Two geniuses, one exhibit

Two Geniuses is a visual tour de force of the complex subject of masculinity. The exhibit is the brainchild of two recent Ryerson photography graduates, Sam Cotter and Fraser McCallum.

The exhibit follows an expedition involving three cinematographers and photographers. Cotter and McCallum transform themselves as these men who embody both art and science. Two Geniuses is an artistic look on the figures of the homo universalis that dominated the late renaissance, and those who became entrenched in modernist thought.

The inspiration behind the exhibit came from the artists’ interest in cross-disciplinary arts. To the pair, it was something engaging, but also an art form that could lend itself back to celebrate the artist above the artwork. Applying the complex philosophy that Two Geniuses illustrates required the artists to focus beyond the aesthetics to convey their concepts as clearly as possible.

“[In Two Geniuses] we are pretty direct in our references to colonialism and the hunger to chart the unknown,” Cotter says. “The whole thing is really an anthropological exploration that is, perhaps, more about the explorers themselves than the territory.”

While the minimalistic approach may seem to take away from the various aspects of storytelling, the artists’ approach differs.

While their conceptual process differs depending on the project, the artists often stray away from forcing ideas onto a certain visual aesthetic. Rather than putting a strong emphasis on aesthetics, the two concern themselves with substantial ideas both from the medium itself as well as socio-cultural realms.

Translating these ideas into the product, says Cotter, comes before anything. The ideas that the art communicates with the audience is prioritized much more than the presentation, he says.

“The challenge is to make appealing images, while maintaining self-reflexivity,” McCallum says. “I try to acknowledge visual traditions without foregrounding them to the image itself. Openness, in terms both of content and approach to shooting, is key.”

The methodology in creating their art may be influenced by the artists’ history of collaborations. A partnership in creating art requires a certain level of criticality and honesty to pool resources. As difficult it may be to satisfy each artist’s respective ideas in what they see as the proper artistic direction, the pair have found their frequent collaborative efforts to be fruitful.

“I think collaborations make us a little bolder and a lot more willing to take artistic risks,” Cotter says. “I don’t think there are any disadvantages [to collaborative work]. We each have our own practices and our collaborative work is entirely distinct from that.”

Two Geniuses is the culmination of a long artistic arc, one that takes the fruition of two visions blooming into something more than aesthetics. The philosophy behind the exhibit, one that discusses masculinity, creativity and the social idea of the artist, can only be described as a visual essay. Two Geniuses is neither didactic or oversimplified, but an exploration of clear ideas and concepts translated into a universal format familiar to so many: photographs.

“It’s hard not to be, in some way, interested in photography. It is in nearly all aspects of our culture,” says Cotter. “Art, science, advertising, evidence, personal life, and fantasy– we keep photographs of loved ones in places of honour and photographs of exotic destinations excite our imagination. The photograph tirelessly blurs the line between reality and representation. Even the greatest skeptics can be confused.”

The exhibit is on display at the IMA Gallery from Oct. 31 to Nov. 24. The opening reception will be held on Nov. 1 from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.

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