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SIGHTINGS 2021-2022
FICTION

Launched in 2012 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery’s Permanent Collection, the SIGHTINGS satellite exhibition program was conceived as an experimental platform to critically reflect upon the possibilities and limitations of the modernist “white cube.” As part of this program, artists and curators are invited to develop projects for a cubic display unit located in a public space at the university, with the aim of generating new strategies for art dissemination.

The projects for the 2021-2022 edition of SIGHTINGS take up the theme of fiction as a place for reality in-the-making. Informed by the recent efforts to dismantle those fictions petrified as monuments, memorials, and statues, and, with them, the status-quo they reinforce, the program asks questions of collective memory, faithful representation, and the validity of facts—in particular how these interact with public space and the built environment. Working within and beyond the premise of the cube, interventions examine how fictions are constructed and how they take up space, what models of truth and forgetting they carry, and how they produce what is taken for reality.

SIGHTINGS is located on the ground floor of the Hall Building: 1455, blvd. De Maisonneuve West and is accessible weekdays and weekends from 7 am to 11 pm. The program is developed by Julia Eilers Smith.

SIGHTINGS 35
PEDESTRIANS
Elly Reitman, Sketch for Pedestrians, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

May 23 – September 12, 2022

A project by Elly Reitman

Elly Reitman (b.1990) lives as a guest on unceded Indigenous lands in Tioh’tià:ke / Montreal. They received a BFA from The Cooper Union and an MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College, and are currently studying Acupressure and TCM Naturopathy at École Setsuko. Recent projects include exhibitions at Baba Yaga, CAVES, Gern en Regalia, 321 Gallery and Baader-Meinhof, and performances at Bard College, PAM, 99 Scott, Sculpture Center and the Rialto Theatre.

The iterative forms in Pedestrians expand the ways in which signage, emblems and symbols shape us dynamically on both physical and psychological levels. The walking figure and upraised hand icons signify GO or WALK and STOP in the crosswalk; like a metronome, the alternating orange-red and frosty white silhouettes dictate the temporality with which we navigate the intersection. Our public and digital spaces are punctuated by and embellished with vector drawings and infographics alike, taking on the task of broadcasting and maintaining the agendas at hand.

How is meaning assigned and consolidated? And how am I supposed to keep my blinders on and see things clearly and objectively when things are definitely not so simple. The red hand means STOP, but it may also signify touch, the culpability of one “caught red-handed,” the hand of a vascularized or allergic body, the missing red glove of an elegant costume, etc., etc.

“If you see me walkin’ down the street
And I start to cry, each time we meet
Walk on by
Walk on by”

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The expansive nature of my work is no less poetic and fanciful than the ubiquitous crossing symbols; there’s always more than meets the eye. Just as these supposedly “democratic” and “equitable” graphics demand that I play along, I ask more of them in return. The appropriation and liberties I take artistically are means to propose larger questions about potential and meaning, and to decelerate and deepen my connections with these forms. Symbolism can be queer and complex, containing multitudes like fruits in a 17th-century Dutch still-life painting, imbued with narrative, affect and subjectivity. I look to find the feeling within the formal.

Whilst “staying informed,” doom-scrolling through the news, keeping one foot in the world, I encounter aesthetic shapes and charts which summarize loaded content. I see a schism between these graphics and the somatic experience of engaging all that they hold. I wonder if our use of sophisticated pictographs has overshot our physiology; this rich iconographic compression saturates our fields, and our bodies are left to keep up, unpack and decode. Somewhere, I think humanity has grown to enjoy these cognitive exercises, like someone interpreting inkblots. The GO figure has begun to look fatigued to me, its body language slightly slumped from the burden of its traffic responsibilities.

“I just can’t get over losin’ you
And so if I seem, broken and blue
Walk on by
Walk on by”

The gestures behind this piece are not antagonistic towards modern symbols and their implementation, though I (quite literally) appropriate, split, poke holes and reimagine them. I am indulging a desire to complicate the status quo which they perpetuate, and create a sense of spaciousness to transform imperative command into a flowchart of propositions. In Pedestrians, the components play together to unravel simple references into a larger installation, activated by elements inside and beyond the SIGHTINGS cube. Inside the plexi walls, the figures embody actors and props, arranged in a theater-in-the-round tableau. Four hanging pendant lamps double as heads and as scenic lighting, illuminating the space like a stage. Vinyl decals depicting four different hand motifs are superimposed on the windows between viewers and sculptures like an index, relaying different conceptual and aesthetic interpretations. The lensed apertures inset on the figures offer ways to look at and through the work, as circulating bodies on all sides of the cube reenact the theater of the crosswalk.

As I observe the directives of the figure and hand, I engage both movement and affect, and slip into rhythm with traffic.

“Walk on by (don’t stop)
Walk on by (don’t stop)
Walk on by (don’t stop)
Walk on[1]…”

I hear Dionne Warwick’s Walk On By echo in my mind as I scissor across infrastructural vessels. Some days I am melancholic, some days I am blissful, others I am numb. I am trying to be in the world.

[1] “Walk On By” is a song composed by Burt Bacharach, with lyrics by Hal David, for singer Dionne Warwick in 1963.

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Elly Reitman (b.1990) lives as a guest on unceded Indigenous lands in Tioh’tià:ke / Montreal. They received a BFA from The Cooper Union and an MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College, and are currently studying Acupressure and TCM Naturopathy at École Setsuko. Recent projects include exhibitions at Baba Yaga, CAVES, Gern en Regalia, 321 Gallery and Baader-Meinhof, and performances at Bard College, PAM, 99 Scott, Sculpture Center and the Rialto Theatre.

The artist wishes to thank Connor Olthuis, Woobie Bogus, Max Guy, Julia Eilers Smith, Michèle Thériault, Hugues Dugas, and the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery for their contributions and support throughout this project.