August 27 – September 19, 2015
Circuit Gallery @ Prefix ICA
401 Richmond Street West, Suite 124
Toronto, ON, M5V 3A8
Artist’s Reception: Friday, September 11, 6-9 PM Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11 AM – 5 PM
Circuit Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of photographs by Naomi Harris from her new project EUSA, which documents American-themed places in Europe and European-themed places in America.
Since 2008 Harris has travelled across Europe and the United States visiting themed-towns, amusement parks, and festivals, photographing the ways in which popularly received ideas about one culture get expressed in the other.
Her work reflects a trade in signs. An important premise for most of these sites is tourism, where the deliberate manufacturing and consumption of ethnicity and cultural heritage play out through the symbolic markers of food, costume, architecture, and performance.
The places represented run the gamut of who is doing this cultural manufacturing, for whom, and why. In “Olde-World” towns like Solvang, California; New Glarus, Wisconsin; or Orange City, Iowa the respective Danish, Swiss, or Dutch heritage being celebrated is ostensibly that of a significant segment of the local population and reflects a desire for authenticity. In other places the “heritage” is blatantly designed and marketed purely for its entertainment and escapist value. This is the case with many of the Western theme-parks visited in Europe, but also in such places as Busch Gardens or Las Vegas in the United States.
In many cases it is hard, at first, to locate where and when these pictures were taken: are we in the U.S, or somewhere in Europe? Upon closer examination, something inevitably reveals itself as out of place, and we realize our “mistake”. In other images it is much more obvious that what we are looking at is constructed and artificial – from benign pastiche to the more insidious and offensive forms of cultural appropriation.
Harris has a sharp eye for these relationships and for capturing the often funny, ridiculous and cute, but also the awkward and uncomfortable details that serve to heighten our perception of the subject at hand. The accumulated images offer a barrage and mash-up of stereotypes, signs and symbols. Places, traditions, cultures and histories become confused, condensed, and conflated. We often do not quite know what we are looking at, but the cumulative effect is as engaging and rewarding as it is challenging.
EUSA is an ambitious project that invites all sorts of interesting and important questions about authenticity, cultural identity, and appropriation, about the function of, and need fulfilled by, these “other-directed” places and their enduring appeal.
The exhibition is curated by Claire Sykes.
Naomi Harris: EUSA runs August 27 through September 19 at Circuit Gallery @ Prefix ICA, with a reception for the artist on Friday, September 11, from 6 – 9 PM.
Naomi Harris is a Canadian photographer primarily working in portraiture who seeks to document interesting cultural trends through her subjects. Her personal projects include Haddon Hall, America Swings (published as a monograph by Taschen, 2008), EUSA, and the on-going Oh Canada. She has exhibited internationally and has received numerous awards and recognitions, most recently a New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Fellowship in Photography, and a Long-Term Career Advancement Grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. She currently divides her time between Toronto and Los Angeles.