When the heart races because of unknowing – not with fear but with wonder – fantasy is present in the room, realised and made physical. Traces with Ed Pien, Alison Norlen, Daniel Barrow, and Scott Amos at The Victoria Art Gallery successfully completes the difficult transformation from the imagined into the phenomenal object while still remaining ethereal.

Ed Pien’s work sets the scene with Twelve, a three meter, delicate silhouette of a grand tree. There are people in the giant arbour, there-but-not-there like the memory of kinship. The tableau is cut from film with a patina reminiscent of oil on a puddle. The lights of the gallery are low and drawings of beings in the very process of realisation – sensitive white lines on a dark blue like an architect’s drawings – flank Twelve with titles Disembodied or Out of Body furthering the illusion to otherness.

The suspended moment shifts as Alison Norlen’s ghostly ship – as big as an engulfing cloud – enters the awareness. Although human intelligence is manifold in the seemingly engineered perspective, there is no crew aboard. It is a phantom vessel, decommissioned, out of service and yet lingering in the mind like a good story. Complex skeletal metal constructions, stick framed with welds as delicate as a spider web appear to have been manufactured by a Lilliputian. Norlen creates a dimensional transformation as the comparison between the human body diminishes in relation to the giant drawing and then expands beside the miniature ships as if brought on by the swallowing of one of Alice’s pills.

A tower of see-through-ness occupies most of the next gallery, a darkened space where the light from a projector flickers. The silhouette of a figure is doing something shadowy on the far wall. She appears to exist between the projector and the wall, within the semi- transparent, milky luminescence of the circular construction. Circumnavigating, an entrance is discovered on the backside and as the small trek is made to the center of the spiral, the outside and inside are difficult to discern. It is a turn upon oneself with the expectation of meeting the figure that was glimpsed on entering the gallery but having reached the center, there is no one there, just wee plastic houses hanging in the air but swaying only slightly for the flipped domiciles are wired to bricks on the floor. The mysterious occupant of this gallery is never found but remains always over there and far away, unattainable – a trace left by Ed Pien.

Although there is not a calliope playing, nor a big top overhead, the next room is like a coffee break behind the scenes of a circus. Projectors are running. Reels are in motion. A work table is strewn with transparencies. One wall is illuminated, animated, colourful. Daniel Barrow is entertaining with cinematic techniques from before the talkies. I work the overhead projector, changing images so that they move in different ways – a push-pull of the transparencies makes the mouths of retro characters open and close. A similar side-to-side causes a shake and shimmy.

Delight follows and as whimsy is entertained, insights into phenomenology are quite naturally accepted.

Touring Traces allows an adult indulgence of wonder, a respite from the constraints of quotidian logic. Nicole Stanbridge, the curator, has truly brought together “fantasy worlds and tales of truth” as the subtitle suggests.

What a treat to round the corner to exit the gallery and find one more piece by Scott Amos. Fast forwarding to the digital era, a computer screen with tool bars comes alive through human interaction. By standing in front and moving, I become a human computer mouse. With a little practice, I can draw shape, colour, fill. It takes the idea of gesture drawing into the future. 

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria