You're All That I Ever Think About by Kegan McFadden

Holding the Dark,
a response to Meera Margaret Singh’s exhibition You’re All I Ever Think About
(Platform Centre For Photographic & Digital Arts, Winnipeg, 2006)
by J.J. Kegan McFadden

Comprised of a suite of twelve colour photographs which depict staged scenes of contemplation, You’re All I Ever Think About marks an important step in Meera Margaret Singh’s artistic practice. In her first solo exhibition, this series shows some of Singh’s experiments in photographing strangers, playing coyly with titles taken from popular songs and poems, and also the solidifying of art history as a referent.

Singh sets her subjects up in such a way that not only is it obvious they are deep in thought, but their thought patterns are confrontational. The viewer is brought into the fold through the subject’s gaze –direct and indirect, forlorn, sometimes angry. Conversing with Singh’s cast we feel oddly accused, morally compelled, as though we are interrupting some false meditative scenario; stumbling into a movie shoot or a game of ‘truth or dare’. Singh populates her scenes with complexities that assure anything but a vacant read.

It should come as no surprise that Singh is not only an accomplished photographer but enhances her practice with a background in cultural anthropology as well as art history. More to the point, a vernacular informed by art history anchors this work: contrapposto (If I Could Only Give You Everything, 2005), profile (I Can’t Keep Up Because You’re So Far Gone, 2005), and the split image or character duality—in this case a self-portrait (All You See is Where You Could Be, 2004). Most importantly, Singh’s use of light and shadow is well-informed by the technique of chiaroscuro (Whatever You Give Me, I Need So Much More, 2004 and He Says He Loves Me, 2004). Playing with a richness defined by Caravaggio, Singh elegantly expands her frame by introducing layers of narrative. Singh’s most powerful offering is in the darkness she presents—a voluminous blackness – one that refuses to do anything but occupy. It takes up room like thick oil, like tar. The way dilated pupils flood and bleed into hazel corneas. This is not an expanse; it is pure weight, anchoring the image – a couple, the artist herself, a tree. What about that tree? In You Left (and then you never left me), 2004 a solitary apple tree hangs among portraits of friends, lovers and strangers. It too is surely a portrait, only missing the human focus. Has a landscape ever revealed so much? Growing into the Winnipeg night sky, into the full spectre of black, this frozen backyard apple tree. It might as well be rooted in ground pepper, or engulfed by a murder of crows. This image also recalls the tradition of Japanese woodcuts from the 19th century.

Singh is concerned with more than the bigger picture here. For her, it is the sum of all the small parts: the goose bumps and scar from a belly button ring (He Says He Loves Me, 2004); the small tattoo of a wing nut nestled in the fleshy web between thumb and forefinger (And So It Is, Just like You Said It Would Be, 2005); the smell of 70s carpet in a basement apartment (I Knew You Were A Truth I Would Rather Lose, 2004); the shaggy pooch in the arms of its owner (If I Could Only Give You Everything, 2005); it is all of this combined with so many stares that dare the viewer. Challenges are incited— I dare you to ask, I dare you to wonder what it is I’m thinking, I dare you to care. This confrontation is principal in the vignettes proposed. Hers may very well be a cinematic frame of mind, but it is more than that… literature, soundscapes, bike riding and conversation all inform her sense of narrative; further complicated by the fact that most of her ‘actors’ are posing in their chosen environments.

The familiar made not-so through the use of tableaux offers something other than the captured moment in time. Since these are not snapshots – quite the opposite really—we are not meant to analyse ‘the moment’ as much as we should contemplate everything that came before and after the open and close of her shutter. This is why Singh’s work becomes as much about the set up, the deliberate eyesores, as it is about what we don’t see: the frustration in knowing the subjects exist for themselves, never batting an eyelash for us or even the artist. To this end Singh has put forth her own challenge, playing with an intimacy that borders on obscene – cinéma vérité versus reality television. It is what we wish for, what we are denied which titillates. All the more ambiguous by the fact that most of her subjects are shot with their mouths partially open –perhaps just about to say something, or just finishing a sentence, maybe only wetting their lips… surely ready to let out the answers to all of our questions.