July 3, 2009
Walk through a life-size scouting manual
Artist wants viewers to experience familiar images in an interactive way
Visit Latitude 53 Contemporary Visual Culture gallery this week, and you'll have walked into a life-size pop-up book.
Toronto artist Daryl Vocat has taken his inspiration from Boy Scout handbooks for his exhibition "Secret of the Midnight Shadow."
In one part of the gallery, Vocat displays print works of Boy Scout images placed on top of a "natural" backdrop of leaves, grass and trees. On the other side of the gallery, he has painted the walls deep blue, hung paper bats from the ceiling and blown up the Boy Scout illustrations to near life-size proportions.
As a result, when you walk into the space, it feels as if you've been dropped into a children's book and something seems to be amiss, but you can't turn the page forwards or backwards to find out what is going on.
The Journal spoke to Vocat about the exhibition.
You took a lot of your images from Boy Scout manuals. What drew you to the subject matter?
A lot of the images are, like you said, from old Boy Scout handbooks, which are a collection of images I grew up with. I was in Scouts for a long time, and that's initially how I came to the images.
I started looking at these images once I had been out of Scouts for awhile and I started looking at them more critically ...thinking about what was being said, so I started playing with the images over time and creating different scenarios.
I think initially it was about looking at the language and the images and what they were teaching and trying to create a parallel narrative that told other stories.
You're already working with this subject matter in prints, which are also on display. Why did you choose to make "Secret of the Midnight Shadow" an installation?
Part of it was to see what I could do with the images. I've been working with that kind of imagery for at least 10 years. I think a larger part of it is making an experience the viewer can enter, rather than just having it be something a person looks at. I kind of like the idea, whether it works or not, of trying to have the viewer somehow involved in the action. The experience of looking at a book from an original source, looking at those images and imagining what it would be like if we were living in it, if we were somehow to enter that book as a lived experience versus something to look at.
What are you hoping visitors take from your work?
One of the things I'm interested in is giving old things new context, so even if you've never been a Boy Scout or a boy, I think that there's a built-in familiarity with that style of imagery. I'm interested in playing with that idea of familiarity and putting it in a different, maybe more twisted context.
By changing something and altering the context, it gives a new way to look at something that already exists. It's a way of shifting perspective or saying "here's a style of imagery that's often taken for granted, but what else is it saying or not saying?"
Have you had any response to your work?
One of the things I didn't really expect, which is a nice thing that I find happens with showing this work, is that it brings out other people's stories about growing up or about being in Boy Scouts.
There's an element of storytelling that it brings out which is nice on its own but it's also nice in the fact that it connects back to Boy Scout culture in that there's a big element of storytelling and of mythology and fiction. A lot of the Boy Scout stuff was initially built on the mythology of The Jungle Book and then there's (the tradition of) telling stories at campfire. It's playing up the imagery or fantastical elements that are already there.