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Metal detector 

David Poolman’s multimedia exhibition at Eyelevel Gallery examines underground heavy metal as a worldview. Sean Flinn enters the abyss.

Metal lives, right here and right around the world. The music in all its forms, including death metal, spans the globe and links people through a powerful sense of community, a worldview and way of life.

Toronto artist David Poolman understands this well. "I came to underground metal through the hardcore scene in the mid-'80s," he says. "It was pretty much a culture of tape-trading, mail order and independently produced fan zines. If you were looking for it, you could find it."

For Seasons in the Abyss, his exhibition of video, drawings and wall paintings showing at Eyelevel Gallery, Poolman dove into websites, blogs and chat rooms devoted to metal. What he found online connects with the spirit that moved him some 20 years ago. "The internet is just a much more expedient way of getting there," he says. Though the technology has developed, the spirit and growth of community through the exchange continues, Poolman observes.

A 15-minute video, "13 Instances," mixes narration, music, text and image in a provocative montage. It flows seamlessly, the result of Poolman's intense editing. "I went through about 350 pages of diary entries to shape the character, or characters, presented in the video," he says. "Some diary entries seemed a little too personal and specific." The video explores "how to exist in opposition to the status quo, how to achieve some sort of distance and identity. Music, not just metal, allows this distance. Although through black or death metal the sense of rebellion is more urgent."

In one segment, the narrator reads a fan's manifesto for the ascension of metal over rap and country and an evil hybrid called "country-rap." In another, a fan recounts how he threw rocks at a jeep full of girls who were bullying his sister—the classic icon of metal head as hero, guardian or conqueror.

The video drives home the innocence, imaginary world and sense of justice, along with the hierarchical music tastes, the metal fan (the middle-class teenage rebel, especially) carries around in his or her head. Poolman's work also reminds you that metal humanizes members of its community in the face of what the artist calls, "All the systems that seem to be demoralizing, and the status quo: going to high school in a small town, working in a big-box store for minimum wage, getting caught having sex in your parent's house, TV news, politics and government hypocrisy—all the stuff you feel marginalized by when you're young."

Thanks to a busted video camera, Poolman used found video images to underscore the words of his middle class storytellers, among them the torturous "family picnics, Mom's overcooked lasagna, the highway out to the airport, the mall, the school gymnasium." A series of large drawings based on found photographs called "South of Heaven" lines one wall. Familiar poses and forms—someone throwing horns or two buddies holding a guitar aloft in metal victory—emerge in thick and ample application of black ink. Poolman sees these drawings working in two ways.

"They have a certain presence from a distance, but as you move closer they fall apart into a series of repetitive looping circles and the drawing becomes much more abstract," he says. "As a viewer you have to find the proper distance to see the work, sort of like looking at a halftone image in a newspaper."

Poolman also researched metal tattoos and reproduces two directly on the gallery walls from a series called "From the Womb to the Tomb." The text paintings undulate and flow across the wall. There's a slight distortion to them, but there's good reason. While teaching in Des Moines, Iowa, a fellow faculty member asked him to help judge the Midwest Tattoo Competition. Like all good artists, he took more out of the experience.

"I became interested in the placement of tattoos, the ravages of age and how this affected the tattoo itself," he says. "The tattoos sagged, contorted and distorted depending on how the contestants moved their body and pulled the skin surrounding the tattoo. As with the video, I wanted to create a sense of portraiture without relying on strict representations of the figure to do so."

That in itself is how metal mavens want to appear to the world: as themselves, not as strict representations of what others think and expect.

Seasons in the Abyss to November 21, Eyelevel Gallery, 2063 Gottingen, Tuesday-Saturday, 12-5pm, free.

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