Simon Glass at Index G:

by Gary Michael Dault for the Globe and Mail, January 10, 2009

Toronto photographer Simon Glass’s exhibition, Cratylus, is a deliciously complex photo-rumination on the nature of language and the ways we derive meaning—whether helpfully or extravagantly—from it. 

     The exhibition, which takes its title from one of the lesser-known Platonic dialogues, consists of eight strikingly handsome giclee prints, each one offering a careful photograph of a shard of fossil superimposed on one of the letters (in gold leaf) of the name Cratylus.  Both layers are then further superimposed upon a darkly hued background text—which, because of its stygian black-on-blackness, is so difficult to read, it loses much of its denotative value and settles in to become a sort of beautiful, humming, linguistic music.  The eight texts, by the way, are culled from such disparate sources as varying translations of the Tower of Babel saga in the book of Genesis, through poetry by Paul Celan to an excerpt from Walter Benjamin’s essay “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man.”

     For Glass, who is Associate Dean of the Faculty of Art at the Ontario College of Art and Design, language and its mysteries have always powered his photographic work.  The Cratylus suite seems to have come about at least partly, to hear Glass tell it, from a wide-ranging conversation about the workings of language he had recently with fellow photographer Bob Black.  Glass, more or less taking up the Cratylus position—that language is somehow innate—suggests to Black that “language precedes humanity.” Black responds in a remarkably non-Socratic way (Socrates being the other side of Plato’s *Cratylus* dialogue): “I didn’t realize the world was so insecure”, says Black (a rejoinder so original, Socrates might well have been impressed—or at least amused).

     Does Glass’s *Cratylus* suite dislodge and exhume any thorny language issues?  It’s hard to see how it could.  But it does something really important: it starts you thinking about signs (the fossils, the letters) and the ideas that lurk within them, about convention in language and the contesting of originality with understanding.  It is, in other words, a searching and eloquent exhibition.

$1200 each. Until February 1.  50 Gladstone Avenue. 416-535-6957.

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