Nelson Henricks: Time Will Have Passed. Le Temps Aura Passe
Galerie Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Concordia University, Montreal
1 September–16 October 2010
by MK PALOMAR
To the rhythm of a tap-snap-clap
“Nelson Henricks is a bit of a rock star” the gallery invigilator told me, and for a man whose name suggests an intriguing mix of seafaring hero and guitar wielding legend, it is fitting that this Professor of Intermedia Arts at Concordia University Montreal should be interested in conjuring a net of rhythmical tales. This exhibition described by the gallery catalogue as “Henricks first mid-career retrospective in Canada”, shows works produced between 1994 and 2010. Curated by Canadian artist and writer Steve Reinke “the works represent several problematics examined by Henricks … the quandaries of self portraiture, the impossible heaviness of writing and speech and literature, the passing of time and physical embodiment, and the self consciousness of art-making within the discourse of contemporary post–conceptual practices” (gallery catalogue).
In the video installation Shimmer the sound of Henricks worried scratching pen accompanies or perhaps races the sun going down on an urban landscape, while in the work Time Passes, Henrick’s poetic musings describe his dreams. “Voices from behind the wall, visions from inside my bones,” he tells us stories about his father’s life in the circus, something magical and golden half remembered. In Map of the City Henricks presents images like a musical score – crisp and clear the pictures come in quick succession, then repeat, then to a different beat, then the text “many times you’ve desired to hear these words which I’m saying to you”, but Henricks knows we are reading his words in our own voice, and relishes the exploratory dance back and forth, through high and low tech methods of making and thinking, while offering us ideas to seed our own thoughts, he also gives us his narratives to follow. “ Each person you meet is a possible point of entry … find the right gate to the city”.
Unwriting, a video projection comprising four large screens in a row, addresses Henrick’s fascination with the impossibility of communication. Beginning with hands clapping – four pairs clapping out different beats, (is this Morse code?) then a hand-drawn mark, (both sound and image are one smooth unbroken flow, yet there is no hand or marker in sight – how did he do it?), then a breaking pencil lead, the snap of the break repeated into a beat pattern. Next one finger tapping at an old fashioned type writer, then a hand squeezing feedback on a microphone, finally a hand rhythmically strumming a guitar. As Henricks tempts us to tap our feet or sing along he writes us messages in American typewriter script. “Maybe if I can’t find a good enough pen, I won’t have to write”, then he adds, “ I have stopped writing not because I have nothing to say but due to an embarrassment of choice”. And again with these messages Henricks gives us the sound of our own voice as we read his thoughts. Henricks visual journeys bring the haptic (often absent from digital and design methodology) into film, snapping, tapping, clapping with a brilliant slight of hand, and alongside his quick and seamless editing techniques, he leads his audience to layer their own sound on top of his poetic and narrative rhythms.