Notes: Cheryl Pagurek and the CBC


I remember listening to George Steiner hitting a rough patch in one of his flowing sentences on Writers & Company twenty odd years past. After some gentle prodding from the hostess, the crotchety novelist/critic explained how alarmed he was by the extent to which the Canadian cultural and intellectual world had degenerated since the 1980s. It had fallen to the point that it had become a hideous parody, less of itself, than of milquetoast Americans. Much the same could be said of the CBC, which continues to descend to levels of crapulence that should appall the public. Continuing our tour of discursive discards, here is a look at a typically lousy example from our state run media. This might be excused for being a very middle-brow entertainment bit, but this does not distance it from its – and the many articles it weaves in as links – quite overt propagandistic function.

Ottawan Cheryl Pagurek is a state subsidized artist with many connections to the Ideological State Apparatus. Not surprisingly, her new show at the Patrick Mikhail Gallery was selected as a ‘must see’ by Canadian Art.

The gallery advertises the work as follows:

In FRAGILE, Pagurek presents the Tea Cups series of short videos and photo-based digital prints—all made by projecting contemporary global news imagery into vintage teacups. With turbulent news images and footage projected within them, the teacups become vessels containing a window onto the world. They bring worldwide events “closer to home,” both literally and figuratively, while evoking the tensions and intersections between private and public, past and present, order and chaos. Despite the scale reversal, the fine china appears barely able to contain the raw energy of the miniaturized scenes. Indeed, the careful ordering and arranging of cherished collectibles seems but a thin veneer of control in the face of a world beset by indiscriminate turmoil and crisis.

Here is the CBC article on the show with notations:

Tea, and empathy, for two. Cheryl Pagurek asks you to take a closer look at current events

The author of the article is Leah Collins, predictably an English grad with no evident understanding of art, who tends to write about Dr. Suess, ‘protest art’ and what art means to Beyonce.


What you’ll find could hardly be described as a tempest in a teapot — or a teacup, if you want to get literal about things.

Less than a tempest in a teapot, the events of the world are congealed to a flat banality (what is this so fluid that it can spill around the globe but not out of a cup?), deprived of drama and curated in tweeness, rendered as an optical illusion. Not only this – to drive the nail into pathos even more – the whole thing is rendered with all the mannerism of an art deco moviehouse, channeling its illusory central surface into a kitschy recapitulation of archaic styles, rendered as miniaturized byzantine design around their central portal. This portal itself is cast in paracinematic form to highlight the phantasmatic quality of the whole thing, and by whole thing it is the global that is implied.

You’ll find scenes of Syrian refugees landing on Lesbos, the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, the Paris shootings. The suffering is all too real, and all too familiar.

With the imagery shrunk and then blown up, shrunk and then blown up, the construction of the photos seems to mime breathing. But considering the way the cup is set on its side, they could equally resemble the remnants of a heart attack or stroke, a final spasm that doesn’t even manage to chip fine china.

“I think it can be very overwhelming, the way we see imagery and information about the world around us,” Pagurek tells CBC Arts. “It’s just so much chaos and indiscriminate turmoil.” [Is it, or is it planned and discriminate turmoil? In other words, isn’t it formally orchestrated like a work of art?]

That’s why she’s asking you to take another look. This time, though, the photo and video artist wants you to slow down — to focus on the lives caught in these events. [Considering the extent to which these things were filtered through 24 hour news networks and the seemingly endless reproduction of images, slowing down seems to be an odd strategy. Does a photo of a video do this more than a photo in a newspaper? This seems to have more to do with repeating repetition than slowing anything down. If it keeps repeating this often, how is it moving if it’s moving at all (in both senses of the word)?]

