Last time I wrote I complained about the obstacles of gallery-going on a Saturday. This week I’m complaining about the frustrations of Wednesdays. As I made my way around town yesterday, half the doors I knocked on were closed. Those that were mid-installation I can understand, but what’s with all the galleries that run Thursday to Sunday? Damned inconvenient for the likes of me! But I digress…
Shuvinai Ashoona, Scary Dream, 2006, lithograph
Actually, before my mid-week foray and failures, I did something I rarely do these days: I went to an opening! Noise Ghost at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery is a North-South duet featuring the scary drawings of Shuvinai Ashoona and Shary Boyle. Curator Nancy Campbell chose to focus on Cape Dorset artist Ashoona’s dream-like, monster-filled imagery, rather than her landscapes (which are well worth a look too), as a parallel to Boyle’s surreal visions of childhood and the fairy tales that are buried there. The latter artist includes a couple wall works that layer projections set to a timer on pictures to create an experience that flickers between enveloping darkness and comforting clarity like a bedroom light being switched on and off. The mythology behind Ashoona’s work is less familiar to me, so it’s nice to have Marcia Connolly’s impressionistic film documentary on the artist accompanying the exhibition, putting a voice to works that are troubling and strange.
Andrew Jones, You Spin Me Round, 2009
Back to Wednesday, I cruised around looking for art knowing full well that spring shows were closing and summer exhibitions were in the works. I also had a number of new galleries in my head that I’d spied around town but, with only the vaguest recollection of where they were, I ran into a lot of dead ends. I probably should have done my research first. Still, I stumbled on a couple good finds.
Heading down Queen Street West, there’s a great window installation at Magic Pony and inside, a mindboggling poster of thousands of different birds by Nick Di Genova. Further up there’s Narwhal Art Projects which (along with Switch Contemporary on Dundas West right at Roncesvalles), I keep trying to enter but have, as yet, had no luck. My only reward at this intersection was the always-open window space called QueenSpecific (it used to be Barr Gilmore’s Solo Exhibition for those of us who roamed these streets an art-generation ago). Andrew Jones’ simple and addictive kinetic work, You Spin Me Round, could have entertained me for hours, but I felt self-conscious staring like a cat at this dancing ribbon so I moved along.
With Jones' Dead or Alive lyrics rattling in my head, I experienced a full-on eighties flashback when I dropped into Hunter and Cook Gallery at the back of the Silver Falls clothing shop and realized I still knew all the words to the Depeche Mode songs playing on the stereo (songs I listened to in my parent’s dining room when parachute pants were first in style). I felt my age only for a moment as I was instantly revitalized by the frantic overload of Keith Jones’s paintings. Crammed onto the surface, no matter what size (from postcard to poster), these scenes of urban dissolution are surprisingly colourful for their depiction of end time chaos and social confusion. Every square inch is jammed with detail, claustrophobic city scenes full of scattered machine parts, debris, and a rainbow of stains like the aftermath of a paintball war. Figures hold guns or pipes or inexplicable devices and everything is falling apart. And there are WORDS, WORDS, WORDS everywhere: labels, signs, instructions, graffiti, notes. I want to ask where’s Waldo? But I’m afraid of what the answer might be.
After stumbling into a couple more spaces under installation and running up against a couple more closed doors, I bumped into Jay Isaac (co-proprietor of the Hunter and Cook gallery/magazine empire) and he pointed me in the direction of the one gallery in the Katherine Mulherin/Board of Directors empire that was open. Inside, I found myself in the presence of two wonderfully disorienting exhibitions that renewed my faith in the whole art-making endeavor. First, I wasn’t even sure what I was looking at in Faith La Rocque’s assemblage of things. I walked right past the hanging plants, scratched my head before the mock-column, and finally found some ground with the intentionally failed minimalism of a dried mud square painted on the wall. Behind me was a DIY algae fountain - the source of the strange odour that hung in the air. Looking back, I began to see the arrangement of plants and hardware in a formal array that now surrounded me. Suddenly I was lost. What a great feeling!
In the gallery next door, there were more familiar things to navigate but once again, what I thought was there turned out to be very different. I initially thought it was a group show, the works were so diverse, but as I made my way from project to project, Morley Shayuk’s investigations into materials and meaning began to congeal. I call it Construction Site Conceptualism as his work experience feeds into a lot of his iconography: banners indebted in part to Home Depot, a make-shift raft to escape the drudgery of road work, a site surveyor redressed as a First Nations scout. Shayuk’s interest in history, nostalgia, work (as in work), and memory is scattered in the collection of his drawings, but is concentrated like a diamond in his bronzes. The three allegorical sculptures are a wonder to behold and the reward for joining him on his journey.
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, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog.
Noise Ghost: Shuvinai Ashoona and Shary Boyle continues until August 28.
Andrew Jones: You Spin Me Round continues until June 16.
Keith Jones continues until June 30.
Faith La Rocque: Lost in Contemplum continues until June 14.
Morley Shayuk: Wayward Truths Faraway Feelings continues until June 14.