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Terence Dick
Toronto
May 27, 2010

Last night, a rare night out on the town, my wife and I swung by the memorial for Will Munro but didn’t make it inside for the line-up snaking out the door. Considering how many people were touched by Will in some way this was no surprise. A long time ago (when he was even younger than the tragically young age he was when he passed away), I moderated a panel on art and music and he was one of the speakers. I remember being pleasantly surprised and impressed with how much he knew about the historical precedents for the things he was doing. He wasn’t simply making objects or throwing parties, he was making things happen as part of a long tradition of creative communities. He actively enlivened the culture of our city and connected it to the rest of the world in exciting ways. He changed things and for that (as well as so many other reasons) he won’t be forgotten and he’ll be sorely missed.

A couple weeks ago, I headed out with three kids in tow to an abandoned elementary school for Art School (Dismissed), a weekend-long group show curated by Heather Nicol and comprised of local artist who also happen to be teachers. Through the eyes of the young ‘uns anything with text was not happening (sorry, Nina Levitt), but Stan Kryzanowski’s paper airplane-making room was a big hit and, funnily enough, Johanna Householder’s video performance of a selection of film and television school marms berating horrible children. Ian Carr-Harris’ amplified pens provided a cursive writing exercise not unlike the work my daughter does at her school. And I was won over by the performances, particularly Phil Strong and Laurel MacDonald’s Standing Wave in the candle-lit basement washroom. A simple audiogram projection transported us to another place. It wasn’t until later, when I discussed this one-off exhibition with a fellow grown-up that the cracks in the project were revealed. Hot on the heels of Toronto Biennial dialogues, my adult friend pointed out the absence of ambitious art making in our city, art that could stand up on the world stage. I had to agree that a lot of it felt rather small and quaint, so now I’m left with two minds: one that appreciates the incursions into non-gallery spaces, even temporarily, to create a ground for experimentation; and the other that wishes the results were that much more memorable.


 
Marina Gadonneix, Mire #8, from the series Remote Control, Paris, 2006-07, (courtesy the artist and Gallery Esther Woerdehoff)

Over at the U of T Art Centre, I caught The Brothel Without Walls, another of the Contact Photography Festival’s primary exhibitions. As with the parallel group show at MOCCA, the thematic ties with Marshall McLuhan and his writing on photography seem a bit outdated. Simply documenting the artifice and sexuality tied up in images of ourselves is not enough, both theoretically and aesthetically, and the photos in this collection left me wanting more. Only Marina Gadonneix’s shots of empty TV news sets had me looking twice, seeing the bizarre architecture that I had seen so many times before anew. The retro-futurism of these fourth wall-breaking shows that treat television as an electronic meeting place is something that is still relevant and worth exploring.

 

Mircea Cantor, Deeparture, 2005, video

Next door, at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, representations of animals (and humans as animals) place our habit of mediating experience in ideologically determined ways in a longer history. The star of the show is Trevor Gould’s almost life-sized giraffe which leans down to greet us in an alien encounter that helps recreate the strangeness of that initial encounter with such a beast. A similar fascination is experienced in Mircea Cantor’s video of a deer and wolf occupying an empty gallery space. It’s one of the rare instances of video art that I wish was longer, slower, and with less edits. I wanted it to linger on each animal, slow down to the pace of their pacing, and let us study each other as equals.



Michelle Li

Down on Queen West at Spin Gallery’s old space you can now find Twist Gallery. Also part of Contact, they’ve got a group show of photographers playing around with memory. A number of the artists seemed paired in technique, though Michelle Li stands out in her use of double exposure to capture dreamy reflections of pasts on the way to being lost to uncertainty. And while Dianne Davis works her shrouded landscapes a bit too much, the final image of a pair of trunks completely covered in white adds yet another twist to the Canadian tradition of the tree portrait.



Luke Painter, From Victorian to Modernism to What?

Further along Queen and down a back alley, 47 (aka 47 Milky Way) is a cool refuge from a hot afternoon and in the darkness you can find two intriguing animation installations. Phillipe Blanchard’s Quest for Fire is a psychedelic cartoon of said discovery. Luke Painter’s giant dollhouse and accompanying video are significantly less direct and therefore more pleasantly puzzling. The infernal machine that hides within the Canada Malting silos is doing something to our water but it’s not clear what. And who is doing the spying here? I leave the gallery wondering, which makes me happy because wonderment is all I want from art.

 
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.


University of Toronto Art Centre: http://www.utac.utoronto.ca/current-exhibitions/195-the-brothel-without-walls
The Brothel Without Walls continues until May 29.

Justina M. Barnicke Gallery: http://www.jmbgallery.ca/index.html
Natural History continues until May 29.

Twist Gallery: http://www.twistgallery.ca/
Reminiscence continues until June 12.

47: http://www.forty-seven.ca/
Ancestral Vision continues until May 31.
 

 

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