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The Blind Architect:Visual Conflict | March 22 - April 15, 2006
|Alexander Pilis at Peak Gallery |
The Globe and Mail | Saturday, April 1, 2006 | Visual Arts - Review R11
by Gary Michael Dault
Alexander Pilis at Peak Gallery
Alex Pilis needs a long article and this, alas, isn't going to be it. Too bad, because his brilliant exhibition, The Blind Architect: Visual Crisis, one of the fecund products of Pilis's continuing and, indeed, epic exploration of what he has called the "Architecture Parallax," isn't going to be easy to contextualize.
Pilis was born in Rio de Janeiro but now lives in Barcelona and works globally. He was trained as an architect at the School of Architecture in the University of Toronto, but has always positioned himself, as his gallery statement puts it, as "an undisciplined and de-disciplined architectural investigator." His wide-ranging Parallax researches are predicated on his suspicions about any singularity of vision and interpretation, of monocularity generally, which he has always rather brilliantly equated with dictatorship (having grown up under one) and, at its most metaphysical, with that narrowness of perception that the poet William Blake once called "single vision and Newton's sleep."
This current branch of Parallax research, concentrated in the Peak exhibition, involves Pilis's exploration of blindness -- both as a physical condition and as a "critique of the modernization of vision."
To that end, the exhibition, presumably a sort of compendium of notes for a feature film to come titled The Blind Architect, offers a rich selection of blind-culture objects (a cane, a Braille-typewriter) and poster-like photographs (of colleagues temporarily donning the conventional cane-and-shades trappings of blindness). There are also videos, one of which is a long and riveting interview with a blind, mercurial, London-based visual researcher named June Bretherton ("I used to wear dark glasses to exaggerate my condition; now I wear clear glasses to look like an intellectual") and the other of which is a funny and poignant, pantomime-like piece called The Blind Architect meets Rembrandt (who apparently also suffered optical challenges).
None of this, however, tells you what the exhibition is really about or, very usefully, what it means. There's nothing for that but to go to it and spend some quality Parallax time.
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I go out into the city - Toronto - on Tuesday afternoons to look around in galleries and to write about some of what I see for a column I contribute to the Saturday Globe & Mail. There isn't room there to write about everything. I just keep on writing anyhow.
A coupe of weeks ago, I wrote about an exhibition of Alexander Pilis's called The Blind Architect: Visual Crisis. It was at the Peak Gallery until last Saturday. So, although you cannot go and see it now, you can still get the feel of it from going to the exhibition's website: www.theblindarchitect.com.
Alexander Pilis was born in Rio de Janeiro and now lives in Barcelona. He works and shows internationally. Trained as an architect, Pilis has always opted instead for his pursuit of the role he sees as "an undisciplined and de-disciplined architectural investigator". The Blind Architect: Visual Crisis is an extension, and a summation (the story thus far) of his quarter-century of exploration into the nature and meaning of what he calls Architecture Parallax.
I've known Alex since the mid 70s when he was teaching at the U. of T. School of Architecture. And the thing is, I've never really understood the Architecture Parallax universe very well until recently, when the two of us sat down together for coffee on two different occasions at a downtown Toronto cafe called Il Gato Nero to discuss the meaning of his Parallax research (Il Gato Nero keeps reminding me of the adage that "all cats look black at night").
The Parallax Theorem, which lies at the heart of Pilis’s work, is a probe, a tool for questioning—the questions swarming about Pilis’s embrace, as it were, of the continually centreless, centrifugal world of the mega (meta) city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, where the artist lived for quite a long time (as one punctuation mark in a cacophony of 22 million people). Parallax, he says, originated within the inescapable “collapse of the depth-of-field” that perceptually characterized that chaotic, proliferating city, a grid-less, terminally de-centralized city where there was no possibility of “a solo position” from which to view and understand the whole of it (“we don’t know who invented water”, wrote Marshall McLuhan about the nature of point-of-view, “but it wasn’t fish”).
But inasmuch as Sao Paulo was disorienting, it was also exhilarating
in its perpetually forming formlessness. It was possible,
recalls Pilis, “to move unnoticed through the metropolis
as an anarchist”. That is to say, as an intensified
flaneur. In Sao Paulo, with the depth of field collapsed,
there was “no distance, no projection, no past, no future.” This
meant having to think, imagine and invent within a construct “not
based on composition, not based on the singular vanishing point.” The “ancient
methodology of parallax” thus became, for Pilis, a defaulted “methodology
To that end, it brings together blindness-related props (a Braille typewriter, a white cane), a deadpan muster of blind jokes (reminiscent, in their mounting, of the work of American artist Richard Prince), large, poster-like photographs of a number of his friends and colleagues assuming the roles and attitudes of blindness, and a number of video works, one of which consists of an electrifyingly intelligent and insightful 35 minute discussion (3:12 minutes of which is available at the BA website) with June Bretherton, a London-based architect and researcher, who talks about such matters as a building’s bulk sightlessly felt as an imminent immensity, and how “ I used to wear dark glasses to exaggerate my condition; nowadays I use clear glasses to look like an intellectual.”