In Oliver Husain’s work, everything mutinies against its form. Since moving to Toronto from his native Germany in the mid-2000s as an established filmmaker and performance artist, he has made video works like Purfled Promises (2009), where the camera passes through a succession of tableaux consisting of items like curtains, masks, ornate fans and thickets of feathers; at the end of the inaugural screening, two attendants laid the screen itself, the final veil, over the audience. “Husain enjoys creating obstacles to perception and literalism,” the critic and curator Jon Davies wrote in Canadian Art in 2012, “arranging human subjects, everyday objects and projected images in a kind of self-consciously dysfunctional relationship, where the audience’s gaze is interrupted, and where non-human participants are anthropomorphized into performers and given the spotlight that they deserve.” “Beside the point,” Husain’s latest show, transposed his mischief to the medium of drawing.
All but one of the pieces in “beside the point” were mounted in a gallery-spanning row and made with similar materials: watercolor and ink on sketchbook-size pages. Most feature viridian or aquamarine mingling with thick blacks, though some contain only black. Husain draws dervishes whirling up out of each other; swatches fluttering together and forming domino-mask shapes; oily candied things that seem to simultaneously clench and offer themselves. One entity suggests a dog that fell through an inter-dimensional wormhole and turned into a papery accordion. Seeing a pile of discs that look like eyes, I thought of Dr. Seuss and the young cartoonist Michael DeForge. Husain has adopted ideas of morphology from comics and picture books. Cartoons can anthropomorphize objects or animals; they can also turn Homo sapiens feral.
The lone recognizably human figure on display was that of the Indian dancer and choreographer Deepak Kurki Shivaswamy. In the most stylized rendering, Husain has drawn his subject’s hands gesturing outward, and they might be signalling for help, or challenging someone to a fight. Upstairs, in Deepak (arranged by chance), 2014, Shivaswamy flashes across a series of paper strips hung as a stationary zoetrope; he’s seen in isolated poses as his own dance partner. Husain has described his latest works as showing “soft shapes subjected to cruel structures,” and Deepak (arranged by chance)—with its combination of separate images created by slashing through paper—makes explicit the violent sectioning of time enacted in comics, with their discrete panels. Looking closely, you can see a sprinkling of little holes—bloodless punctures, spotlights trained on a thrillingly mobile target.