, to become a star on that silky flickering silver screen. Who in the darkness has not thought to reach out, aim to touch those stars, to reach beyond.
One can be awed by spectacle, entertained by vaudeville, enchanted by theatre without a desire to step on to the stage. The fourth wall is intact. But there are films, which shed light onto life, our life, the life of the audience, we can see ourselves in there, up there and we lean in, to look inside, side to side. The film is a world, the projection is a portal and we yearn to follow this Alice down this rabbit hole, to share these adventures.
But the portal disappears when the film ends. We are frozen in the flood of light, stuck in a moment we can’t get out of, suspended, still. The yearning to be in the movies unfulfilled.
Film has been of interest to Wlasenko from a young age, his father collected Soviet era Ukrainian cinema. He has been exploring the intersection of art and film by way of charcoal on paper, using just his forefinger, with subject matter drawn from old movies, mostly of Eastern European origin, more recently from western European art house films. His large scale works are expressions of that moment when seeing becomes touching.
To the images of “In Reel Time”, already layered, (life as light on film on screen on paper as drawing), Wlasenko has added yet another layer. The index finger of Wlasenko, like Michelangelo’s "The Creation of Adam" or E.T’s finger electrifying Elliot's, touches the stilled life and distills life. This exhibit layers a consciousness to the subject matter. The film knows it is being watched. The stars are looking back.
In “Paragina”, taken from Antonionni’s “L’Avventura” several people on a boat look out over the sea. All seem lost in their own thoughts. One however looks at us, a face in a side mirror. We do not see the full body, just the reflection of this hidden figure who spots us looking. It is jolting when one sees him at first, this other’s gaze on us.
It is a surprising reaction. We should, by now, be accustomed to faces on screens looking back at us, talking back even. The screen once solid as the back wall of a cinema has become a portal and we have all long since entered, running with Alice through the Looking Glass. Yet, there it is, surprise.
Perhaps it is the mode Wlasenko employs, a form as old as cave painting, dust on a finger, a drawing, on paper, old media long since relegated to the purview of artists, not one we expect to hold surprise but here is this artist, this cave painter, Plato’s Cave painter, and there is that unease when the shadows on the wall turn to face us. The old made new, our past having caught up with our future.
In “Following Metropolis” Wlasenko’s subject is a group who have just finished watching Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.” They are watching the film projectionist close down the film, the projector faces us. We are the projected, we are Lang’s imagined future, realised. Lang’s reel time is our real time. The crowd looks away from us, and we look down the lens of the projector and we walk away, from them, each of us, us, them, into an imagined future of our own making, to be caught one can imagine given the times, on camera.
Olex Wlasenko's "In Reel Time" runs until 29 April 2018. He will give a talk at 2 pm on Wednesday Apr 4 on Canadian art works which appear in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining."
Updated with video add - Tue Apr 17 2018