As the first ten years of the 21st Century wind down, more questions than answers are raised as we regard the state of the art nation: Will the VAG move or stay? What’s going on at the MACM? How do you solve a problem like Nuit Blanche? Are Sobey Awards reserved for artists with the most international profile? Will the Israel/Palestine question continue to split artists down ideological lines? And is the economy improving or not? Galleries have gone, but they also keep coming. And buildings are, as yet, still in the works (cross your fingers, Plug In). National, provincial, and municipal governments complain they have no money, but only a few realize the economic potential of art (cross your finger, lobbyists of Toronto’s new Billboard Tax). Beneath it all, the so-called creative class keeps on keeping on.
At Akimblog, we do our best to make sense of it all. We might not have the answers, but we’ll explain the evidence and throw in our two cents. What follows is our yearly roundup; inevitably incomplete, these are the things (in no particular order) that remain on our retinae long after we return from our weekly rounds of gallery going. In these days of deficit, the well of creation still overflows. That is certain and worthy of celebration.
Happy New Year,
Terence Dick & Kim Fullerton
Aaron Peck - Vancouver
1. I’ve written about Gareth Moore’s show at Catriona Jeffries many times, so I don’t want to sound like I’m repeating myself, but what I like about his work is the way it considers, or narrates, objects. They start out as ordinary junk, then Moore has some kind of aesthetic encounter with them, and they are reconfigured as art objects and exhibited. The way each object withholds its past and yet seems to rest so much of its value on that withheld story adds a layer of ambiguity that makes the work.
Geoffrey Farmer, from Three Word Show! at Every Letter of the Alphabet
2. Geoffrey Farmer’s new project space, Every Letter of the Alphabet, is dedicated to facilitating and exhibiting text-based work. Each project will be curated – or perhaps a better verb is “directed” – by Farmer. The new space, next door to the LES gallery on Powell Street, has only had one exhibit so far. Farmer sent out an open call for anyone to send him three words. Those three words were placed on small signboards and cluttered throughout the gallery. The result was a sort of manifesto of what will be happening here for the next year. I might be somewhat biased (being both an admirer of Farmer’s work and of text-based art in general), but Farmer has produced a space – and a project – that promises to be exciting for Vancouver art in 2010.
3. As with Moore, I’ve written about Owen Kydd many times and fear repeating myself. At the Vancouver Art Gallery, a triptych of monitors loops carefully composed images for less than ten seconds. All three pieces – Mission, Night and Joshua – are sustained looks at various places and their inhabitants. They make one think of documentary photography, ethnographic film, still life, and neo-realism. Kydd’s work is a kind of montage. The loops constantly result in new combinations and depict their subjects with attention, honesty, and a restrained lyricism.
4. I’m including the VAG exhibition Enacting Abstraction because it allows to me mention one aspect of the local art making that has a lot of potential. From sculptural abstraction (Devon Knowles, Kika Thorne, Colleen Brown, Nathalee Paolinelli’s mobiles) to visual abstraction (Arabella Campbell, Jeremy Hof, Mat Bushell, Eli Bornowsky, Monique Mouton), a number of Vancouver-based artists (or artists associated with the city of Vancouver, now based elsewhere) appear to be reconsidering abstraction in ways that are neither reactionary nor conservative. The exhibition itself approached the concept in a novel way, including canonical works by artists not normally considered abstract (early conceptual art) alongside traditional painterly abstraction (Abstract Expressionism, les Automatistes, the Toronto Eleven, etc.). A wide-ranging survey, it explored the aesthetic implications of this key art historical adjective.
5. Julia Feyrer’s Poodle Dog Ornamental Bar was many things: a contingent art space, a film set, a historical recreation, a speakeasy, a party space, a site-specific installation, and a venue for music, readings, and screenings. Feyrer recreated an 1898 Gastown bar by the same name constructed out of cedar bark, flotsam and jetsam. In the present day version, you could buy a glass of homemade apple wine for a dollar. The Poodle Dog functioned as a space for just shy of two months and, while it lasted, it felt revitalizing. Contrary to the rumors circulating, it did not meet an untimely end due of the cruel, yet unfortunately legal, eviction of the residents of 536; the Poodle Dog was only supposed to last for the summer.
