This newest installment in Ian Carr-Harris’ recent Paradigm series (which has featured scale models of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Power Plant and Tate Modern) leaves the art world behind for a modest rural church symbolically weighted by a coat of black paint. Part birdhouse, part stage prop, the tabletop model ‘église’ (figure) carries a built-in distancing that lets its viewers consider it as more a trope than an architectural rendering. It is an iconic item, a church in bold letters, that has been freed from the norms of appearance to burrow into consciousness as a state of order, containment and repression.
Carr-Harris is expert at finding the edges of power in simple things. His sculpture has been a journey to elucidate the politics of objects and their conformance to languages of control, which are shaping tools as powerful as any in a sculptor’s studio. So Carr-Harris lets his dark steeple aspire against a heavier than usual gravity and creates a contrasting foil by letting us see, when we look inside, a shadowed white church nestled within the black one. This reversal of colour norms speaks to a changing cultural history for churches and underscores the public-private dialectic of belief. With this symbol unmoored from the usual message and expectations, Carr-Harris delivers a second object, a crated version presented as an assembly kit, which explains the presence of the opened assembly manual on the first church.
Beliefs are ours to hold but they have an instructional history, and Carr-Harris acknowledges this by showing his 2005 work Ten verbs/Ten commandments in the upstairs gallery. Constructed like a set of schoolhouse slates for practicing longhand letters, the individual pieces each feature a verb drawn from the biblical Ten Commandments: covet, honour, kill, love, keep and so on. Shorn of their context and usual injunctions to “not covet” and “not kill,” the words have new ambiguity and sometimes a reversed meaning. The 1950s demeanour of these instructional aids carries nostalgia for those of us old enough to remember the originals and an air of childish simplicity to those who come to them new.
Yet this is the innocence that Carr-Harris topples in his work. He isolates the naiveties and misdirections masked within core curricula and religious choices. He practices a critique of authority by exposing its zones of diminishment and closure. A paradigm can be defined as a set of assumptions, concepts, values and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality. Carr-Harris holds up a mirror to these paradigms and asks them to keep moving. (137 Tecumseth St, Toronto ON)