Shary Boyle’s installation ‘The Clearances’ inhabited one of the innermost spaces of the Illingwerth Kerr gallery from June to September. Upon one wall, a mural-size drawing revealed the serpentine length of figures overlayed with several errant cut-out drawings, the mass-pilgrimage of which seemed to be both spewing out of and returning towards a large, coral-pink conch shell. With the use of overhead projectors and a timer, the installation space darkened at intervals and shot the drawing through with jewels of light and color from additional drawings on acetate, suspending figures within ghostly haloes surrounded by midnight groves and the veined ground of shapes like the roots of an enormous tree. Upon the opposite wall, a drawing of a lonely march of a group of soldiers became a moon-lit leap from the edge of an arctic cliff. When spotlit by projections, Boyle’s figures become engulfed in an inwardness, separated from the traveling mass, accentuating their ornate beauty of shocked expressions, bird-like features, and pained bodies that slump like deflated balloons or tread in stiff, puppet-like incredulity in the delicate countenance of their papery origins. The installation resembles writer Marina Warner’s description of the language of imagination as embodied through history in the form of proto-cinematic devices and words like “spirit” and “ether”, wherein “residues from different eras have adhered to form a sticky, bristling deposit.” In a recent artist talk in Vancouver, Shary described the installation coming out of her visits to museums in London, activating thoughts of “the history of the world” and its material deposit within the culture of the colonies, wherein stories and myths became displayed through a “kind of huge march”. Shary has described this march as an opposition between each side: “on the right hand side all the powers of force, on the left hand side all the people and ways of thought that have now been removed from the world”.
During the last week of the exhibition, Boyle and musician Doug Paisley performed ‘Dark Hand and Lamp Light’ in an empty room of the gallery, involving Boyle’s live drawings, projections, and animations accompanied by Paisley’s singing and guitar. In the visual language of Victorian silouettes, silent film framing devices, and optical illusions in the spirit of the magic lantern, wings flutter, figures walk, landscapes roll by as if on an ancient rotary devices. Using an overhead projector, acetate drawings, ink, and sand, Boyle composed scenes with bright, bloodied color, monochrome figures and objects, while continually pulling away outer projections to reveal yet more underneath.
Paisley’s lyrics are heavy with old language half steeped in the sparse sentiments of old Westerns and Depression-era ballads, and his singing evokes a sense of a heavy remembering. Boyle’s projections, happening in the present, operate as suggestions of a story-environment for the songs which are heavy with the past. The two elements together as storytelling are incredibly eerie and steeped in sadness. While Shary's projections can be animated in the vulnerable jerkiness of cut-out animation techniques, they are most often motionless in their silence, nevertheless giving a startling contrast to the gentle ballads in images which electrify.
In a song titled ‘Two Like Us’, Paisley sings "all it takes is time to make a life like mine", and the overlay is suggestive of corruption, guilt, and the burden of consequences in the present. The ability for Shary's drawings to move and breathe is extraordinary within mere glimpses and suggestions of movement. She pulls a glove from a lanky hand, both made of paper but suggesting more than two dimensions. She causes a child to become a wolfman, a leopard, a vampire in Eddie Munster green tinge, an old man, a woman in full make-up, a man with a facial tatoo, a skull, and a face full of bruises, and when the child is regenerated, he slowly moves his eyes over the audience in a suggestion that we acknowledge him as a live presence after this performance. Using a mirror, Shary is able to move projections across the dark room as if they are ghosts, and the association of early magic lantern effects is instantly made contemporary. This evening, a shocked mermaid served as ghost, materializing upon Paisley whom Shary covered at one point with a white sheet as extension of the screen.
The performance ends with an extraordinarly inventive extension of both the screen and of Shary's drawings as a wall behind Paisley becomes the final projection. The title of the performance is projected in glowing gothic scrawl above Paisley, and here is where he becomes a drawing. Shary gives him a halo by matter-of-factly placing it upon the transparency, its projection exactly where Paisley stands and plays the last song. Shary adds objects, bright colored shapes, and growing ornamentation to the scene as if Paisley is not just another drawing, but a paper doll.