Dick Averns - Calgary
1. There are many artworks out there arresting in form, material and aesthetic, but not so many that also bring cogent systems of criticality and value to the fore. Real Life at the Glenbow Museum is one such exhibition. Guy Ben-Ner’s Treehouse Kit comprises an arboreal assemblage of DIY furniture parts in tandem with a video projection whereby the artist performs as Robinson Crusoe, disassembling the tree house and from it building a bed, chair, table and of course, an umbrella. The plot may be transparent, similar to consumerism, but the content draws you in to fathom one’s needs compared to wants: a serious consideration in a world of disparity. Alongside this are Ron Mueck’s startling hyper-real sculptures of the human figure, replete with sketches, maquettes and a video that unpack the mystery of his fabrications. All in all a knockout National Gallery-organized show that mixes figuration and conceptualism via traditional and contemporary media.
Glenn Ligon, Untitled (Minnesota Massacre), 2009 (photo: MN Hutchinson)
2. Continuing with issues of internationalism, whilst going deeper into the ramifications of transculturation, Glenn Ligon’s Death of Tom and Untitled (Minnesota Massacre) at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery definitely make the grade. New York-based Ligon has undertaken a layered appropriation of Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, making a video installation based on the last scene of Edwin Porter’s 1903 film depicting Tom’s death. Ligon’s film came out blurred and virtually unrecognizable due to camera problems, but he still worked with the streaked and shaky material. The melancholy imagery creates a hazy recalibration of history that reflects the ongoing erasure of culture that slavery and civil rights so much confront. Jason Moran’s original piano score brings the emotive chiaroscuro flickering celluloid to life, but it is the overall installation that carries the day. Death of Tom is exhibited in a rectilinear room similar to a small black box theatre but coated with tarpaper. This inversion of the white cube is palpable. To cap it all, at the rear of the gallery a large whitewashed wall conceals a sizable collection of canvases that may only be viewed by ascending a gallows-like staircase to reach a small viewing platform. The paintings (loaned from the Glenbow) are generally considered too problematic to exhibit. They feature “scenes from the infamous 1862 uprising by Sioux in southern Minnesota [and were] intended to stir up sympathy” for white settlers and “animosity” towards the indigenous peoples. All in all, this is an epic show, ably curated by Wayne Baerwaldt with production support from ACAD students.
3. On a totally different tack, Andrew McLaren at the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation residency space St[art] at Art Central presented a phenomenal artists’ book project. The scope, scale, affect and intellectual quality of these works are bound, literally and metaphorically, within the compelling assemblage quality of his tomes. The artist engages in what he calls “paracartography…[a] kind of distended or extended mapmaking of the world (always in a global or multiple-world format).” While at the CAAF space, McLaren expanded on his 2008 APPROX. DCLXVI to create a slightly smaller but similarly themed DCLXVI. Page sequencing is constant but the content varies slightly. For instance, each book has a spread of approximately 6.66 (riffing on the call sign of the Devil, 666) laminated, once living butterflies. Notions of cartography and truth to material in the age of Google maps are beautifully abstracted here with his palimpsest text of buttered flies and utter lies. Who knows where we’re really going?
4. Moving from the modest but vital residency spaces provided by CAAF, my next pick shifts to the newest A-grade gallery space in town. Opening with a host of national treasures, Art in the Service of War: The Emergent Group of Seven at the four thousand square foot Military Museum’s Founders’ Gallery provided a fascinating mixture of art and artifact. Curated by Colleen Sharpe, this exhibit gave visitors a chance to see early paintings by figures who became some of Canada’s most lauded artists. The inclusion of sketchbooks and excellent text panels created a sense of history and context, most memorably the narrative about Allied forces using poison gas in the Great War. For the future, the Founders’ Gallery will switch between historical and contemporary works.
5. The Last to Win at Stride may be a one horse race, but for a solo show that comprises just one piece, David R. Harper’s life-sized equine sculpture is one of those works that really has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Instead of a seamless taxidermy job, stitched edges could be seen, emblematic on the one hand of life-giving surgery, on the other, of an autopsy. Added to this is intricate embroidery reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelites; all of which is compounded when one discovers that the hide is in fact cow, not horse. Not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but a hybrid beast of creative burden. There are good odds on this team in 2010 for sure.
Cliff Eyland - Winnipeg
1. Rob Kovitz’s multi-volume ten-years-in-the-making Ice Fishing in Gimli bookwork is a classic already. Bravo to long term projects, I say.
2. Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline gets my emerging artist of the year award for his ambitious paintings, which he shows at Katharine Mulherin in Toronto, Deitch in New York, and even occasionally in his hometown of Brandon, Manitoba.
A child of a Summer School participant drops the contents of Cyrus Smith’s “art kit” on Plug In’s floor during the Summer School’s Open Studio reception.
