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Terence Dick
Barbara Balfour at Open Studio
January 21, 2016

Shortly after I started working in the art world, I came to the realization that what collectors get out of purchasing art isn’t simply ownership of the work but also access to the artist. For some high-end buyers in the art star market, the appeal might be proximity to celebrity or increased status, but for the more speculative types (like Herb and Dorothy) the added value comes in having a front row seat to the drama (tragic and comedic) of creation. Our fascination with artists goes back a long way; there’s a magic to how they create something out of nothing or something new out of all that’s old or simply reveal a different angle on what we thought we knew through and through. Their “process” is where that alchemy happens and if we get to witness it or enjoy a preview of it, we can share a bit in the pleasure of creation. In a sense, we can be a bit of an artist ourselves (kind of like getting a backstage pass to a rock concert except those generally reveal just how boring and mundane the life of a rock star really is).

Diane Borsato

For her current exhibition at Open Studio, the artist-run printmaking centre and exhibition space, Barbara Balfour has in part abdicated her role as artist to curate a two-volume collection gathering thirty artists within its pages under the title À la recherche (in search of practice-based research). Each of those participants contributed not an example of their finished work but some sort of document that they identified as forming the research that precedes the production of a work. Now Balfour, in her curatorial statement, frets a bit over the semantics of professionalism, art practice, and research (versus scholarship), but, speaking as someone who routinely gets lost in libraries in the name of “research,” I had no qualms about perusing these fragments for clues as to what they reveal.

Diane Borsato contributes photos of houseplants while Marla Hlady supplies pages from her carefully penciled notebooks and Nestor Kruger adds in an array of circled dots with slight variations. If you're familiar with the artist, you might find the links to their work: some are more obvious than others. If you don't know their work, you’re left to imagine what it might be like or intrigued enough to find out. Derek Sullivan has excerpts from email communication while Ed Pien works from ghostly photographs and June Pak uses precise pen drawings.

There is admittedly a voyeuristic aspect to the whole endeavor (guilty as charged) in addition to the familiar question as to where the work begins and ends when process is so much part of it. This self-reflective identity crisis is replicated in Balfour’s involvement as well: what is her work and how much claim does she have on being an author? She identifies as the curator, but she’s not assembling finished pieces. She’s leaving the content out of her control and producing a publication in an era when documents are increasingly dematerialized. The anomalies of her project add up to more than a magazine, but what is it?

Open Studio:
À la recherche (in search of practice-based research) curated by Barbara Balfour continues until February 6.

Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.



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