At the back of the darkened room, you see a projection: a drunk, well-dressed man falls down a staircase, hits bottom and then rolls back up to the top again. It is found footage caricaturing Sir Henry Pellatt, the original owner of Toronto’s Casa Loma, and its tragicomic spirit fills the room. The short video loop, The Castle, is the highlight of Annie MacDonell’s show, which explores a history of theatrically mediated entertainment. The sickly-rich colours of the projection bounce off the walls to illuminate a huge chandelier—reminiscent of opulent old hotel lobbies, theatres and mansions—which rests on the floor. This theatrical prop tells the story of its own demise, embellishing the Sisyphean downfall of the figure in the video.
Casa Loma’s heyday coincided with the era of vaudeville, the late 1800s and early 1900s, a time before the reign of cinema began. Another work, Vaudeville Interiors, installed at the entrance to the gallery, embodies that history. Architectural models of three old theatres appear through small, window- like holes in a false wall. Their cardboard interiors glow warmly from tiny inset lights. The miniatures have a magical appeal, transporting you to such theatres in their prime. The piece’s open construction— electrical wiring and cardboard are visible behind the wall—takes on meaning as it reiterates the sad, nonsensical, vaudevillian tragedy in the back room.
Sunset Signature Lounge, a rough, closet-like structure placed between the other two pieces, refers to the urban ritual of people gathering in a lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock building in Chicago to drink and watch the sunset. If it provides a good show, they clap. Inside MacDonell’s closet, you see a projected slide of a sunset. The image can only be glimpsed when one stands alone in the darkened space. The accompanying soundtrack of clapping and the murmuring of a crowd, however, can be heard throughout the gallery, and is oddly isolating. The accolades are not meant for the slide, or even for a real sunset—they are instead transferred to the vaudevillian past that MacDonell conjures. The soft murmur of the invisible crowd, combined with grand theatres and repeated pratfalls, sets in motion your imaginative entry into another time.
This is a review from the Summer 2007 issue of Canadian Art.