Text-based art

Canadian artist Lani Maestro’s her rain is a text-based exhibit first shown at Centre A, Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. It has now been adapted for viewing at the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art on Portage Avenue, with the addition of a new installation entitled “she laughs” commissioned by the Plug In Institute. Maestro’s work is poetic, simple and intensely visual, denying conventional understanding; she aims to address the complexities of human nature and dignity in her work.

The first installation in the line up is titled “no pain like this body.” Here, the gallery itself is the sculpture, with the inclusion of minimal elements. The words “no pain like this body” are articulated on the wall in neon light. Beside it, “no body like this pain” is written in similar form. The words reflect off the floor, forming the second element of the installation, a mindful presence informing each viewer that he/she is the body described in each artery of neon.

As we move forward into the next area of the exhibit, unease begins to set in. Two chairs sit in the room, facing in perpendicular directions towards blank red screens situated in front of each chair. Again, the gallery is the part of the installation here, but there is no mindful presence; instead, we feel impossibly separated from the inside, as if we’re intruding on something very private and individualistic, even though we are part of it.

The third and final installation follows. At first, it is nothing but a large, empty, rectangular room of no obvious importance. Then, on both of the two opposing, lengthwise walls, the words “slaughter,” “clouds,” “seawater” and “ablaze” appear, projected onto each wall. The letters on the walls slowly begin to slide down, out of their respective words. The symmetry is undeniable. Looking down the length of the room at the blank wall at the other end and watching the rain of letters on each side creates a tranquil feeling somehow.

An even more maddening question presents itself. What is the meaning of the words projected onto each wall? Maestro withholds the answers to all of our questions in her work; the interpretation is left up to us.

Her rain uses the gallery itself as part of the installation; each person lends him/herself to the art, forming an exhibit that changes form and meaning as each viewer enters and exits. It is simple, while achieving intellectual complexity at the same time. The gallery alone would only take about two minutes to walk through. With each installation, however, you enter a different world of perception and thought — you’ll be surprised at how long you’ll want to stay to try to figure it out.

Maestro’s her rain exhibit will be on display at the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art, 460 Portage Ave., until Jan. 8, 2012.