The Wright Stuff, Military Images Elicit Complex Responses
Now, Vol. 27, No. 45 
July 10-17, 2008
By Leah Sandals

Andrew Wright at Prefix ICA (401 Richmond St. W.

 Prefix has had a strong year so far, with fine exhibitions of work by Oscar Muñoz and Rosângela Rennó.

Now a show by Andrew Wright continues the trend. In it, Wright’s one-off photos and videos of Canada’s military are combined with his longer-running works on toy rockets.

The result is an exhibition that evokes a complex response. On the one hand, there’s unexpected empathy for the individuals inside the military uniforms. On the other, there’s dull horror at the repeated re­hearsals for tragedy that make up military training.

Wright’s portraits of military men and women, taken while he was “embedded” on the HMCS Toronto as part of the Canadian Forces Artist Program, are striking. Each subject posed in uniform while holding a cherished object, creating unexpected salutes not just to country but to personal identity. One officer wraps a homemade Maple Leafs quilt around his body, while another rests her hand on her husband’s shoulder.

Nearby is More Rocket Launches, a video Wright created by firing toy rockets and recording their trips with built-in cameras. These works, which he’s been making since 2000, usually come off as whimsical – childish even.

But these vids resonate differently in the context of Wright’s military portraits. Their spinning, staticky aerial views of roads and buildings become more CNN than Nickelodeon. And they prompt questions: What does it feel like to be an instrument of war? What do you see? Where do you land? What happens at the end?

Two other videos documenting military training exercises round out the show. Their procedural repetitions, combined with self-conscious acting, give them an almost absurd, Beckettian flavour. Yet they also give new reality to the term “theatre of war,” with these exercises providing its morbid, rote rehearsal.