Ottawa Art Gallery

A drumroll for Rhythmscape/ Rythmesthétique

Maureen Korp


As Sandy Hill folk know, the Bytowne has reopened. Its calendar displays a wondrous selection of international films for viewing. Guess what? Not far away, at the Ottawa Art Gallery, neighbourhood film lovers will find even more work to be seen in a remarkable gallery exhibition entitled “Rhythmscape/Rythmesthetique.” Curated by Chaeyoung Lee of the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, South Korea, and Catherine Sinclair of the Ottawa Art Gallery, the exhibition brings together the work of eleven international artists in a number of integrated formats: multi-screen projections, single-screen projections, sculpture, and still photography. It is an exhibition well worth repeated viewings.

“The Emotional Society on Stage,” 2014, is a 23-minute triple-screen video projection. In this work, Korean artists Hyejeong Cho and Sookhyun Kim have created a fierce critique of contemporary urban society. Beautiful young men and women practice perfect smiles and very correct manners in a multitude of could-be-anywhere workplaces—in stores, hospitals, restaurants, etc. At the same time, anonymous hands are clicking torsos of store mannequins into place over and over again. All are cogs of societal machinery. One is the same as another in today’s service sector. As we know, few noticed the front-line workers, the people who stock the shelves, until we were all standing in the same lines.

Ant Time (detail), by Hwayeon Nam, 2014
Photo Chris Snow

We see a similar pattern in ten photographs entitled “Ant Time,” 2014, by Hwayeon Nam of Korea. They are displayed nearby.







A Glimpse of Me, by Tiphaine Girault and Paula Bath, 2014
Photo Chris Snow


Difference is celebrated, however, in the 20-minute documentary “A Glimpse of Me,” 2014, by Tiphaine Girault and Paula Bath, of Aylmer, Quebec. Their film is the record of a remarkable stage production: three deaf people discussing joy and sorrow in their own lives. Each one signs in a different language, a tongue mediated by its own specific sign language. Thus, Peter Owusu-Ansah signs in English using American Sign Language; Ali Saeedi signs in Farsi using Iranian Sign Language; and Tiphaine Girault signs in French using Quebec Sign Language. Watching them, we see lives well-lived from every angle.

In 2008 Swedish artist Johanna Billing filmed a choreography workshop for teenagers in Iasi, Romania. “I’m Lost without your Rhythm,” 2009, a single-channel video of 13 minutes, is a toe-tapping, flirtatious delight. The students find their beats, and one another, all over the school. Townsfolk watch astonished. A beat can be found under a chair, out on the street, even on the hunt-and-peck old manual typewriters from the days of the GDR.

A quieter scene awaits, however, in “The Twelve Rooms,” 2014, a single-channel seven-minute video. Here, a piano is being tuned—note by precise note. There are 12 notes to be harmonized. Is that all? No. Colour and sound are the same if one learns to hear and see as did the ancients. In this short film, Korean artist Sojung Jun patiently shows us modalities of understanding evoked by colour and sound. Momentary silences, for example, become a white room; eternal silences are known as black; in the yellow room, one finds anxiety. The Korean zodiac is a 12-part system, so are the harmonies Greek philosopher Pythagoras taught his followers. Some have always heard the music of the universe. The rest of us can open our eyes and ears, too.

“Rhythmscape/Rythmesthétique” is not an exhibition to walk through. You will want to sit down to hear and see these projections. Markings on the gallery floor indicate the prime spots for hearing the accompanying audio of each work in the exhibition. Be sure to pick up a folding stool when you check in at the Daly Street entrance of the Ottawa Art Gallery. There are no visitor benches in the gallery in these COVID-19 days.

One more thing: the exhibition was designed to be seen and heard with personal audio devices. Unhappily, today’s necessary COVID-19 precautions mean these, too, are no longer available. The exhibition is noisy. What is not initially audible at first viewing may become clearer with repeated effort. Be persistent. Much is worth your patience.

Current OAG Exhibitions

continuing to 3 January 2021

Jennifer Dickson: The Credo Project
continuing to 7 February 2021

Russell Yuristy: The Inside of Elephants and All Kinds of Things
continuing to 7 February 2021

50 Mackenzie King Bridge / 5 Daly Street

Free admission: book your visit on line: