Exhibition by John Pilson

May 28 — Jul 2, 2005



Western Front presented a solo exhibition by John Pilson featuring video works. 

Pilson depicted a world in which its participants are alternately at odds and fascinated by the cold and impersonal corporate work environments found in the Manhattan skyscrapers of his native New York. As the architectural epitome of the modernist grid, the skyscraper is based upon the standards of engineering and scientific progress while its resulting urban planning privileges the social and aesthetic order found in the pure geometry of the machine world. Pilson recorded irrational vignettes that played out against this rational and homogenous grid architecture. In the videos, workers wander the halls and offices of skyscrapers, taking part in alternately comical, ridiculous, and random actions that undermine the clinical and uniform business atmosphere of which they find themselves in.

In Mr. Pickup (2001), a lawyer is observed in his office as he spends half an hour trying (but failing) to put documents in a briefcase so he can leave for an important meeting. Here, corporate standards of success and composure are held up against a comedy of errors of vaudevillian proportions.

Pilson’s single-channel work St. Denis (2003) is inspired by past and present events at an infamous turn-of-the-century New York building of the same name. Once host to Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant in its former role as a hotel, the building was also the site of Alexander Graham Bell’s first public demonstration of the telephone, and where Marcel Duchamp maintained a secret studio and where his last work Étant donnés (1966) was found. Lee Harvey Oswald also briefly worked in the building. St. Denis reflected upon the building's history as well as its present use as converted office space now occupied almost entirely by psychoanalysts and massage therapists.

Another work in the exhibition, Dark Empire, which was filmed in real time from dusk to darkness during the August 2003 blackout, featured a profile of the Empire State Building gradually darkening as the sun drops in the horizon behind a city without electricity. Forming a black spire against a sprawling metropolis, Dark Empire becomes a meditation on modernist urban planning where an enduring icon of progress and corporate ascendancy disappears into the inky blackness of the city grid from which it rose.

An exhibition opening took place on May 27 and an artist talk with Pilson in attendance followed on May 28.

Curated by Jonathan Middleton.

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Western Front is a non-profit
artist-run centre in Vancouver.

We acknowledge the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations as traditional owners of the land upon which Western Front stands.