To this idea of whether plants want to talk to us. I’m genuinely going to assume that they don’t want to talk to me…it’s what I assume of most people. Ray Fenwick
“A Greenhouse. Evening,” sets the scene for Ray Fenwick’s solo exhibition at Plug In ICA. The title functions as an establishing shot of sorts, describing a theatrical stage set waiting for action, and referencing the simplicity with which famed playwright Samuel Beckett frames the scene for his most prevalent work Waiting for Godot. Beckett begins: “Act I: A country road. A tree. Evening.” The scene remains constant with the action concentrated into dialogue that is built from a series of conversations, which move in topic, building slowly somewhat awkwardly weaving from boredom to aggression.
Conversation is the action and the material. It is both content and structure; it is the point of attention, and is a pivotal element in Fenwick’s latest work that is both elaborate installation and improvisational performance. For Fenwick, “Every conversation is an experiment,” and like Beckett’s play, it both shapes and is the action.
Fenwick’s “greenhouse” is a self-contained structure positioned in a dimly lit room – the “evening”. On the structure there is an old used door that opens into a small room, which is filled with plants, a chair, a bunch of labeled cassette tapes, a player, a lamp with a coloured light bulb and an audio sound track. It is a room comfortable for one and is meant for someone to enter. Whether the door is left open or closed isn’t essential, but there is a scene and a few scenarios for the visitor to encounter and engage with if they so choose. There are the tapes to read and play, and there is also a soundtrack playing, which contains a recording that both questions and posits the possibility of humans communicating with plants. The meandering soliloquy at times erupts into odd guttural, ticking and humming sounds. One might hear the recorded voice ask itself and then respond: “So how do you know if you are actually communicating with a plant? How do you know if it’s real or whether you’re just creating it? Well, the answer is that you don’t know. How many times have I felt like I made some kind of connection with someone — even told other people – then the next time I saw them realized no, it was just all in my mind? We might find that we are engaged in a back-and-forth that has no…uh…response from them…that something is happening, but we’re never going to know that it’s happening.” And above these articulations and ponderances, the visitor might hear a voice coming out of nowhere: “Hello. Hi, How are you…”
What defines a conversation is part of Fenwick’s subject, which he stretches to absurd ends within A Greenhouse. Evening to the point that the walls might speak and the plants will understand and grow. When does a conversation begin or end? How do gestures and sounds contribute to what is communicated? How can one anticipate that they are being understood or perceive what the other person wants to communicate – which only becomes more complicated if you imagine having conversations with plants? To which Fenwick posits, “If we figure this out… we figure everything out.”
Ray Fenwick is an interdisciplinary artist working in performance, video, sound and typography. Known for eccentric, often immersive and durational performances that explore language, voice, and communication. His performance work lies somewhere between experimental comedy and sound art. In addition to his solo work, Fenwick collaborates with Halifax-based artist Mitchell Wiebe in Pastoralia, an art, performance and music hybrid that acts as a meeting point between the practices of the two artists. Fenwick completed his MFA Degree at the University of Manitoba, and has exhibited in both Canada and the United States. Pastoralia has performed at unexpected venues including the opening of Mass MoCA’s Oh Canada exhibition, North Adams Massachusetts, Halifax’s Nocturne festival, and at the recent Saltboxperformance festival in Newfoundland. His work has also been exhibited in Galerie Sans Nom, Moncton; Grenfell Art Gallery, Corner Brook; Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge; Truck Gallery, Calgary; and Plug-In ICA, Winnipeg. This exhibition marks his first solo exhibition in Winnipeg
RELATED PROGRAMMING: Saturday, June 03 | 9pm Closing Performance with Pastoralia