Can’t. Breathe., the new work by Toronto-based artist Barbara Rehus, is at times deep, at times dark, at times funny. It takes us back to the question of the ages: How much of what we do is up to us? How much is preordained? What are we all but the puppets or marionettes of some master puppeteer who is perhaps sinister, perhaps sadistic, perhaps benevolent, perhaps all of these things and more? This body of work explores life/existence as if it were an enormous puppet show. It examines the absurdity, the powerlessness we all can sometimes feel as our strings are pulled, our buttons pushed.
|Barbara Rehus 'Can't. Breath'|
The title piece of this work, Can’t. Breathe. is particularly powerful in its creepy one-ness. How do we break out of a crushing conformity that is very physical as evidenced by the puppet heads squashed together and smashed into a box but that is also very spiritual and emotional as it evokes thoughts of cultural/societal coercion and conformity. The question asked over and over in this work centers around the notion of how do we get out? How can we break free?
White Men Talking is reminiscent of a recurring theme in much of Rehus’s work – the dismissal of people, particularly the dismissal of women, by those in power or those perceived to have power, the superiority and self-involvement of a closed circle of Euro-centric homogenous men who have no room in their heads for other ideas, other ways of doing things, other ways of being. In this distorted world, one voice is presumed to speak for all and the smug superiority that emanates from that voice is smothering to all who hear it.
|Rehus 'White Man Talking'|
The piece entitled Is This an Island? is a powerful statement of loss or the fear or anticipation of loss, whether actual or perceived. Who will care about me? What will I have, having been left/bereft? All of us, in our shared humanness, have a fear of isolation, a sense of mourning for what or who has left us, has changed for us. We sometimes find ourselves clasping and holding dear what remains, whether real or imagined. We may actually have much more than what is in our grasp but that is not our perception and so that is not our truth.
|Rehus 'Is this and Island?'|
Rehus’s work, in this current installation as well as in earlier exhibitions, compels us to look at the power of the relationships we form and have with the people, cultures, and societies that make up our personal world. We are made from those we come from, from our understanding of where we begin and where those we came from end, from what we choose to move toward and what we choose to move away from. What buffets us along the way may or may not be within our control.
Writer and Poet