In X, the value of a symbol lies in its capacity to change meanings when relocated to a new context. The “X” on the back of workers’ safety gear becomes an exploration of anonymity in Rebecca Belmore’s installation of photographs on billboards. Belmore positions random workers before the camera in deliberate ways that evoke meanings outside of their work site. They face away from the camera, their identifying features invisible. The focus in the image is pulled toward the X displayed on each of the model’s safety vests. The poses of the bodies can evoke mourning or impending disaster. Some of the images are close-ups on the X and in others the body is subsumed by a large background or sublime landscape. By placing herself in the work anonymously, Belmore does not set herself apart from the everyday struggle involved in making a living creating things with one’s hands.
Belmore’s photographs function as performances rather than recordings. She actively manipulates the scenes in order to produce provocative, beautiful images that challenge our habits of looking and thinking. In the context of this busy urban intersection, dense with condominiums, the X acts as a warning sign, or a signal to pay attention. As exploitation of labour and land progress at an ever-increasing speed, Indigenous land rights are also threatened. A connection is drawn between capitalism and colonization through the reference to treaties, which Indigenous Peoples signed with an “X.” Belmore works toward creating art that functions as a poetic political intervention for her people and all the anonymous dispossessed.
Commissioned in conjunction with Belmore’s exhibition at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery.
Presented in partnership with Justina Barnicke Gallery. Supported by Pattison Outdoor Advertising and Nikon Canada. A part of PATTISON's ongoing Art in Transit programme.