“We see so many things happen over and over again in the world and we never learn.”
– Cheryl Pagurek, artist

When you peer inside a teacup, you might recognize Kathmandu or Crimea. They’re “windows to the world,” [Like the former WTC towers?] says Pagurek of the images, and to create the nine original photographs in the show, she projected news footage into China cups, later layering the pictures to create the final product. There’s a shallow depth of field in each picture — a narrow focus on one or two people. [How is this shallowness related to the whittling down of what are essentially crowd issues to individuals? This is obviously to cultivate a specific form of emotional engagement, but if the feelings implied (below) are as ‘universal’ as suggested, then why do they need to be manipulated in such an overtly stereotypical fashion?]

Ann Shin’s documentary gives a voice to the refugee crisis [Crisis has a voice?]
‘We are being tested’: In response to Trump’s win, Canadian artists consider where we go from here [We?]
Too much ‘fake news’ on Facebook? Build a new social network! [This is the liberal equivalent of ‘build a wall’]

Maybe it’s an anguished face in a mob, or a man emerging from a life raft — the emotions as clear as a cup of Oolong. [Oolong is not terribly clear if it has been steeped and emotions are only psychologically legible if they’ve been rendered as cliches.] All around them, though, is blurry turmoil — a scene of chaos that threatens to spill over. [But the entire image is formally constructed to make this impossible. What does this mean? Is this why it’s such a ‘domestic’ image? Is this world policing by tea party?]

“Grieving is grieving, [tautology] whether it’s in Gaza City or somewhere else [Human differences are now being rendered irrelevant by affective projection]. It’s human grief [reinforcing]. A very universal experience [again]. Wanting to keep your family safe, caring for the loss of a child — all these things are universal,” says Pagurek [This isn’t even remotely true. Anyone with a basic awareness of the history of childhood knows this is a completely absurd claim].

Fragile is a reminder of how we’re all connected [heavily mediatized and mediated by ideological fantasy]. All lives are fragile; the Earth itself is fragile [How does the second point follow the first?]. But the initial idea for the project was actually deeply personal. [Why is this a ‘but’ if it’s all connected? How would it make any difference?]

7 artists that will give you hope
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Every teacup in the series belonged to Pagurek’s Jewish grandmother. “She was an immigrant,” the artist explains. “She came to Canada with nothing.” And like all of her grandparents, [All of whose grandparents? The artist or her grandmother?] she fled Poland before the Second World War. [Since the refugee crisis is primarily the Obama administration’s responsibility, does this make them the equivalent of Nazis?]

“It’s a story we’ve heard before, but we don’t learn in the world,” says Pagurek. “It keeps happening and it keeps happening and it keeps happening.” [Does ‘it’ keep happening or are you projecting? If ‘it’ keeps happening, what does this actually say about ‘it’ and why is this played out in the photos through pattern variations?]

“I’ve had [the teacups] for a long time and always wanted to incorporate them into an artwork in some way but didn’t know exactly how. At a certain point, it just struck me,” she says. Looking at the news — stories about the Syrian refugee crisis, for example — her grandmother’s story took on “a lot of resonance.” [Are these actually comparable or is understanding being totally occluded by naive affectivity?]

Meet Montreal artist Maskull Lasserre. He’s going to Dismaland!
Ai Weiwei: How to change the world in 3 easy steps
How this Montreal photographer is empowering young Canadian newcomers to process their past. [You can clearly detect a pattern at this point as far as what’s being written about, how it’s being covered and why.]

“This is something we’re seeing again — mass migration. There’s this upheaval in their lives. We see so many things happen over and over again in the world and it’s like we never learn.” [Is this related to repeating these images again? What does it mean why they migrate into becoming luxury commodities?]

“There’s this feeling that something [what?] we hoped in this century would be a given is more fragile than you thought.”

Human life made equivalent to the soggy excrement of tea leaves may be a tidy metaphor for colonial adventure and global trade – leaving open the uncomfortable question of what it means to display people explicitly as manufactured and processed products (isn’t this what refugees in fact are?) – but this is apparently unintended metaphor. The formal implications of the work are left aside for the sake of ideological propriety.


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