Having been born and bred on the prairies I suppose I should be used to the glaring futility of shoveling snow. I’m sure we’ve all reached that point when we realize, not only has everything that you’ve shoveled suddenly been covered by a fresh dusting from the night before, but the fact that winter doesn’t end for another three months has taken the fight right out of you. Like when the snowplow comes and pushes everything back onto your driveway while you’re going to the bathroom.
Welcome to Winnipeg.
In Cabin Fever, the exhibition currently showing at PLATFORM, a number of artists explore that exact sense of caged emotion through video and photographic media, taking different perspectives on the soul-wrenching sense of isolation and how it produces the vibrant creativity that Winnipeg has become known for.
Overall the pieces were quite cohesive once the underlying theme was made clear; however, since each artist made their pieces at different times and for different reasons, there was a slight sense of forcedness to the thematic rubric — among the video installations in particular.
There is a piece featuring a man, naked except for the longest and ugliest wig you could possibly imagine and vinyl hooker boots, gyrating soundlessly while the caption encourages you to guess the song.
Needless to say, not much time was spent here.
There were works with a much clearer voice, my favorite of which was the portrait of a woman half collapsed into a suitcase in despair, every fibre of her weighed down by the burden of her task and its accompanying ennui. This was from a series of photos that share the same concept, examining how even the littlest action can have a great emotional effect, especially in terms of the futility of repeated motions and the lack of joy in their purpose.
What immediately comes to mind are all the mundane tasks that multiply when you’re not looking and pull you down with their endlessness; washing dishes — my mortal enemy — haunts me from the shadows of the kitchen. They extend this concept to the overall theme of prairie life, especially in the long, cold, brutal winters we are forced to endure. Who hasn’t taken a look outside during a prairie blizzard and felt a wave of anticipated exhaustion and aggravated resignation wash over them? Even if you don’t have a car, just the act of walking to school turns into a running of the gauntlet.
The other pieces focus more on the boredom and emotional suppression that comes with forced confinement, whether physical or intellectual. From the frustration and self-doubt that stem from trying to count piles of confetti to the creation of small structures from everyday objects, there is a visible progression from the bottled soul to seeking unusual outlets for this chained expression.
After all, if we weren’t holding back the weariness and exasperation and disbelief at winter’s choice of torture methods, we’d all go insane. But what goes in must come out, and it seems the way we choose to express our channeled creativity is through methods that wouldn’t occur to those less precipitationally blessed. The photo installation featuring hands tied into different gestures using elastic bands and string is a quite marked example of that brand of “unusual,” but somehow seems reasonable all the same.
Cabin Fever tries and mostly succeeds in defining that intangible illness that overcomes us prairie-dwellers in the deep winter, and ties it closely to interesting creative outlets. While it does have some pieces that make it hard to take them seriously, overall it is a thought-provoking dialogue on suppression and expression.
To reference Winnipeg one more time, there was a song by the Watchmen with the lyrics, “the whole town of ice and snow gets you running, chasing something, what it is I’ll never know.” Whatever it is that afflicts us here, it somehow becomes the catalyst for greater things. Maybe cabin fever isn’t so bad after all . . . Denial is such a beautiful thing.
Cabin Fever runs at PLATFORM: centre for photographic + digital arts until Dec. 11.