By Paolo Zinatelli
When you first walk in the dark room, you’re overtaken by the projection on the back wall.
A man walks slowly into a large body of water, eventually becoming a speck far off on the horizon. As he disappears off the screen, another man enters in the foreground and begins the same journey.
Eventually, you’ll notice the small television on the ground in the middle of the cavernous room. The blurry figure on the screen appears immobile in the pool of water.
All around the room a raw, indistinguishable voice is heard coming from a small pile of rocks taken from the shores of Lake Huron.
This is Thirst Carried in Fragile Vessels, now open at the Ryerson Gallery.
Started in September 2003 as part of Justin Broadbent’s senior-year thesis, the exhibition took most of last year to complete. It began with a frigid film shoot on Lake Huron.
One cold day last October, Broadbent asked his family and friends to walk into the freezing waters for an idea he had.
Watching them walk in to the freezing water, he decided he couldn’t stand back and just observe from dry land, so he joined them in taking the plunge. “I wanted to do that to show people I was a part of this,” he said.
It was important to him that people knew he was taking part in the experience as well. It took almost a year of editing and a few days of installation at the Gallery, but Vessels officially opened last Thursday.
The vessel Broadbent speaks of is the human body. And the thirst is that “unknown spirit or soul,” he said. Every human thirsts for something else, he said.
The people in the video are on the right track and are searching for something other than the physical, he adds.
“Personally, I think the girl in the pool is searching too,” Broadbent said. “She’s stuck, because she’s in the wrong spot.”
He said he believes people are always searching for something in their lives, be it physical, like a new car, or spiritual, like the answer to the meaning of life. The problem is more and more people are searching for something physical.
“It’s my belief people think these things will bring us more, but I find we get let down when we realize these things are going to fail us,” Broadbent said.
What the piece tries to represent is people searching for that “infinite”, or as Broadbent calls it, “the real deal or the thing that we can’t comprehend.”
It’s not meant to provide answers, Broadbent said. It’s meant to make people feel a bit uncomfortable and, hopefully, make them question what it is they are searching for.
“I’m very interested in the idea of how we’re created as humans and if we have a soul or spirit,” Broadbent said.
Growing up he was fascinated with the idea that humans might have a soul and it led him to explore this idea in his art. “My Christian environment spurred my interest in faith,” he said.
There are religious undertones to the work, which Broadbent admits are hard to get away from.Each person on film takes a slow walk into the water, representing the journey we all go on in search of the truth.
He feels people of all different faiths can relate to his work, as the basic questions that he explores in his work can be applied to anyone, he said. Ultimately, Broadbent believes it’s the uncertainty or the mystery of wanting to know what’s out there that drives humans to continue searching, to keep walking into the unknown body of water.
“As [the mystery] envelops us, we begin to accept [it]. And there’s beauty in the mystery,” he said.
Thirst Carried in Fragile Vessels is at the Ryerson Gallery until Oct. 30