A spotlight on shadows

Mere Phantoms explores commonalities between three cities.| Photo courtesy of Mere Phantoms.

Maya Ersan and Jaimie Robson, the duo behind Mere Phantoms, use paper cut-outs to create miniature cities. Handheld lights are shone upon the paper structures to bring the shadows to life on the blank walls of the room. Their exhibition, Three Cities: Prayer and Protest, will be on display at the Grunt Gallery from Jan. 12 to Feb. 18, 2017.

The exhibition focuses on three cities: Istanbul, Vancouver, and Montreal. Ersan initially grew up in Turkey before moving to Vancouver to study art. It was there she met Robson.

The commonalities between all three cities are the protests and outrage caused by factors such as police violence, gentrification, and tuition hikes which ultimately lead to losing access to city art spaces. Through their work, Mere Phantoms is able to create a live experience for their audience to immerse themselves in the piece.

Shadow installations

Ersan and Robson formed Mere Phantoms in 2012. Using paper cutouts of buildings, animals, and everything in between, Mere Phantoms create miniature cities. Each display includes a light that illuminates the city from below, but with the addition of handheld lamps, shadows come to life on the walls.

“The audience takes a light and moves through the work which creates the shadows as they go,” says Ersan. “With more than one light source, [the scene] gets layered and you end up manipulating each other’s shadows.”

With the combination of multiple shadows in the room layered upon one another, viewers become a part of the exhibition. It also forces them to be included in the shadows that another guest is making so the audience can see all different perspectives at once.

“It makes the viewer contemplative instead of trying to decipher something that you’re seeing in front of you which is our frustration with contemporary art in general. You’re either well-informed enough to get it or not,” says Ersan,

No knowledge is needed with Mere Phantoms’ shadow installations. With the shadows of the city looming on the blank walls of the gallery and seeing the bodies of the guest moving through the city, it allows for an immersive experience.

Three cities, one room

Mere Phantoms’ shadow installations are playful in design, but the Three Cities exhibition provides a more powerful statement that this particular medium of art is able to capture. Using iconic reference points that media has circulated about Istanbul, Vancouver and Montreal, the exhibition highlights the tension between the general populace and a higher authority.

“All three cities have a history of prayer and protests that are very individual to those cities,” says Glenn Alteen, program director of Grunt Gallery. “To highlight these differences in a shadow play is an innovative use of the medium.”

The exhibition stands on three separate table tops to depict each city. Istanbul represents the police violence that occurred after an overpopulation crisis. Vancouver depicts the gentrification of urban areas with animals running wild on the streets and overtaking construction cranes. Montreal recalls the Pots and Pans protest where students took to the streets every night banging on their kitchenware to cry out to the government about tuition hikes. In the end, the ultimate goal of these protests had one thing in common: speaking out against injustice.

Where protestors make their presence known with volume, Mere Phantoms use the visual. Guests join in on the act by using their shadow installations to put the viewer back into that frame of time and become part of the protest and prayers.

“The similarities between praying together and protesting against this invisible enemy or god or government is that we’re trying to make our voices heard,” says Ersan.

For more information, please visit www.merephantoms.com.