Isolated Window Reference

Kathleen Reichelt
January 2018

Isolated Depiction of the Passage of Time with The Window and The Universal Frame of Reference imagines a conversation between three pieces of art in the 2017 Canadian Biennial at The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Two sculptures and a painting observe the observers, question the incidental and intentional, age, mortality, acquisition and being seen, while discussing audience, themselves and other works of art.  

The Window (2013), a large scale sculpture by Monika Sosnowska is hanging from the ceiling. Nearby is the The Universal Frame of Reference (2014), a painting by Johnathan Lasker.  Off stage is Isolated Depiction of the Passage of Time (2001), a sculpture by Brian Jungen.

A light flickers overhead.

The Window: That light better get fixed in time for the critics.

Reference: I thought the critics were here yesterday.

The Window: I don’t think so.

Isolated: Who are you thinking of?

Reference: The short people sketching in notepads.

Isolated: Those were students! Critics don’t draw in notepads!

The Window: You don’t have to yell, Isolated. We can hear you fine.

Isolated: I feel so far away.

The Window: You’re in the next room.

Reference: I can practically see you from here.

Isolated: You can?

Reference: Practically.

Isolated: Can you please not call me Isolated?

The Window: It is easier.

Isolated: I’d prefer it if you used my full title.

The Window: Alright then.

Isolated: Can you say it?

The Window: Now?

Isolated: So I can hear it?

The Window: You don’t have to yell, Isolated Depictions of the Passage of Time.

Isolated: Thank you.

The Window: You’re welcome.

Isolated: I appreciate that you two include me in your dialogue.

Reference: Do you have to use that word?

Isolated: What?

Reference: Can’t you just say conversation?

Isolated: Fine.  I appreciate that you include me in your conversation.

The Window: Why wouldn’t we?

Reference: If anything, we should be the grateful ones.  Included in The Canadian Biennial at the National Gallery of Canada.  And in the inaugural year of the museum acquiring international contemporary art.

The Window: It would be much more difficult for us to converse if you were at the biennale’s second venue, the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Reference: Another first!

The Window: (suspicious) Uh, yes.

Reference: What?

The Window: We appreciate that you let us know who is coming through, Isolated Depictions of the Passage of Time.

Reference: Yes, we do!

The Window: They almost always pass you first.

Reference: Audience do tend to follow each other in one direction, don’t they.

The Window: Which is funny, considering this is an art gallery.

Reference: Museum.

The Window: Either way.

Reference: The difference is important.

The Window: Perhaps, but not to the direction people are going.

Isolated: Do you guys get touched much?

The Window: What was that?

Reference: What did you say?

The Window: Did I hear that correctly?

Isolated: It’s just that I get leaned into an awful lot.

The Window: You do?

Isolated: There is no rope or line on the floor around me, the way there is around you.

Reference: Yes, well, you are a bit more durable being made of plastic trays.

The Window: And people have to lean close to you in order to hear “The Great Escape”.

Reference: Considering that the audience can’t see the film.

The Window: Only hear it.

Reference: It really is a clever way to portray incarceration, isn’t it?

The Window: Brian Jungen has such aptitude when it comes to cleverness.

Isolated: So you think it’s alright that I am touched, even if ever so slightly, by a sweater or a hanging scarf?  You don’t think I will be damaged?

The Window: You should be just fine.

Reference: There is a guard standing near you at all times, isn’t there?

Isolated: Yes, there is.

Reference: The irony.

The Window: I’m not sure that’s ironic.

Reference: What is it, then?

The Window: Museum protocol.

Reference: You don’t think the artist intended it?

The Window: That a guard would be standing by his sculpture?

Reference: He must have known.

The Window: There are guards standing in every room.  It just so happens that Brian Jungen’s sculpture –

Isolated: Isolated Depictions of the Passage of Time!

The Window: – is about the unseen Indigenous men in Canada’s prison system.

Reference: So the guard is circumstantial?

The Window: Well.  You’d have to ask the artist.

Reference: Security does add something extra to the piece, you have to admit.

The Window: I suppose, now that you mention it.

Reference: Much like this flickering light.

The Window: Oh no.  Not like the light.

Reference: No?

The Window: We know for certain this flickering light is not intentional.

Reference: Hmm.

The Window: I would not like it if any audience member were to think a flickering light was purposefully related to me.

Reference: I think it adds an extra layer to you.  Like morose code.

Isolated: I can see that!  The light as a question, the way it goes on and off, on and off.

Reference: Whereas, when the light simply shines on you, I don’t consider your relationship to the light.  I only focus on you.

The Window: That’s what you’re supposed to do.

Reference: Yes, but –

The Window: The artist would have considered how the light casts shadows from my shape.  The flickering light is unplanned.

Reference: Incidental?

The Window: Unintentional.

Reference: Accidental.

The Window: A mistake to be corrected.

Reference: I’m sure the mistake will soon be corrected.

Isolated: This is the National Gallery!

Reference: Do you see anyone coming, over there?

Isolated: Not a soul.

Reference: Slow day.


