Surge: Rae Davis and Barbara Sternberg by Suzanne Farkas 

Wow I wanna live there!


Need a place to charge your batteries? Plug into Surge. It's the living room created by filmmaker Barbara Sternberg and installation artist Rae Davis at the Koffler Gallery in Toronto. A wonder of organic forms, structural frames, ephemeral memories and dancing light.


Everyone is immediately drawn to the liquid wall. The vision before us seems to be breathing. Clearly the soul of this space, I claim it as my boudoir. The all-encompassing image is at once both soothing and intriguing. This trickster of perfect deception seems to coax the child out of everyone. It is turning perfectly staid and cocktail-ready adults into playful explorers. I know of no one who resists playing with the shadow they cast upon this luscious wave of water. It surges and ripples before them. Maybe it is the magical contrast of their negative space against the light wall that draws them. Hand puppets, rabbit ears and Alice in Wonderland dance and slip into view when 'no one is looking'.


The abutting wall curves gracefully. Along it, is an animated image of a line scrawling, coiling, stretching, as it moves through time. I vaguely think of the flicker of 19th century shadow boxes, Madame Curie's photon photographs and Man Ray's rayographs. The energy of the coils, jerking and tapping it's Morse code of motion, seems in dialogue with the flowing swells of the deep water beside it. White on black - black on white, the tension is easily holding the space.


Looking back across the gallery, bubbling with the laughter of having defied social convention, my eyes meet the table of knives. Perfect! The kitchen is the heart of every party. At first glance the table looks like a casual somewhat precarious junk pile. The knives must have been dumped drunkenly to dry in the aftermath of some enormous dinner party. But coming closer, I realize each element has been meticulously glued, stuck in its form, frozen in place. The beautifully sculpted polished and luminescent table knives are formed and re-formed into architectural chaos. I wonder how this piece fits with the images behind me, but as I look up I see the wall of shimmering lights and shadows reflected by the maze of knives*. It seems that even the ordinary rutted patterns of our lives, when illuminated. Can throw invisible stochastic rays that cast a shadow on time. After feasting my eyes, I feel it's time to move out to the living room, the entry to my dream home.


Here the clean lines of modernism meet the complexity of humanism. In the portal of the gallery space float two life-sized, vertical projection screens suspended by tension wires. The piece is a balanced mix of minimalist lines, defined angles and moving clips of reality. The clean lines and architectural detailing form a sculptural centrepiece. The two screens are transformed with each new image fleeting across the surface. The muted changing colours fill the screen canvas like an abstract painting.


A 16mm film loop projects on to both faces of each screen, so the alchemy of the projection can be viewed from almost any angle without interruption. Like the surging wave, the two screens are timed to ebb and wane in changing density and rhythms of colour. One screen is structured around the colours of the spectrum; the other is a collage of close-cropped segments of a woman's domestic life. The visions of an egg cracking on a bowl, or water splashing across a child's face suddenly appear and linger just long enough to become recognizable.


Although I am a voyeur to these intimate moments, I feel the welcome and warmth of the hearth. The reflections of old home movies are the fragments of common human experience - I do not tire of the repetitive loops of fleeting memory and life perspective. In fact, I feel at home there.


  • note: the table was heaped not only with knives but all types of cutlery. (B. Sternberg)


(originally posted with photos by Michael Alsted on web at October, 2000)