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by Mike Landry
Things of Desire vol 1, #18 Canadian alternative art weekly
January 15, 2009

It’s ironic that Jim Riley’s latest exhibition be all about commuting. The Burlington, Ontario artist recently fell down his stairs, breaking three ribs and limiting his mobility.

But with the help of cheap drugs he was able to install his new body of work, Commute, at the Burlington Art Centre. The exhibition features one looping video projection and four video paintings, which deal with the trip from Burlington to Toronto on the commuter train.

“It’s something that I do, but I’m not a daily commuter. I go in a couple times a month,” says Riley. “I’m just making a sociological observation. I didn’t want to be harsh, but then I realized after I did all this work that nobody can really say they enjoy commuting.”

What began as random filming was focused during one trip from Toronto to Burlington. Usually the train takes 55 minutes to reach its last stop, but snow delayed the train and it took more than three hours. It was also during rush hour, so the train was packed and Riley sat on the floor filming. It was the image of a group of people leaving the train into the snowy bleakness that epitomized the dreariness of commuting. He overlayed the image for the main piece “Journey” to show the repetition of his fellow passengers’ everyday drudgery.

Another fortunate surprise during filming was Riley’s use of reflection in the work. While filming out the window they passed through an underpass, suddenly the window reflected the inside of the train against the dark.

Riley had to keep his eyes open for surprising moments like these for the piece, “because basically it’s not a pretty sight when you’re traveling on the train. You’re seeing the backs of a lot of buildings or people’s back yards.”

To add to the footage, Riley also has included drawings in his videos. In “To the Car” a ghost person floats above the rush of people trying to be the first out of the parking lot. It’s this odd behaviour, as well as the laptop and cellphone dependence, Riley was interested in capturing.

And, of course, he couldn’t help but use the last thing you hear on your way to Burlington, “This is the end and thank you very much for being with us.”

Commute will be on display until Sun February 15 at the Burlington Art Centre.

Art review

by Laura Hollick
View Magazine
March 23-29, 2006

“I follow a form of serendipitous interventions”, reveals Jim Riley about his creative process.

The artist was involved in an accident six years ago that resulted in a brain injury, “I was hit on the left temple by a spike locking device on a fence gate”, he explains. “I lost my ability to walk and control my arms and legs for awhile”.

“It took more than three months before I could walk any distance, some of the senstation in my legs took more than a year to disappear, at times I felt that I was separated from my legs and arms. My legs felt very wobbly and sometimes would collapse on me without warning.”

Prior to the accident Riley was becoming an established and recognized artist with works as social commentary exhibited locally, nationally and internationally. After a brief hiatus due to his accident he forged ahead with an entirely new body of work. In his current exhibition at the Blue Angel Gallery entitled Broken, Riley shares publicly for the first time since his accident his experience with brain injury. Rather than social commentary, it is an education about the effect on the body.

Broken features video paintings that explore the neuromuscular and kinesthetic consequences of a head injury. To meet the challenge of how to show visually what was essentially a bodily sensation, the artist serendipitously conceived of the notion of combining video of his legs, with paintings that surround TV screens. The juxtaposition of the moving picture with the surrounding painting add to the confusion and intrigue of the experience.

“I have a strange mixture of analytical and experimental in my personality”, Riley notes. “The analytical part was helpful when I tried to solve problems for which I had no reference.” Video was a new tool for him that required lots of learning along the way. Riley created these pieces at Ed Video and Trinity Square Video in Toronto.

Riley films his own legs walking and moving in the video. Because of the film’s perspective, viewers can imagine the legs on the screen as their own, that is, they can visually put themselves in that position. “The manner in which the legs in this video moves is how my legs actually moved when I tried to walk after the accident”, he shares.

Vertigo was one of the more unpleasant things Riley experienced. “it faded away with a year”, he says. “But it resurfaces unexpectedly even today”. He used that experience to create “Vertigo Walking in Tall Grass” a video painting that “may create a slight sensation of vertigo for some viewers as sections of the video shift and breakdown”.

The video component of these pieces highlight the experience rather than providing a story narration. In the video painting, “Step on a Crack and Break”, the movements are slowed down a thousand times in comparison to normal movement. “All three video paintings use slowed down time to represent damaged movement”, the artist explains.

The paintings extend the TV screens in a gestural manner. “I wanted the video opening to be a non-rectangular shape so that it might integrate better with the painted area”, he explains. “I combined my present reality with my past body sensations.” The effect of painting and video is a fascinating blend of reality and fantasy as a dream like picture seems to come alive within.

“I do not feel healed by the experience of creating this body of art, nor see my art practice as cathartic. I think that I’m simply expressing my physical experiences and trying to illustrate them metaphorically”, he concludes. His life experience combined with his creative process has uncovered an innovative approach to art that integrates painting and video as a teaching tool for better understanding the experience of head injuries.