Let us, just for a second, drain every last ounce of context from the paintings in Montreal artist Dave Todaro’s Switch series. Let us pretend that the birds are just birds, the power lines and electrical outlets are just objects, and the recurring orange circle is nothing but a solid shape. With this perception, Todaro’s paintings may instill a sense of calm, as placid encounters between nature and technology.
But we can’t disregard context, can we? Even if it is preferable to ignore certain realities, it is impossible to overlook the harsh truths that Todaro presents in Switch. Stepping into Maison Kasini, the first painting to confront the viewer is Soaring, an eerie, striking piece where blood-like drips seep from a Hyrdo Québec meter. Below, a black hawk is attempting an escape, though the approaching threat or predator is uncertain. Similar drips reappear in several of the paintings, in variations of dark red, gray and black. The first thing that comes to mind is blood; however, Todaro insists that the trickles stand “as a symbol of toxicity or leeching.” Whatever the interpretation, the drips are bound to stir up unsettling feelings.
Admittedly, it is not immediately clear what Todaro is trying to convey through his juxtaposition of birds and electricity. Yet these two seemingly unrelated elements are intricately intertwined. With a closer look, Todaro deftly reveals how our everyday use of electricity disrupts the natural world.
Nature is represented through a variety of images, including delicate flowers, fish, and most often, birds. These images are paired with power lines and outlets, wires and drains. In six of the eleven paintings on display an orange circle dominates – easily interpreted as a glowing sun, an undeniable life source. However, there are complications. In Tension, the sun glows in the background, yet its vibrant colour is disrupted by the heavy pipes and wires that float in a dense tangle in the foreground. In the center of the painting an eagle is in mid flight. But what exactly is going on here? Is Todaro suggesting we choose natural light over artificial light? Is the eagle suffering because of our reliance on electricity?
The difficult thing about art is that it often forces us to confront realities that we would prefer to ignore. What does a Hydro meter have to do with birds? How does an overloaded power strip affect their quality of life? How are these things even connected?
It’s not the answers to these questions that are important, but the fact that Todaro is forcing us to ask them.