The Window: Big crowd earlier today.

Reference: Tourists, whisking through.

The Window: They didn’t spend much time here, did they?

Reference: Not with us.

The Window: They all hang out at you-know-who.

Reference: Oh, them.

The Window: Yes, them.

Reference: Very popular, those guys.

The Window: Absurd.

Reference: French!

The Window: But Quebec French, no?

Reference: There was one tourist who didn’t think it was so fantastique.  He said Why it’s just a convenient store.

The Window: Did he say convenient?

Reference: He did.

The Window: But it’s not, is it?

Reference: People like it.

The Window: There is a trend towards the realistic.

Isolated: Or unseen!

The Window: I prefer the abstract.

Reference: You would.  So would I.

The Window: It is what we are.

Reference: Quite right that the curatorial team placed us near each other.

The Window: My creator, Monika Sosnowska started off as a painter in school.  But in her final year she moved to 3D.  Her sculptures have been called architectural and irrational.

Reference: Yes, well, my creator, Johnathan Lasker also started off as a painter.  And he continues to paint.

The Window: Is that so?

Reference: Abstract painting.

The Window: Just not that kind of abstract.

Reference: No.  Not the kind that is 

The Window: Spontaneous!

Reference: Or implying spontaneity.

The Window: So dated.

Reference: Relic.

The Window: Passé.

Reference: But people do like the replica.

Isolated: A nod to the future which is now.

Reference: Nothing to consume but consumption.

The Window: Do you find it too obvious?

Reference: For the crowds that comes through here?

The Window: Tourists!

Reference: Tourists!

The Window: What do people expect from us?

Reference: Why do they come here?

The Window: Sliding right on through.

Isolated: Sometimes, when there is so much to see, it might be better to see less.

Reference: They come to see the traditionalists.

The Window: The traditionalists!

Reference: Do you think we’ll be called traditional one day?

The Window: We’ll be called history, at some point.

Isolated: Material wise, I am already half a century old!

The Window: Your plasticity will keep you young long after you grow tired.

Isolated: People are coming!  People are coming!

The Window: Thankfully that light has stopped flickering.  I can only hope it stays constant for the duration of their visit.

(two people wander through, stopping momentarily to look at The Window and then at The Universal Frame of Reference.  Silently they scan labels, continue and exit)

Reference: I bet they spent more time out front taking selfies with that giant spider.

The Window: I bet you’re right.

Isolated: Everyone loves the spider!

Reference: Spectacle art.

Isolated: Is this about attention?

The Window: Well, isn’t it?  Does my importance not grow the greater I am known?

Reference: I fear soon we’ll be relegated to the category of The Past.

The Window: The past.

Reference: The present can only last –

The Window: So long.

Reference: So long.

The Window: None of us know how long we’ll be here.

Reference: Actually, we do know the exhibit runs until March.

The Window: But before we return to darkness.

Reference: Darkness.

Isolated: Do you mean the vaults?

Reference: No one sees us there.

The Window: Less than the little we’re seen here.


Reference: Do you remember your first time?

The Window: On display?

Isolated: Photographed?

The Window: Seen?

Reference: It was delicious.

Isolated: Sometimes I still get a wow.

The Window: I got a wow last week.

Reference: Did you?

The Window: He came around the corner snapping his fingers, with two of his friends and he saw me and said “wow!.” Snap snap.  Both hands.  Wow!

Reference: Fantastic.

The Window: Fantastique!  But then he kept on walking.

Isolated: He didn’t stick around?

The Window: And he didn’t come back.  But that moment.  Snap snap. Wow!  Well.  Those moments don’t happen often.

Reference: I’d rather have the long stare.

The Window: Oh yeah.

Reference: What’s your longest?

The Window: Most people spend more time reading my label.

Reference: Same here.

The Window: It’s disinterest, as a matter of taste.

Reference: A critical distance.

Isolated: A crisis of attention.

Reference: As if attention were a present.

Isolated: The present or a present?

Reference: Exactly.  It is a gift to be present, paying attention.  Paying with existence.


The Window: I’d have to say 30 seconds.

Reference: That is a lot.

The Window: That’s the most.  This week, at least.

Reference: You ever notice how people walk past you slowly, as if looking at you while walking slowly counts towards the time they spend looking at you?

The Window: Because you know they’re wondering.

Reference: Just how long is enough.

The Window: Everything is measured.

Reference: It’s all about scale.

The Window: That’s why we’re here.


Reference: The films are very popular.

The Window: Well, yes.

Reference: The funnier the better.

The Window: Everyone likes a good laugh.

Reference: But humour is so subjective.

The Window: Like nothing else is?

Reference: Serious work makes people less certain of their own opinion.

The Window: There really should be seats in those room.

Reference: In the absence of chairs some people will sit on the floor.

Isolated: If seats are put in people might confuse the medium.

The Window: It’s the small things that keep us in our place.

Reference: Definitions assist with the defusion of confusion.

The Window: For the population.

Reference: The popular.

Isolated: The people!

Reference: I’m pretty sure the Mika Rottenberg’s No Nose Knows is a film.

