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Terence Dick
Winter White at Olga Korper
January 18, 2017

It’s a little disappointing to visit an exhibition called Winter White on an afternoon in January when a day of rain has washed the snow away. If you live in a Canadian city, you understand that snow white turns dirty white overnight. The whites on display at Olga Korper aren’t pristine. They’re off-white and often just another colour, though one that dominates in this disparate collection of artists saying something with the pigment that represents nothing.

Gerald Ferguson, Period #8, 1974, enamel on canvas

The assumption of nothingness allows white to be a surface that is projected upon. It does that well. The empty space – that is, the white space that is mistaken for being empty – is something to consider too. Ken Nicol's drawings of blank three-by-five cards are one example of a nothing that is something, a space to be occupied. Gerald Ferguson's drop cloth painting alludes to a formerly blank canvas that was never intended to be looked at or loved. Leslie Hewitt’s photograph of a plain sheet of wood propped – like the work itself – against the wall foregrounds a similar sense of emptiness or loss. Matt Donovan’s Lego block rectangle of rippling white is a section of a larger indistinguishable plain that extends to infinity. And infinity, like utopia and heaven, is no place you want to be (since you have to die to get there).

Balanced against other un-white elements, white becomes light that emphasizes or obscures the things seen. Bobbie Oliver’s faint dry-brush sketches and calligraphy emerge from the haze of gesso that hides other things farther back in the past of her paintings. Ron Shuebrook uses white emphatically as he blocks in black space with heavy charcoal that sullies the blank spaces. White is a necessary condition for dirt and impurities. It is the colour of purposeful smoke and the fog of scary movies. And sometimes it’s just light as in Barbara Steinman’s photograph of illuminated magnetic tape (which both hides and reveals in its blackness).

Leslie Hewitt, (Solidity) Still Life Series, 2013, digital chromogenic print in custom maple wood frame

You can’t have white (and/or black) without a reference to race and there’s a suggestion of it in the two Robert Mapplethorpe portraits, but it’s only a hint. The only overt politics on display appear in works by Nicol and Kelly Mark. Both use the f-word against an expanse of white to turn text into theatre. His “fuck off” and her variants on “fuck this” are assertions of rejection. They enact an adamant negativity. It's an antisocial gesture with an ethical undercurrent. When things are fucked, then “fuck off” might be the only reasonable response. Apart from the current events that might have you using profanity this week, the seasonal context is another that elicits articulations of rage. No one says, “Fuck spring!” but winter is routinely subject to abuse and antagonism. If you’re not feeling it now, then give it about a month, when winter white becomes winter blight and we are starved for any colour other than the one spotlighted here. Maybe the timing is perfect?

Olga Korper Gallery:
Winter White continues until January 28.

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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