Promises in Vacationland is the continuation of Shimshon Obadia’s “fake flowers” project. Initially started as a series of macro photos of fake flowers in the series False Spring/Dead Summer (2018) where the extreme attention given to this simulacra of nature was used as a critique of what the artist observed to be a “plasticy” superficial nature of vacation towns dependant on the double edged sword of the tourism industry. At the time, these issues were coming to the forefront of BC residents’ attention due in no small part to the forest fires and floods that so often plague the tourism industry both economically and environmentally. This industry-dependance has, in the opinion of the artist, created a culture of prizing values of normalcy and the maintenance of the status quo for the benefit of such towns’ tourists above the lived reality and personal liberties of its year-round residents.
Two years on, this second iteration of Obadia’s “fake flowers” project continues their critique of this culture of superficiality started in False Spring/Dead Summer. In this iteration of the work — layered on top of each 20” by 30” canvas digital print from its first incarnation — Obadia has collaged a series of black and white 35mm film photos. Each film photo is a cut-out from the waist down of the artist in some of their favourite and danciest skirts — hairy legs and all — dancing like a little decapitated fairy all over the pedals of these plastic flowers; multiplied a dozen or so times on each throughout the series. The tactile and imperfect realness of the hand-processed film photos stand in stark contract with the smooth sensor-sharp sheen of the large scale digital prints. This particular continuation of the work has been influenced by the work of other queer artists such as Gaye Chan, Nandita Scharma, and Del LaGrace Volcano. They’ve taken their lead from Chan and Scharma’s series of staged photos of tourist destinations made to be more appealing than the realities of those places. Obadia aims to add to this tradition of falsifying a picturesque narrative through similar small tricks of lighting and the perfect camera angle to make a visual critique of tourist culture. And with Volcano’s work, drawing on the influence of such pieces as ‘The Artist as a Young Herm’ (2004), Obadia’s goal is to not shy away from, but instead embrace all the unconventional intersections of their non-binary transgendered body that don’t tend to fit neatly in any one specific pink or blue mould, so to speak.
Using their self-advocacy “soft” approach to activism, Obadia had taken a very personal engagement with this work by directly addressing their experiences as a transgendered, pansexual, queer person living in a culture that so often demands strict adherence to a pre-approved heteronormative script. One that Obadia feels is always asking its players, “what would the tourists think?” Vacation towns like Kelowna, BC often pride themselves on being inclusive and progressive places where everyone can feel comfortable (for a price) but in Obadia’s view have far too often built that facade on the broken backs of folks like themself who don’t fit too neatly into such a production. This series celebrates breaking that script of the perfect happy dance at the end of the summer — which is so often expected to be delivered by the queer community as if this were the only contribution of any value. It celebrates what it’s like to be different in a town that wants all its residents to make it look like an updated 1950s resort. In the words of the artist, “folks like us may be shrunken down under the weight of such expectations, but little dancing fairies have never needed to be big to cause a lot of trouble!”