Last week, I spent some time observing an installation by artist David Altmejd called The Index. Located on the 5th floor of the AGO, it's a very elaborate composition of mirrored structures, birds, mutilated werewolves, plants, and more. Above is my attempt at capturing the scene. I added colours later at home. It was a little more complicated then expected but very intriguing to sketch.
I spent about an hour looking at all the details and taking pictures and another hour sketching. There's a lot to take in when you take the time to look at the details of this piece. Here's what the description from the gallery states :
Human, animal and plant forms collide and intersect in this complex installation. Stuffed bids, squirrels and werewolves in mirrored crates are situated alongside quartz, glitter, mushrooms, pine needles, moss, flowering plants and bird-like figures in suits. The title of the work, The Index, suggests collecting and diversity, though Altmejd deviates from the neat and orderly structure we usually associate with indexes. Here he considers the relationship among all living things, exploring issues such as identity, sexuality, community and the cloning and mutation of species. Architecture and mirrors draw us into a maze-like work, inviting us to create our own narrative and implicating us in this biodiverse hybrid world and the natural cycles of life and death.
It interesting what thoughts come to mind when experiencing an installation like this. For me, it was like a complex visual puzzle to solve, wondering what does it all mean? What is it trying to say? What message I get from it. Below are notes from my observations and of my takeaways :
1. A Love/Hate relationship with Werewolves
There seems to be a love/hate relationship with werewolves in this piece. I see love from the fact that there is a strong presences of werewolves throughout the piece, almost like an obsession. I also see hate from the fact that the poor werewolves are gruesomely dismembered. There an interesting contrast between the mesmerizing look of the mirror clusters in the shape of crystal formations and the gruesomeness of these beautiful structures impaling at least four decapitated and dismembered werewolves, from which flowers and gold chains emerge. A strong contrast between beauty and ugliness.
|Not sure if artist loves or hate werewolves... Maybe a bit of both|
|A contrast of pretty delicate and violent gruesomeness|
2. Birds Everywhere
There's also a significant amount of birds in this installation. Some are cute, some are funny, some are weird and some are creepy. My favourite is the "Index bird" with its cartoony eyes and the word "Index" spelled out of it's head. There's also flying owl with a 6-pointed star painted on its for head. Religion symbol or sacred geometry? Many groups believe the owl represents wisdom. And what about the hand-made bird made out of hands. Pretty impressive. And the birds with no face but a large hole from which a red beak comes out seem to be coming right out of an eerie horror movie.
|All kinds of birds with all kinds of messages|
|This peacock-looking bird has a very intensive stare.|
|These creepy birds are pillaging through the skull of a werewolf seemingly to get the gold.|
3. Zoomorphic Beings
The installation includes three "businesschickens" : Half businessmen, half-chicken. These beings have an eerie presence in the installation. Why are they there? What are they doing? The one with the grey blazer seems to be walking toward the second one standing above it all with a decapitated werewolf head in his hand, and the third one is hidden right above your head as you enter the mirror room, judging you ? Zoomorphic creatures are often depiction of deities and the suits adds some seriousness to their presence. Could they be representing gods of the birds since they have human features? Why do they have white heads and black hands? So many questions :)
4. The Golden Chain Network
There's a network of golden chains linking various creatures together. It seems like the chain comes from the dead werewolves and they are being pillaged by the birds. What do the gold chain represent? Life force? Wealth? Energy? They run through bones hanging from the ceiling and pour out of the various werewolves body part spread throughout the installation. Those little birds are not so innocent after all. Perhaps they work for the businesschickens.
5. Indexing Body Parts
Certain words of various body part are also found throughout the installation. I assume they belong to the werewolves and that in a way they've been indexes in this installation. Some body parts are spelled out, carved onto the trunk of trees. Could it be that the trees grew from the burying of the same parts? There's also what looks like veins above the door frame of the mirror room, that spell out the words "eyelid" and "liver".
|Words spelled out in the installation|
6. Light and ReflectionThe way the mirrors and the lights have been installed create beautiful shapes and forms and give it a futuristic feel. I wonder if they shapes are meant to recreate certain symbols. Some even take on a 3-dimensional shape.
|Beautiful display of light and reflections of light|
7. Hidden in Plain Sight
Somewhat hidden in the mirror room are display cabinets showcasing carefully arranged sex toys, mushrooms, minerals and leaves. Perhaps that's what the third businesschicken is watching over. You can also see them in various corners outside the mirror room with a couple subtle visual innuendos.