The Window: Oh yeah?

Reference: It has a narrative.

Isolated: It comes with an installation!

Reference: It’s a strategy.  But for how long?

Isolated: Who cares?  We’re here now!

The Window: Oh yes, here we are now.  Enjoying the spotlight of tourists sliding through.  Slowing down their touristy walk to imply they are really taking us in.  Really appreciating us, with that strolling pace.  The walk that seems to say how slow can I go before I can get out of here.

Reference: It’s better than not being seen at all!

The Window: Is it?

Isolated: Part of me isn’t seen at all!

Reference: Only the part of you that is popular entertainment.  That part doesn’t really matter.

The Window: Maybe there is something to this being and not being seen.

Reference: You mean tree in the forest?

The Window: I mean being.  Without being on display.

Reference: Just being?

The Window: In a world where so much is being by being seen, what is it to be  without being seen?

Isolated: To be seen or not to be seen?

Reference: Including us?

The Window: Including us.

Reference: If that idea were, and I’m not saying it is, but if it were revolutionary to the state of being, could it be the ideal?

The Window: Only being and not seen.

Reference: Only being and not seen.

Isolated: So what is the museum?

The Window: The museum is the past.

Reference: A graveyard.

The Window: History.

Isolated: And the vault?

Reference: Unthinkable.


The Window: At times it is tiring.  To hang here.  To be gawked at.  Laughed at.  Misunderstood.  Ignored.  Or analyzed to death.  Sometimes I feel so objectified.

Reference: Well, we are objects.

The Window: Right.  That is true.

Reference: And we are in a rare place for objects.  Some objects never make it out of the studio.

Isolated: Some never make it out of the artist’s head.

The Window: I sometimes wonder what it’s like to be a human.  Free to move about.  Free to say and think anything.  Not forever be an unchanging creation of someone else.

Reference: You think humans are more free than art?

The Window: It’s hard to say.  I haven’t met them all.

Isolated: I don’t think you have to know them all to answer the question.

Reference: They are so easily distracted.

The Window: It might be why they like what they do.

Isolated: Art as distraction.

Reference: Art as distraction!

The Window: Without becoming a distraction.

Reference: In order to be relevant.

The Window: Not pure entertainment.

Isolated: But this is nothing new.

The Window: It’s even boring.

Reference: Dragging.

The Window: Everyday.

Reference: The light!

(the light flickers)

Isolated: An interruption.

The Window: We were talking about attention.  About being seen.

Isolated: And what will replace us.

Reference: I don’t think we were talking about that.

Isolated: We were about to.

The Window: Anticipation or attention?  What will it be?

Reference: Future or present?

Isolated: An isolated past.

The Window: Politics?

Reference: Propaganda?

Isolated: Agenda?

The Window: How we came to be?

Isolated: How did we come to be?

The Window: Here?  We were acquired.

Reference: Do you remember the start of the exhibition, when it was packed in here?  Charged with excitement?

The Window: Oh yes, I remember that.

Reference: A couple stood there, talking about how museums come to purchase art.

The Window: And?

Reference: It seems that it’s the donors who largely pay for us to be here.  That it’s a bidding process.  But then they said that the best work doesn’t always make it into the museum because a private bidder will pay more than the museum can afford.

The Window: So, you’re saying?

Isolated: That we’re what the museum can afford?

The Window: And when you think of what it took for us to get here.

Reference: To this stage.

Isolated: On this stage.

The Window: The bidding, the coaxing.

Reference: The donors, the donning.

Isolated: For acquisition and inclusion.

Reference: Reflecting the current art-making at home and abroad.

The Window: Did you just quote the primer?

Reference: I did.

The Window: I thought we agreed not to discuss that document.

Isolated: A staff memo!

Reference: It doesn’t bother me that we’re not included in the write up.

The Window: We’re not even mentioned in it.

Reference: Maybe it had something to do with the donors.

The Window: What have you heard?

Isolated: Such petty things should not influence art.

The Window: Are you referring to me?

Reference: Are you referring to me?

Isolated: I am referring to politics.

Reference: You mean the left versus the right?

Isolated: I mean the delicate role of diplomacy moving between circles making deals.  It is business.

The Window: Right.  We are not here to criticize the institution.

Reference: Only the institutions that have failed?

The Window: Now I know you’re referring to me.

Reference: Take it as a compliment!

The Window: What would be the point of art that criticizes itself out of inclusion?

Reference: Out of the grand tradition, a slice of historical pie?

Isolated: Truth?

Reference: Institutions are run by people.  People have problems.

Isolated: People make problems.

The Window: People solve problems.

Isolated: Speaking of people, some are coming this way.

The Window: Well, maybe this time they will have something to say.

Reference to the convenience store is an installation by artists BGL. The giant spider refers to an iconic work by artist Louise Bourgeois in front of the National Gallery of Canada. The NGC staff created A Visual Primer as a communications tool. Click here to view it.

2017 Canadian Biennial at The National Gallery of Canada
October 19, 2017 to March 18, 2018
For more information click here.


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