Photography

Counter-Spells

Michał Kozłowski

In the spring of 2014 the Vancouver artist Bill Jeffries conjured a “counter-spell” to reverse the effects of Bill C-38, the budget bill in which environmental protection and labour laws are further eroded, passed by the Harper government in 2012.

To create his counter-spell, Jeffries altered thirty-eight “spirit photographs” of Prime Minister Harper taken by an Ottawa photojournalist. The images “show a rather unrecognizable Prime Minister of Canada at moments when he is believed to be channelling ‘ectoplasm’ from his sources in Texas,” Jeffries says in his artist’s statement. He reversed the photographs into colour negative “to ascertain whether photography is magick, and whether supernatural means can effect a change in Mr. Harper’s thinking and ideology.” Specifically, Jeffries tried to test “whether this conjuring will cause Mr. Harper to reverse his position on a range of issues, especially protection of the environment.

“Now that C-38 is law, Canadians want to know what the future holds. The auguries foretell that the tar sands’ end-of-the-world landscape will spread across the country and that in 100 years Canada will have no birds, no polar bears, no wild fish runs—if you look deeply into these photographs you will be able to divine the source of the devastation.”

According to Jeffries, Bill C-38 (425 pages long, containing 753 clauses) is also literature: “its text is a Kafkaesque metalanguage; all ‘narrative codes’ as described by Barthes in S/Z. Barthes claimed that symbolic codes link specific actions to abstract concepts, such as ideologies. Symbolic codes reposition the arrangement of signifieds by inversion and antithesis, which is what C-38 did. Now, many of Canada’s previous laws have been reversed out of existence and exist only as ghosts in the rhetoric of C-38.”

Jeffries’s spell, entitled Bill C-38 Omnibus Counter-Spell, was exhibited at a nightclub in downtown Vancouver for several weeks in March–April 2014, and is currently seeking venues in Calgary and Ottawa.

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Michał Kozłowski

Michał Kozłowski worked at Geist for 15 years. He was born in Krakow, Poland, and has lived in Ottawa, Winnipeg and now Vancouver.


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