Jeremy Shaw’s Liminals makes its North American debut

Artist Jeremy Shaw’s Liminals explores community, technology and the notion of transcendence.

Jeremy Shaw Liminals
Jeremy Shaw, Liminals (freeze frames), 2017, HD video installation, 19:43 min. On loan from the Bailey Collection, Canada. Courtesy of Macaulay Fine Arts, Vancouver

In a way, Jeremy Shaw’s art is less a product and more a byproduct.

Once, the Vancouver-born, Berlin-based artist juggled two careers: one in visual art and another in electronic music. Eventually, he found a way to pursue the former and incorporate the latter.

“By the end of 2009, I got exhausted with touring and with trying to keep these two things up, and realized that I could really bridge the two within the art world,” he says over coffee at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. “I just appreciated the time and scope of the art world more than music, which had become quite narrow to me.”

A recent product of that bridging, Liminals: A Para-Fiction of Transcendence by Jeremy Shaw, makes its North American debut at the MMFA on Oct. 9. The work exists as a standalone creation and also as a continuation and evolution of Shaw’s previous meditations and output.

“My works tend to set you up into something that you feel is familiar,” he says. “The work [Liminals] is 16mm and looks like it’s from the 1970s, but then there’s a BBC-like voiceover that tells you it’s 100 years in the future, so there’s this paradoxical content versus narrative going on. Aesthetic versus narrative.”

Liminals explores notions of community, tribalism, technology and various kinds of evolution. It contemplates and examines the future while also exploring the lengths people will go to in order to achieve that most nebulous of ideas: transcendence.

Shaw has been playing with these ideas for a while, now. “A lot of my early works, while I was still making music, were really glorified music videos,” he says. “Eight-minute-long works in slow motion, straight-edge kids dancing in slow motion, et cetera. This work became not enough for me and so as it’s evolved I’ve started to make these narrative structures that play out like a short film but then at a certain point, have sandwiched within them some type of an immersive rupture.”

Film, Shaw says, is the vehicle to immerse and guide the viewer towards the payoff.

“What I’m most interested in there is the manipulation of that experience as well as an element of surprise. Not literally, like, ‘Oh, I’m stepping into the art exhibition and now I’m in this parallel universe,’ but using conventions of cinema and storytelling to suck people into having that experience. The works are about people either attempting to or having these transcendental moments, so there’s this desire for me to elicit a phenomenological response from a viewer [who is] watching someone else have one.”

At various points in our conversation, Shaw refers to the experience of Liminals as “going into” something and “leaving” something else. This tracks, and obviously relates to the title of the work. The “liminal” is the edge, the threshold; being at, on or in a “liminal” space or place or moment is to exist on both sides of a razor.

That said, given his interest in technology and the notion of the technological singularity, it seems somewhat curious that Shaw chose to use conspicuously old tech as his delivery mechanism. He says the choice was strategic.

“Outmoded technology is somehow, for me personally, a really ripe place to propose new potential ideas, new speculations. A viewer can be disarmed, in a way, by the familiarity of old tech and as such, be receptive to an experience.” ■

Liminals: A Para-Fiction of Transcendence by Jeremy Shaw opens at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Oct. 9 and runs through March 24, 2019.