From the trenches

Annie Martin’s minimal installation channels ambient sound into ladies outerwear


(im)permeable by Annie Martin
New Gallery
Friday, May 16 - Saturday, June 21

More in: Visual Arts

Find It...

Just four long ladies’ trench coats hang in Annie Martin’s minimal audio installation at The New Gallery. The stiffness of the fabric looks as if the coats are being blown open, or caught freeze-frame like Marilyn Monroe standing over a subway grate with her white dress blown up around her waist.

There are no figures here to fill out the fabrics, however. The shape of the garments is distinctly feminine, and each coat conjures an image of the person who might wear it: a light robin’s egg blue with a decorative canvas toile lining for a fashionista in spring or an off-white one with a fleshy pink inside fabric for an old lady with rosy cheeks and flowery perfume, perhaps. They’re curved to create an inviting space, and when leaning in, it’s possible to detect a slight sound coming from the inside of each coat. Listen closely to the audio speakers sewn into the concave linings, and the white noise sounds, not unlike the slow gentle rush of the ocean in a seashell when it is pressed to the ear.

The audio is hard to hear above the din of the mall, but then again, it actually is the din of the mall. The coats are each wired to microphones placed throughout The New Gallery’s space and around Eau Claire Market. They pick up the hum of lights, the traffic of pedestrians and shoppers and the canned music broadcast through the mall’s speakers.

When The New Gallery relocated to the space last year, there was a lot of potential for experimentation with ideas of private and public space, art and consumerism, not to mention how the activities of a non-profit society fit into an inner-city mall that seems to be struggling to maintain profitable commercial space. The tension and interaction between the non-profit gallery and the broader surroundings in the mall has fuelled added dialogue during every exhibition. Annie Martin’s (im)permeable is no exception, and her sneakily placed speakers quietly eavesdrop on this environment.

With rumours about TNG’s pending move to yet another new space, it might be time to ask what has been accomplished during the temporary insertion of this gallery into the Eau Claire Mall space. Has it been influential in bringing art to a broader audience or disrupting ideas of consumerism? Looking at Martin’s installation with these questions in mind also offers some additional insights into her work.

If TNG is temporarily misinterpreted to be a store, then the coats could be tailored designer garments in a high-end boutique. Approaching these works might provoke the desire to slip into a change room and feel the fabric up close. Here Martin creates the potential to imagine the intimate act of trying on clothes in a public space. When it is revealed that the fancy-looking coats are not for sale, she upturns ideas about value. This highly covetable object isn’t hanging there for the consumer, but instead has value as an art object and site for critical dialogue.

The coat is also a mantle of personal security, as the fabric is intended to wrap the body and protect it from the elements. With a closer listen to the speakers that are embedded in the coats, other ideas also emerge. These microphones are placed alongside the mall’s video-surveillance cameras. TNG director Tim Westbury says this raises the larger issue of the pervasiveness of video, audio-surveillance and eavesdropping in our public spaces. The so-called need for increased security is projected outwards as these audio feelers extend into the mall, perhaps listening to what’s around the corner. Still, the menace of being aggressively and strategically watched and listened to in public spaces is softened by the femininity of the fabrics and patterns.

Martin’s subtle disruption of the mall space proves that The New Gallery’s programming within the broader milieu of Eau Claire doesn’t have to be antagonistic to raise provoking questions.

All Content Copyright © Fast Forward Weekly 2008 About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy Terms of Use