3. Anthony Kiendl is guiding the Plug In Institute for Contemporary Art toward a permanent home that will shuffle the Winnipeg art deck and maybe even move the entire card game over to Portage Avenue from the Exchange District. Keindl has also started a Summer School at Plug In that is very promising.
4. Sarah Anne Johnson continues to show everywhere: Winnipeg, New York, Toronto, Calgary. Success could not have happened to a nicer Canadian.
5. Daniel Barrow makes magic, not only in his own art but also by means of his Winnipeg Babysitter video compilation (available through Video Pool) of the bygone era of anything goes Winnipeg cable TV.
Terence Dick - Toronto
1. I supposed it’s part of the job, just like you have to go to movie theatres to write about film or restaurants to write about food, but the white cube is a bit of a tired trope, so I’m happy with whatever chance I have to get out in unfamiliar surroundings. Barring the relentless site-specificity of Nuit Blanche, the big thrill for me this year was The Leona Drive Project’s incursion into vintage suburbia in the shadow of encroaching 21st Century mega-development. An Te Liu’s monumental plastic bungalow needs to be enshrined as a heritage site. (The first runner-up for what I will dub “Field Trip Art” has to be The Projects: Port Credit by Christof Migone and the Blackwood Gallery with what surely is the first of many more exhibitions in the culturally complex rings of Toronto.)
2. She might be from Winnipeg, but now that Toronto (via the AGO) owns House on Fire, her multifarious exploration of tragic pasts both personal and national, Sarah Anne Johnson can safely be added to my list of local picks. Let’s hope her winning combination of craft, imagination, history, ethics, politics, intimacy and narrative gets plenty of airtime in the halls of Fort Gehry. It’s the type of contemporary art that seduces newcomers and pleases the old guard at the same time. (First runner-up for solo exhibition of the year goes to Morley Shayuk and his “Construction Site Conceptualism” (my term) at Board of Directors.)
James Nizam, Housing Projects in a Room, 2009, colour photograph
3. Just as I’ve stopped listening to albums in favour of singles (blame my iPod), I’ve increasingly found myself drawn to the unique stylings of individual artists. These are the songs I’ve carried in my head this year: Alexis Harding’s sliding paintings (from The Path of Most Resistance at the OCAD Professional Gallery), James Nizam’s photographs of photography in his camera obscura rooms (at Birch Libralato), Aleesa Cohene’s video mash-up triptych of family dysfunction (at YYZ), Matt Janisse’ asphalt rubbings (at Show & Tell), and James Carl’s clay elastic bands (at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery).
4. Clint Roenisch is a poet in the body of a dealer. Time’s Up Jackal, Point To My Eyes is the best exhibition title of the year.
5. For cheap laughs and a reminder of why I avoid openings, Art Stars* guerilla video coverage of the art scene is a guilty pleasure. Host Nadja Sayej is the Tom Green of Queen West hipsters. But for real art criticism, now that the Art Fag is RIP, I eagerly await David Balzer’s (almost) weekly reviews in eye weekly. He knows his shit.
Stacey DeWolfe – Montreal
1. A few weeks ago, I took my class to see the work of Tehching Hsieh at DHC/ART. Having already been through the exhibit, I parked myself on the second floor and spent the next hour watching the film of his One-Year Performance Time Piece. The Taiwanese artist spent the early eighties subjecting himself to a series of durational experiments, each lasting exactly 365 days. In Time Piece, Hsieh shaved his head to mark his starting point and then began to punch a time clock, every hour on the hour, twenty-four hours a day. The film captures each of those 1370-odd moments and though Hsieh’s project remains unfathomable on many levels, the ability to watch his yearlong transformation in this compressed version goes a long way to making his experience manifest for the viewer.
2. My first encounter with Belgian artist Wim Delvoye was memorable, to say the least. He was in Montreal for the opening of his latest Cloaca or “shit-making” machine and I was in a Waffle House parking lot watching a diner full of people stuff burgers into their mouths. Delvoye is a great interview because he is so dismissive of his critics and so passionate about the machines he has been perfecting since the early aughts. Though loathe to anthropomorphize Cloaca, he spoke emotionally about the act of unplugging it after weeks of feeding and cleaning. And though I agree that there were more worthy recipients of the food that Cloaca ate during its sojourn in Montreal, as a provocateur, Delvoye has created a pretty fascinating object d’art.
3. Though it has been months since I saw the Robert Polidori exhibition at the MACM, I can still picture the images in my mind. Masterfully composed, so that not a centimeter of the frame is wasted, his large-scale photographs are incredibly beautiful, yet never betray the gravity of their subject matter. From Havana to Chernobyl to post-Katrina New Orleans, the images tell stories of human suffering and environmental degradation, yet somehow manage to feel hopeful. Perhaps it has something to do with the compositions, which are often constructed around window frames and doorways or perhaps it is Polidori’s ability to focus his lens on those details that reveal the simple humanity in the work.
