(Video still from Fine Line: Check Check, courtesy of the artist, 2019)

March 15 to April 27, 2019

Fine Line: Check Check  
Ian Johnston

Opening Reception and Artist Talk: Friday, March 15, 6-8: 30 pm (Artist talk at 8 pm)

The Fine Line series marks a shift in Ian Johnston’s artistic practice from a focus on the materialities of consumer culture to an investigation of the role of doubt in mass culture. In Check Check, the ubiquity of the self-doubting individual is inextricably linked to a mass culture marked by distrust of the very mass media which give it shape. Stepping into a space intersected by four large projection screens, the viewer is surrounded on all sides by a looping series of such vignettes screened, variously in fragments and in their entirety accompanied by a four-channel score from composer Don Macdonald. The events and the non-events in Check Check unfold in a sequence that subtly choreographs the audience’s movement within and around the installation.

Johnston’s turn toward video for this piece stemmed from the consideration of an obsessive behaviour familiar to probably all viewers, namely our highly emotionally-charged relationship to screens and digital devices. The installation harnesses the knee-jerk nature of of our conditioned responses to visual and auditory cues not only the pinging of a smartphone, but even going back as far as silent film.  

Marked as it is by deeply-rooted emotional experiences ranging from acute foreboding to limitless possibility, Johnston turned toward anticipation as a point of intersection between the personal experience of obsessive-compulsive behaviour, the logic of consumer culture, and the ongoing fragmentation of political discourse. Starting from the premise that consumer culture evidences traits associated with obsessive-compulsive behaviour, his initial research for the Fine Line series focussed on popular and academic discourses about obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)1. This research confirmed certain aspects of his initial premise while also revealing an important distinction: unfettered consumption has none of the oscillation between doubt and certainty that is the hallmark of OCD, also known as the ‘doubting disease’.

1. Obsessive-compulsive behaviour can easily be mistaken for addictive or superstitious behaviour and vice versa but the frequency, intensity and motivations differ significantly. Obsessions are typically linked to compulsions that are often ritual in their predictability and repetitiveness and, can be action oriented or behaviours of avoidance or thoughts. In the context of obsessive-compulsive behaviour to obsess is to worry or be concerned about that which is highly unlikely if ever to occur. Obsessions can take many forms such as magical thinking, that some unrelated action can exact consequences on someone or thing in another place, or the need to check a lock or light switch a particular number of times to ensure a sense  of security or intrusive thoughts of abhorrent actions that a person might perpetrate or intrusive sometimes abhorrent thoughts.

The Fine Line series is made possible by support from the BC Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts and Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

The artist  wishes to acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien, The BC Arts Council and the Banff Centre for Art and Creativity.