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Stephanie Vegh
Hamilton
November 12, 2009

Besides taking some of the tarnish off Hamilton’s otherwise rusty reputation, the Royal Botanical Gardens is a great asset to the city’s cultural landscape for its collaborations with contemporary art projects in recent years. For the third year running, the RBG is presenting Nuit Blanche Revisited, this time featuring artist/architect Tomer Diamant’s Rescue Bubble. Originally sited in Toronto’s NB Zone C at the corner of Liberty and Mowat, Diamant’s traffic cone structure is transformed by its removal from an urban setting to this hushed garden-atrium, its bright orange points mimicking the petals of an overgrown alien blossom.



Tomer Diamant, Rescue Bubble, 2009

Without the boisterous Nuit Blanche crowd of eager explorers, the strange orange beacon is an anomaly, dwarfing the individual viewer. Its igloo shape has inviting connotations of shelter and the cones provide many telescopic means of glimpsing the brightly lit interior, but with no means of entry, it is a defensive and enclosed object of alienation. Rather than being a source of rescue, the bubble seems just as likely to be an observation platform for some otherworldly visitor, an object that witnesses us instead of the other way around.



Jesse Boles, Crude Landscape #104, 2005, C-print (courtesy the artist and Edward Day Gallery)

While the rare optimist might think of the RBG when they think of Hamilton, the pessimist and everyone else is much more likely to recall the steel mills that continue to dominate the waterfront in their varying states of operation. Jesse BolesCrude Landscape at the Art Gallery of Hamilton provides a monumental vision of this ubiquitous image in his long-exposure photographs of various industrial sites surrounding Lake Ontario.

Situating itself neatly between the AGH’s other offerings (Modernist Photography from the National Gallery of Canada and Nature Observed: Dutch Painting at the Art Gallery of Hamilton), Boles’ exhibition delivers a portrait of an industrial age that is both sleek and smoggy. The factory landscapes suggest Turner’s paintings of light exploding across open waters, but the familiar distance (at least to this Hamilton girl’s eyes) reduces much of the gut-deep impact of Turner’s sublime while the washes of coloured light expanded through Boles’ long-exposure lens create the peacefully contemplative air of a Rothko.



Jesse Boles, Hot Mill, 2009, inkjet print (courtesy the artist and Edward Day Gallery)

The scale and distance in these photographs might keep the viewer safe from the various “crude landscapes”, but that’s not the case with the larger format and cavernous surround achieved in Boles’ newly commissioned images of the interiors of Hamilton’s Arcelor Mittel Dofasco steel mills. Prolonged viewing reveals the profoundly frightening size of these vast, multi-storied spaces with only a few markers to indicate the smallness of man amongst the machines. The scale of labour combined with the seductive glow of molten steel strikes uncomfortably closer to the full meaning of the romantic sublime: the mixed terror and awe of losing oneself in the insurmountable vastness of the world.



Leslie Sorochan, Shimmy, 2009, chalk pastel and metallic pigment on paper

At a first glance, Leslie Sorochan’s highly sensitive pastel drawings at Transit Gallery provoke anything but terror. Her images of submerged women in billowing white gowns initially read as a watered-down notion of the feminine like so many drowning Ophelias. A recurring red sphere reads as an apple in this simplistic glance, but its amorphous shape and its function as an anchor and balance for these submerged figures begs further scrutiny.

In her most compelling works, the figure breaks the boundary between air and water. This occurs quite literally in Hold Please, which renders a face, normally obscured in her drawings, submerged just beneath the surface of water. In Shimmy, the figure hangs suspended underwater while her head is invisible above the surface. Outside the space of the drawing, this figure breathes the air vital to her survival while the viewer is left with the image of a decapitation.



Leslie Sorochan, Line Dance, 2009, chalk pastel and metallic pigment on paper

Another series of drawings, with titles that reference popular dances, obscure the presence of water altogether, replacing rippling depths with decorative bubbles that add something of the circus to these splayed legs twirling from beneath gravity-defying skirts. Of these works, Line Dance shifts even further into darker territory: cautiously withdrawn feet balance alongside an unearthly precipice, plainly rooted but facing down a weightless fall. Tentatively poised though she is, this dancer draws a deliberate and forceful path towards an encounter with the unknown.


Stephanie Vegh is a Hamilton-based artist and writer whose criticism has appeared in Scotland’s Map Magazine and various British and Canadian publications. She currently lives in Hamilton and serves on the Boards of Directors for Hamilton Artists Inc. and The Print Studio.


Royal Botanical Gardens: http://www.rbg.ca/
Tomer Diamant: Rescue Bubble continues until November 11

Art Gallery of Hamilton: http://www.artgalleryofhamilton.com/
Jesse Boles: Crude Landscape continues until January 17.

Transit Gallery: http://www.transitgallery.ca/
Leslie Sorochan: I Said Dance continues until November 29.
 

 

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