Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Art review: Promiscuous optimism

Applying a theoretics of gaiety

Luis Jacob is onebusy lady these days. His collaborative film installation with underground queer filmmaker Noam Gonick, a beautifully cheesy ode to Radical Faeries called The Wildflowers of Manitoba, premiered at the Montreal Biennale in the summer and just finished a run at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art as part of the Toronto International Film Festival off-site installation series. His other collaborative project, a video installation with the extravagantly long title A Dance for Those of Us Whose Hearts Have Turned to Ice, Based on the Choreography of Françoise Sullivan and the Sculpture of Barbara Hepworth (with Sign-Language Supplement) done by Jacob and Oliver Husain and featuring a performance by Keith Cole, is running on loop at the German art fair Documenta 12 until Sun, Sep 23.

The video’s twin is currently on exhibit at the Birch Libralato gallery, sans accompanying installation, but partnered with a gorgeously crafted pink-and-white lacquer box containing two hand-screened T-shirts, to say nothing of the series of photographs in the adjoining room done in collaboration with sibling fashion photo-grapher Miguel Jacob. Luis Jacob certainly knows how to spread the love around.

Which, it turns out, is a pretty good way of summarizing Jacob’s art practice. Fairly promiscuous in terms of media (if hard-pressed I would file it under the installation umbrella), his work tackles the ins and outs of social interaction and community building, and has always seemed to embrace a kind of determined optimism, as if Jacob were working out the theoretics of gaiety.

His work is not as simple as that pat little summary makes it sound. The photographs at Birch Libralato are more obscure affairs. Large-scale, immaculately polished and dramatically spot-lit against a stark black background, they consist of various combinations of people — sets of three, pairs and lone individuals — in what look like giant spandex socks, which are, in contrast to the sombre backgrounds, brightly coloured and patterned. Carefully posed, they seem to explore the limits of their coverings, sometimes resting in them, sometimes gently poking at them, or straining at their limits.

The subjects’ choreographed Isadora Duncan-esque nature makes an excellent pairing with the video. This version of A Dance for Those of Us Whose Hearts Have Turned to Ice… differs from its Documenta sibling not only in its lack of accompanying installation but also in the lack of clothing of its star. Emerging from the hoary frost of a bare winter forest, Keith Cole, wearing nothing but a fur toque, a pair of Blundstone shoes and his best diva face, enacts an elaborate dance in a snow-covered clearing.

The video is wonderful, largely because Jacob knows the first principle of collaboration: Know when to stand back and let your stars do their thing. Given Cole’s infamous stage persona, it would be easy for this to teeter over into parody, but it never does. Cole’s choreography is alternately graceful and jerky, and he approaches it with a mixture of utter sincerity, pure affection and a total absence of grandiosity. More importantly, he maintains that balance throughout. Jacob and Husain tackle the dance head-on. Recorded in a single extended take, the honest simplicity of the presentation provides a perfect counterpoint to the eccentricities of the choreography.

Taken as a whole, it’s a startling work, if only for the fact that, despite the obscure tendencies of modern dance and because of the admixture described above, it is true to its title; its warmth and genuineness are in plain view. Chalk up yet another instance for the record: Jacob knows how to spread the love around.