You glow, girl

Taking place at 323 Palmerston Street in Toronto’s Little Italy neighbourhood from April 7 to 23, Glow House was an off-site project that was part of the Power Plant Gallery’s spring show. Its companion exhibition horror/suspense/romance/porn/kung-fu ran from April 9 to May 21 at the YYZ Gallery. This was the third installation of Glow House; the first was staged for one night only in 2001 as part of the Plug In ICA’s exhibition Something to Do in Between Not Doing Anything in Winnipeg. Glow House #2 ran for one week in Birmingham, England, as part of the IKON Gallery’s 2003 offerings.

Given the domestic monumentality of Glow House, what immediately springs to mind is artist Rachel Whiteread’s cast concrete forms giving shape and mass to the negative interior spaces of Victorian houses in England. But unlike the solid stasis of Whiteread’s work, Mark’s piece conveys the dynamism of human life and activity within, albeit through a mediated form.

In the Toronto installation, 35 television sets inhabit the three-storey house in every room fronting the street, though are themselves not visible to outside observers. Residents continued to live in the house for the duration of the 2-week installation. Understandably, they gravitated to the back regions of the house so as not to be driven completely mad by the relentless assault of flashing images. With the televisions all tuned to the same station, the light emanating from each monitor flickers in unison, and conveys the impression of the house’s interior as a single cavernous space. The house watches the street like a tortured jack-o’-lantern, its blank eyes permitting glimpses of unearthly luminescence.

There is a strange contradiction inherent in the Glow House. The disturbing light quality resembles at times the eerie glow of a nuclear blast or an alien landing, yet there is a certain level of recognition and odd comfort in knowing someone is ostensibly awake and watching television in the dead of night; a nocturnal sentry. Moreover, it is a comment on the dominance that television has in our culture as the new hearth or gathering place. Friends and family routinely convene around the idiot box for episodes of The Office or The Amazing Race. Quite apart from the dubious content of television as a compelling force, the hypnotic light show experienced by spectators clustering on the street recalls the mesmerizing act of staring into a campfire, flames licking up the walls and ceiling.

In fact, horror/suspense/romance/porn/kung-fu is really all about the light show. Unlike most artistic commentary on the evils of television and the agendas behind the content, Mark’s statement here is not a criticism of television’s content but rather a celebration of the appliance itself–as a lighting strategy, as company, as background ambience. In the show, fifteen large televisions are arranged in a perfect circle, angled up 45 degrees, facing neither wall nor ceiling of the gallery space directly. For each of five days of the week, the television monitors are synchronized to represent a particular cinematic genre as indicated in the exhibition title. What becomes important is not what is being shown, but rather what the comparative quality, rhythm and intensity of light of each genre does to animate the space.

Just as the television has replaced the hearth as a centre of gathering in the home, the Glow House functioned, for two weeks, as its own place of gathering, a true example of democratic public art. At its most fundamental level, the house’s light show alters and animates the residential streetscape, facilitates a sense of community with neighbours and passersby, and engenders amusement and exchange.