This was the first major survey exhibition of work by Canadian artist Roy Arden, comprising of photographic and video works from 1985–2005. Living and working in Vancouver, Canada, Arden primarily focuses on the city, its social history and development. In his work, he aims to construct the real and depicts everyday life with a deadpan matter-of-factness.
Early works such as Rupture (1985), combine photographs found in public archives with the artist’s own photographic images. These portray incidents of significant social upheaval and protest, and bring into focus the relationship between social history and photography.
Images such as Land?ll, Richmond B.C. (1991), depict the edges of urban areas, the spaces where city meets countryside, where dereliction meets regeneration and where the new is overtaking the old. House in Strathcona Alley, Vancouver, B.C. (1996) and Ochre Boarding House, Vancouver, B.C. (1997), reveal the rundown architecture of pre-World War I Canada. Arden sees these pictures of dilapidated, wooden houses in old working-class neighbourhoods of Vancouver as ‘portraits’.
They contrast with photographs of new suburban houses, such as ‘Monster House’, Coquitlam, B.C. (1996), which present values of real estate, property development and wealth through images of oversized homes.
Arden’s more recent photographic work, such as Crow (2002) and Plastic (2002), feature weeds, gutters and rubbish. Despite their ordinary subject matter, these finely detailed black and white images possess a strange and compelling beauty.
In Arden’s video piece, Juggernaut (2000), we see and hear the workings of a car engine as it idles and speeds up. This hypnotic image becomes almost a living organ, the mechanical action transformed into a spluttering breath. We are not simply confronted by an automobile engine, we are faced by an organism, on one hand a lagging motor, on the other a heart in an immobile chest cavity. The artist is also showing two new video works in this exhibition including Supernatural (2005), which uses news footage of a hockey riot in the main shopping centre of Vancouver. One scene shows a woman perched on the shoulders of a man moving through the crowd of rioters and looters, like a horse and rider moving through a parade.
As part of Ikon’s offsite programme Roy Arden also exhibited Citizen (2000) on the store front of the Jersey Tea Rooms at the six-ways roundabout in Central Erdington.
Citizen (2000) is a video piece shot from the passenger seat of a moving car, focusing on a young homeless man sitting on a bank in the centre of a busy intersection. The camera circles around him like a predator, finally pausing next to him at a red light, the young man indifferent to its gaze. The cars with their logos – Toyota, Honda, Mercedes – are manifestations of the everyday economy from which he is excluded. Shot in black and white, slowed down and shown on a loop, the video work provides a ceaseless flow of time and space.
This project was part of a collaboration between Ikon and Erdington Town Centre as part of Birmingham City Council’s Arts Champions Scheme.
This exhibition was supported by The Canadian High Commission and the Department for Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT).