Artworks not only reflect the time in which they were first conceived, they’ll often come to represent the times in which they are first seen. Steve Driscoll began producing his latest body of work before the pandemic. In those ‘before times’, he was primarily interested in discovering how different technologies – including the GoPro camera – could expand the visual language of his paintings. By lobbing a waterproof digital camera into rivers and streams, Driscoll captured split-second moments that convey the power of rushing water. The paintings based on the camera images range from recognizable – if usually off-kilter – landscapes to completely abstracted representations of the bubbling tempest beneath the water’s surface.
Words such as ‘uncertain’ and ‘unprecedented’ are often used to describe the situation into which the world has been plunged by Covid – 19. For many of us, ‘turbulent’ is another apt descriptor for the past year-and-a-half. For Driscoll – indeed, for many working in the frats- the pandemic meant delayed or completely cancelled exhibitions, but this didn’t mean the creating stopped. Throughout 2020 and early 2021, Driscoll continued refining the suite of paintings and adding the video installation he had originally intended to present last year.
As the months passed, Driscoll’s relationship with – and impressions of – the photos and footage he shot gradually changed. As individuals and the world at large were buffeted by the pandemic. Driscoll began to see in the cameras’ unpredictable movement through the water a metaphor for the virus’s impact on our lives. Bobbing, twirling and constantly under the threat of going under and not resurfacing. Driscoll’s cameras – like many people – are at the mercy of the waves. Occasionally in the video, the camera floats calming along the surface of the water only to be plunged suddenly over a precipice or into rapids, the soundtrack erupting into a disorienting echoey roar. Our experience of Covid-19 has been much the same: a week or two of ‘normalcy’, and then our false sense of security suddenly disrupted again by business and school closures, lockdowns, stay-at-home orders or, even worse, contracting the virus or losing a loved one to it.
Finally exhibited as Canada – hopefully – is through the worst of the pandemic, Driscoll’s exhibition can be interpreted as a visual representation of ‘pathetic fallacy’, the literary term used when natural or inanimate objects are described using human emotions. Rushing rivers don’t care if cameras floating in them come out intact just as viruses are indifferent to human concerns and suffering. It is worth noting, however, that some of the most turbulent rivers eventually drain into placid lakes. The camera will regain their focus.
- Bill Clarke