Brendan Fernandes’ current series of installations at Artspace are displayed like serial vignettes of decoys and displacements. They are coherent but non-linear as they mediate questions of how and what culture signifies and how artifacts circulate as signs that often relate more of fiction than fact.
Notably, Fernandes himself has a personal history of extensive relocation. Born in Kenya, of Goan Indian descent, raised predominantly in Canada, and a current resident of New York City, the artist is acutely attuned to the idiosyncrasies of immigration, as well as the stereotypes. Negotiating the strategies of mimicry and hybridity, Decoy is set-up to lure the viewer into participation in the staged story of the exhibition. The viewer’s inability to distinguish where one piece ends and where another begins is ultimately the result of Fernandes’ clever play between works in the gallery, posing questions of what is found in translation as much as what is lost.
The installation itself is a veritable diaspora, with pieces visibly linked and coming from the same creative source, but nevertheless complicated by oblique lineages with narratives unknown. The viewer is asked to move through the space, around the various works, literally and figuratively experiencing migration and displacement amidst the range of installed works. Each and every piece is underpinned by an unsettling combination of constructed-ness and naturalization.
Hunting metaphors dominate Decoy, not least of which are those associated with photographic logic. A point and shoot camera is strongly implied by the presence of a box balanced on faun-like legs built out of spears. Looking very much like a tripod, this prop is precariously balanced, playfully disrupting the ontological fixity expected of the camera image. This faux camera obscura is without either a lens or an eyehole, possessing only the opacity of a cardboard container. Packed for moving, here it is stilled, performing a balancing-act, frozen like a photograph, static but unstable.
Evidently the contemporary colonial subject remains entrapped by all of the now cliché binaries of post-colonial theory: at once insider and outsider, here and there, self and other, nature and culture. However, Fernandes, sensitive to the limitations of these dichotomies, stretches the terms of the diasporatic dialogue by using materials that suggest the tensions inherent to constraining metaphors and posturing while subtly encouraging the viewer to self-consciously move through a staged vision of the tourist economy, registering the varying degrees of complicity and ‘exotic’ seduction.
The hot pink neon sign, reading “Poser” necessitates such an interpretation. Using the visual language of not just advertising, but more specifically publicity of the red-light district variety, the word “poser” has an accusatory tone, as if to admonish or expose the viewer as one who takes on appearances in order to blend (similarly to the hunting decoy or the living deer when being hunted). This desire to be part of the in-crowd (recognizable to anyone familiar with the conditions of art world), rather than identifiable as an outsider, is highlighted. On the other hand however, “poser” acts also as a noun for a difficult question or problem and the position of the poser can be described as one who articulates such suspicions. The ambivalence and duality of this word hinges on the accompanying works in the show, such as the decoy deer striking a pose of artifice in the center of the space, deployed as an unsettling questioning of place.
Perhaps the most emblematic piece, which seems to be the focal centre of show design-wise and thematically, is this centrally located decoy deer, refreshing itself at the edge of small pool of water. The inflatable pool, with its pneumatically trapped air, connotes a sense of suspension and artificiality, much like the deer, frozen in its own temporality and plasticity. Imaginably, this staged scene is the source of the exhibition’s namesake: the decoy poser at the nexus of it all.
A sequence of adhesive spears lines the windows, much like prison bars, demarcating the enclosure of the gallery and denying the transparency of its most transparent surface: the windows. Filtering the natural sunlight, the piece brings to mind Daniel Buren’s stripes with a notable twist—Buren drew attention explicitly to the walls of the white cube in the early days of institutional critique, while Fernandes’ attention to the windows directly points to the outside and addresses the insecurity of these divisions and the pointed-ness of acknowledging that particular and peculiar boundary.
As tourists in this space passing through, we experience various temporalities of cultural displacement, with our own daily realities at once suspended and compressed in the gallery. A cattle skull, like a remnant of the wild west, is poised, propped, and pedestalled like a trophy as much as a mirage sitting at the edge of a small bowl of water. The tradition of the memento mori is omnipresent here, as an allegory to remember not only death in life but also as a warning that appearances can be deceptive. The souvenir of Decoy is the possibility of being a poser who questions or a poser who conforms. Perhaps both. The specificity of which belongs to one’s unique, albeit contingent, position.
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