The Giants’ Dance comes to the MAG
Article: Lauren Neumann – Contributor
When art strikes you in a way that leaves you questioning the way you see the world around you, and how you fit into its stream, the feeling is hard to ignore or forget. Large questions and grand ideas can leap from the most minimalist form, when the form is concise and done with purpose.
Barbara Steinman’s The Giants’ Dance is spending some time in the Mackenzie Art Gallery this year in an exhibit, sharing the same name as her installation. The Montreal-native artist is well-known for her strong conceptual art that embodies themes of social observation, identity, and marginalization. The Giants’ Dance, created in 1989, continues on this theme with bold statement on organized religion and the individual.
This chilling piece consists of two monumental installations of close-ups of ciba-chrome photographs that Steinman shot of Montreal graffiti, printed on two tall, slender stained wooden boxes. The sleek boxes face each other from across the room as though they are paralleling each other – reflections of each other in a distant mirror.
But neither box is seeing its true reflection. On one box, the word “iSLam,” – “I am”, is engraved across the top of the image in the glass cover. On the countering box, engraved in the same position as its partner, reads “JESUis”- “Je suis.”
“The Giants’ Dance is a substantial work that feels weathered by poor existence. Reminding us that Islam and Judeo-Christian literature both described God originally as ‘I am,’ Steinman is suggesting that, as individuals, we are the same,” wrote curator Cindy Richmond, in her essay Barbara Steinman: Uncertain Moments.
“As religio-ethnic nations, we are made to believe self-righteously in our differences, which produces an historical path alternating between order and chaos.”
The two boxes, only slightly different, face each other as though they are looking deep into a projection of their own souls. The thick pull between the boxes is felt throughout the room. You could cut the tension with a knife. Not the tension of two conflicting religions opposing each other, but rather, the thick, magnetic attraction the two images exude.
The strong positioning of the two images creates a narrative between the two religions. It’s difficult, as a viewer, to know exactly how to feel in the middle of this interaction.
This installation surpasses the idea of differences in religions and religious groups. They are all the same, as are the people who practice them.
The Giants’ Dance questions the true meaning of organized religions. How we define them, how society sees them and how they are polarized. It observes how belonging to a certain religious group can define you, while both separating and uniting you.
These two religions are facing each other in an effortless harmony that transcends the conflict and separation woven deeply into organized religion.
The Giants’ Dance will be shown until May 4 and the MacKenzie Art Gallery.