Maskull Lasserre, Murder (detail), 2009, charcoal
4. In the last few years, I have had the opportunity to see the work of dozens, if not hundreds, of student artists. Not all of it has been good, but what has struck me most about the young artists who have already started to make a name for themselves is the level of craftsmanship in their work. In March, I came across a Concordia undergraduate student named Jenny Schade whose stylistically sophisticated paintings speak to the confidence of her vision. Recent MFA graduate Maskull Lasserre is already a master of his craft, carving intricate and beautiful sculptures out of a wide array of unusual materials including coat hangers, compressed paper, and charcoal. And painter Vitaly Medvedovsky, who I shouted out in last year’s Top 5, continued to impress in his first solo show with his visually and thematically compelling images.
5. One of the most excellent trends to hit Montreal this year was the emergence of a new kind of dinner theatre, combining delicious (and for the most part affordable) multi-course meals with the opportunity to check out art in an alternative context. Though a few galleries around town have taken up the idea – enough for me to identify it as a trend – it was Robin Simpson and Maryse Larivière of Pavilion Projects, in collaboration with Depanneur Pick-Up, that got the ball started with a series of video screenings. What I liked most about the night’s festivities was having the opportunity to watch the work in its entirety, but to do so while eating and drinking.
Sue Carter Flinn – Halifax
1. Sound Bytes, a month-long, city-wide celebration of “the intersection between visual art, audio art and hybrid music practices”, made noise this past June, drawing well-deserved attention to the city’s soft-spoken community of audio artists. An impromptu choir on the Halifax-Dartmouth ferry left a Monday-night crowd feeling hopeful and energized, and a one-night-only performance of bands revealed some surprising musical talents among NSCAD faculty. The most memorable event goes to Halifax Audio Club (HAC)’s Audio Bathhouse, a one-night installation of audio and video art in SeaDogs, a sauna and spa that usually caters to the gay and bisexual community. Not only a chance to see some of your favourite artists strolling around in bathing suits and towels, it was a tightly curated show of non-narrative video and audio work, programmed into the bathhouse’s sauna, hot tub, sling area, and private rooms.
Craig Leonard, Adventures on the Wheels of Steel, 2009
2. The ten international artists in Sometimes Always at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (co-presented with the Centre for Art Tapes) made noise about the obsolescence of music-based technologies and the glut of eight-tracks, cassette tapes, VCRs, etc., that we’ll leave behind once 2012 hits. This was an accessible but intelligent show that hit all the right notes. And forget DJ Hero - I spent a lot of time mixing sounds with Craig Leonard’s Adventures on the Wheels of Steel: turntables constructed with duct tape on bike wheels.
3. Only in its second year, Nocturne, the city’s nighttime arts festival, is now one of Halifax’s most well attended public events. Perhaps its biggest accomplishment is giving Barrington Street, once a thriving shopping district, the Cinderella treatment. Scott Saunders, Nikolai Gauer, and Wes Johnson brought the ocean to Barrington with Tide’s Coming in…., a large video installation covering a vacant half-block, projecting ocean tides onto the windows of empty buildings. It was an exhilarating experience as the waves roared around the crowds.
4. Outside of the festival fare, two photography shows stood out this year. Martha Wilson’s retrospective Staging the Self at Dalhousie was a worthy welcome back for the New York artist, best known for her involvement with the Franklin Furnace and Guerrilla Girls. Wilson’s feminist role-playing photos, shot during the early 1970s in Halifax, must have been a brave move considering NSCAD’s conceptual focus at that time. Like Wilson, Susan Bozic stars in her photo series The Dating Portfolio at MSVU Gallery where she blindly looks for happiness ever after through her mannequin boyfriend Carl. Her dreamy grin makes this show giggle-worthy, but also clever in its critique of Hollywood-inspired love. Honourable mention: Lorraine Field’s Illuminated Petragraphs series (Vanishing Point at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery), tracing Canadian immigrant patterns by projecting details from various ceramics onto rock formations.
5. Of course the year wasn’t all celebration. The future of the Khyber ICA and its city-owned heritage home is still in limbo. Public consultations are now wrapping up and recommendations for the building’s future will be presented to council early in the new year. But the biggest blow to the Halifax art scene was the death of the iconic painter and NSCAD professor Gerald Ferguson, a sadness that spread well beyond this small port town.
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