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Amy Fung
Edmonton
August 26, 2009

Summer exhibitions in Edmonton can’t compete with the city’s insatiable appetite to amalgamate arts and culture into digestible festival doses. It’s rather unfortunate that the city’s one art and design festival offers nothing of note; there is little appeal to viewing non-contextualized art works in a hot, putrid plastic tent - even for free. The Works Art & Design Festival perennially disappoints and this year was no exception.



Ron Mueck, A Girl, 2006 (photo © NGC)

For non-festival programming, head indoors to the temporary location of the Art Gallery of Alberta where REAL LIFE, an exhibit curated by the National Gallery’s Jonathan Shaughnessy, is on display. A popular draw as many have come to gawk at Ron Mueck’s seventeen foot long A Girl, the show becomes far more interesting once you wander deeper into the gallery to find video artist/stay-at-home-dad Guy Ben-Ner.

Stealing Beauty candidly situates Ben-Ner with his wife and two children in various IKEA showrooms as the setting for their family conversations. Framed as a television sitcom, the artist must have a talk with his son after he has been caught stealing at school. This prompts Ben-Ner to have a philosophical discussion on private versus public property and the history and application of property laws, all the while filming illegally in various European IKEA stores as they are kicked out from one to the next over the course of several years.



Amie Rangel, detail from The Office Show, 2009

Exposing creativity in other unlikely places, The Office Show took over a “for lease” office space in downtown Edmonton for a weeklong installation/performance exhibition. Featuring artists from Jan Peacock to Kenneth Doren and a host of Edmonton artists such as Amie Rangel and Blair Brennan, curator Tiffany Shaw Collinge gave each artist a cubicle space, with some artists, including dancers and poets, annexing the water cooler, photocopier, and waiting room areas. Doren, along with Rangel, shied away from the all-too-tapped theme of the frustrated office worker and gave the audience the benefit of the doubt by creating work that found moments of wonder amidst the humdrum banality of office space.  From Doren’s dismantled fluorescent overhead lighting that subtly broadcast Bach and Rangel’s endless sea of sterility viewed from a small slit that could double as an air vent or mail slot in the back wall, the highlights from The Office Show estranged audiences from the seemingly ordinary.



Lyndal Osborne, Garden, 2006

Taking the everyday and turning it upside down and inside out, Lyndal Osborne’s Ornamenta made a hometown stop at Harcourt House as the show wends its way east to west across Canada. Ornamenta combines Osborne’s Garden and Archipelago into a case study on the affect of genetically modified seeds on our biodiversity. Meticulously transforming dead roots from her own garden and salvaging everything from stalks and rinds to the hundreds of dried grapefruit halves chine-colléd from her everyday breakfast, Osborne reimagines the life cycle of seeds with two floor-based installations that force the viewer to stoop and ponder the mutated material make-up of altered nature.
 
Convincing in both presentation and the research that goes beyond most eco-art, Ornamenta’s one troublesome aspect is the heavy presence of silicon and petroleum-based products, many of which are made from the same GMOs that preoccupy the artist. That said, the mixed responses of horror, power, and curiosity in regards to the capabilities of GMOs are visually reflected in Osborne’s works.



Brandon Blommaert, Ecostation, 2009 (photo © Edmonton Arts Council)

A treat for recyclers, Edmonton’s new Southwest Ecostation features one of the best public art designs in recent memory. Brandon Blommaert’s Ecostation marks a drastic shift in attitude and standards for public art in Edmonton, a city with a giant rotating aluminum baseball bat passing as public art. Ecostation features five large-scale images of repurposed refuse situated in regional landscapes such as a Boreal forest and the Rocky Mountains. As a concept and image, it was engrossing enough to garner a mention on Kanye West’s blog, for better or for worse.



Thomas Kneubühler, Guard #7 (Karim) from Access Denied, inkjet prints on vinyl, 2007 (photo: April Dean)

For a more transient large-scale work adorning a building’s exterior, Thomas Kneubühler’s imposing photographs of security personnel in a surveillance stance hover on the west and south side of the empty building across from the Law Courts. Trespass Act was originally shown in and around the St. Henri district in Montreal, but thinly spread over an eleven block strip in Edmonton that covers three different loosely-identified districts, the placement of the works actually reveal how disparate and isolated these districts really are. A far more interesting photographer of urban lights, with a new project focusing on Quebec’s illuminated ski hills, Kneubühler’s photography is on display inside Latitude 53 along with a gallery rendition of the security guard.



Anthea Black, With Our Powers Combined We Will Rule the Universe (Wonder Woman and Big Barda), 2008, silkscreen poster

Next to the empty building adorned with Trespass Act is the current location for the Society for Northern Alberta Print Artists office and studio. SNAP’s artist-in-residence Anthea Black has taken over the studio walls with Surrender No Surrender, an open portfolio of works shown in conjunction with Black’s involvement with Camp Fyrefly. Focusing on the results of queer art history, activism, and print making, the central walls highlight leather-culture inspired wallpaper before devoting the entire back wall to Black’s contemporary printmaking and edition-based collaborations with queer artists from across Canada. Highlighting collaboration and community as the key anchors that motivate her artistic intent, Black’s Surrender No Surrender is at once a rally cry and gay celebration.


Amy Fung is a writer, curator, and researcher currently based in Edmonton. She is also the editor of PrairieArtsters.com.


Art Gallery of Alberta: http://www.artgalleryalberta.com/
REAL LIFE continues until September 7.

The Office Show: http://www.theofficeshow09.com/

Harcourt House: http://www.harcourthouse.ab.ca/
Lyndal Osborne: Ornamenta continues until August 29.

Latitude 53: http://www.latitude53.org/
Thomas Kneubühler: Trespass Act continues until September 5.

Society for Northern Alberta Print Artists: http://www.snapartists.com/
Anthea Black: Surrender No Surrender continues until September 5.
 

 

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Posted by Clement, on 2009-08-28 09:23:36
 
Hi, great reviews! While I did not personally see this year's Works fest and as such have no experience of my own to compare with, I respect your choice to avoid flattery simply on the basis of it being your city's primary annual art event. Congrats to Anthea and Brandon. It's great to hear more about what's going on in the west (hint, hint, western writers/curators).