“A Pea Can Be Chopped Up and Reassembled Into The Sun”

As a young adult, I was obsessed by the seemingly counterintuitive operation of understanding the process of becoming, while resisting a hegemonic notion of “origin.” How is one assembled? How does one assemble themselves? What do we do when the pieces oppose one another? “A Pea Can Be Chopped Up and Reassembled Into The Sun,” a group show of four prairie-based practices at the Art Gallery of Regina (AGR), curated by Sandee Moore, takes on these questions of sediment, layering and reciprocal, reflexive connection through the lenses of collage, assemblage and surplus.

Paul Robles, Untitled (Melancholic), 2020, cut butcher paper on vellum, 27 x 27 inches. Photo: Paul Robles. Collection of the artist.

The space of the AGR can be awkward, feeling at once both cramped and cavernous, making it a near-perfect canvas for the works presented by Jason Cawood and Colby Richardson (known collectively as Phomohobes), Paul Robles, Gerry Ruecker and Rhayne Vermette. Works are spread out across the gallery, taking every space as surface, bleeding into the interstitial zones above doors and between the exit sign and emergency lighting. In the centre of the gallery, works by Ruecker and Vermette are placed in direct opposition to one another, like chess pieces poised for a standoff. Works by Phomohobes and Robles encircle them, leaving little space for one’s eyes to rest, a choice that matches the relentless, maximal pace of most of the work.

Phomohobes, Perverted 1950s Child’s Bedroom Wallpaper (detail), 2021, wallpaper. Photo: Sandee Moore.

Many of Gerry Ruecker’s works inspire a troubling ambivalence in me. These campy assemblages— made mostly of bougie design objects that are, themselves, knock-off approximations of conspicuous wealth—fluctuate between sly satire and basement tinkering. Aspects of Reucker’s pieces recall the trendy assemblages in independent project spaces that became fashionable in the last decade, while maintaining an allegiance to the satirical posture of works like BGL’s Postérité-les-Bains (Usine de sapins). The works manage to indulge the sensual pleasure of crass consumer culture while sliding a knife between the ribs of cultural excess. A large illuminated cross made of copper pipes and brass tchotchkes finally transforms the twinning of indulgence and satire into a kind of penance.

Rhayne Vermette’s works offer an intimate and somewhat messy counterpoint to the polish of the other work in the exhibition. Each of the sculptural pieces, barely bigger than the palm of my hand, depicts blocky interiors reminiscent of sitcom stages or theatre flats. I like being asked to lean into a work and finding an impossible, anxious space staring back. These lonesome sets are inhabited only by the dust and hair caught in their hypnotic layers of tape, themselves a remnant of film editing and splicing techniques. Vermette offers a sly material consideration from the inverted framing of House Movie to the plywood plinths, constructed from conspicuously assembled layers of wood and glue.

Rhayne Vermette, Studio Sketch, 2019, Imax collage and paper matte in glass, 11 x 16.5 inches. Photo: Rhayne Vermette.

Everything about Phomohobes is a collage, melding different parts of existing wholes, from the name of the collaboration to the frames in which the work is shown. They often barrel through the question of what might be “too much” before the words even leave the speaker’s lips. The duo presents their work only as digital prints, a material choice that Moore describes as “returning the source material to the impenetrable membrane of the printed page.” This, along with the computer-generated list of Works Not Shown (based on existing names of Phomohobes works), stokes a feeling of distance. Each piece feels like a succession of elaborate barriers; a curtain drawn back that reveals another curtain, over and over, until you learn to admire the curtain—because it is a very nice curtain. Together, Cawood and Richardson seem determined to not only abandon the concept of origin but mock it tirelessly.

In the context of this show, the butcher paper of Paul Robles’s paper cuts finds a much different meaning and use than you would find if it were transplanted back to its origin in the supermarket or butcher shop. I like to imagine the minute, detailed holes and cuts leaving trails of blood and meat juice throughout the aisles of a suburban grocery store. In a similar move, Robles reconfigures vintage pornography by inscribing circular voids that obscure the penetrative focal point. These acts of pseudo-censorship transform the purported use of pornography into a farce, playing on the pathos of male masturbation and the violence of the male gaze, which is so central to most mainstream porn.

Though some of the curatorial framing of the work depicts the act of collage as transforming worthless or low-cost materials into valuable ones, I prefer to see this ability to transform as a more lateral shift in the potential meaning of materials. I like to imagine different types, rather than different amounts of value, though I know this might be my own, useless, utopian fantasy. The magic (which could just be a stand-in for the concept of value) I see in collage is much more akin to the multiplication of meaning in the gestalt images also referred to in Sandee Moore’s curatorial essay. They acknowledge the limitless aptitude for things and people to contain and express meaning in different, simultaneous, or leaky ways that are contingent on the social circumstances in the time and place where they exist.

Rhayne Vermette, Phomohobes, Paul Robles, Gerry Ruecker, installation view, “A Pea Can Be Chopped Up and Reassembled Into The Sun,” 2021, Art Gallery of Regina. Photo: Don Hall.

Many of the works in this exhibition help unstick the rigid meanings associated with materials so closely linked to the concentration and exchange of capital. This transformation brings with it a potent ability to multiply. Several works signal a simultaneous critique and indulgence in this multiplication. While the constituent substances cannot undergo a metaphysical exponential growth, the meaning they generate offers a glimpse of limitlessness, which can feel both miraculous and daunting. ❚

“A Pea Can Be Chopped Up and Reassembled Into The Sun” was exhibited at the Art Gallery of Regina, from May 28, 2021, to July 31, 2021.

Nic Wilson (he/they) is an artist and a writer based on Treaty 4 land where he graduated from the MFA program at the University of Regina. They have shown work and published writing across Canada and internationally with Struts Gallery, Remai Modern, PUBLIC Journal, NORK, and BlackFlash Magazine.