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Amy Fung
The Prairies
July 06, 2010

Driving down to Lethbridge earlier this summer, a necessary stop was made at the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery: one of my top three university galleries in Canada (alongside Carleton's and the Justina M. Barnicke). For a forty year old institution with an immense collection spanning over thirteen thousand objects, the U of Leth continuously curates quality exhibitions from within their own vaults. On display all summer is In The Stillness, curated by Jane Edmundson, which brings together works by Robert Rauschenberg, Tony Urquhart, Alex Wyse, Muriel Castanis, Alan Reynolds, and others. Reconsidering Michael Fried’s 1967 essay “Art and Objecthood” in a contemporary light, the exhibition prominently features the presence of sculpture as it relates to a changing ideal of viewership.



In the Stillness, installation view

Then to Banff and the Walter Phillips Gallery where Ron Terada’s Who I Think I Am makes its North American premiere after its sister exhibition at the Ikon comes to an end. The Banff version of the three part show (the third part being a forthcoming exhibition at the Justina M. Barnicke) features a music room as well as a chapter from the Jack series, which are white text on black paintings transcribing word for word Jack Goldstein’s memoirs as collected in the now out of print Jack Goldstein and The Cal Arts Mafia. Using Goldstein with all of his raw candidness as a stand in for the stereotypical tragic artist who falls into a downward spiral, Terada continues his complicated mediation with the art world and his own place within it.



Ron Terada, Who I Think I Am, 2010, installation view (photo: Laura Vanags)

Back in Edmonton, Latitude 53 is currently host to the National Portrait Gallery, a collective of artists from across Canada who have decided to make their own Portrait Gallery in lieu of support from the current government. Featuring artists ranging from local organizers Kristy Trinier, Fish Griwkowsky, Norm Omar, et al, to regional and national names like Terence Houle, Josh Holinaty, Kirsten McCrea, Jonathan Kaiser, and even writer Douglas Coupland, the exhibition is an exercise in standardizing a DIY initiative, and it looks to travel across the country picking up more contemporary portraiture along the way.



Danny Singer, Rockyford, 2010, HD video

Another show attempting to provide a framework for identity is Timeland, the 2010 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Alberta. One of the oldest provincial biennials in the country, this year is the first time they’ve invited in a guest curator - Richard Rhodes, editor of Canadian Art - to select the show from an open call. The result is not nearly as expansive as the geography of the province as there is a glaring bent towards Southern Alberta artists, most of whom are white males with exposure on the national and international scale. Highlights include Chris Millar’s hypersensory sculpture Bejeweled Double Festooned Plus Skull For Girls, Rita McKeough’s Wilderment (a robotic installation of a new hybrid of prairie grass that destroys itself), and Danny Singer’s Rockyford (a short six minute video that captures the essence of how prairie time makes you feel like days have gone by in mere minutes).



Adrian Stimson, Beyond Redemption, 2010, installation view

The Mendel Gallery in Saskatoon recently featured Beyond Redemption, a solo exhibition by Adrian Stimson which focused on the image of the buffalo through rather conservative paintings and an installation that could have also fit in any natural history museum. Better known for his performance alter ego, Buffalo Boy, Stimson here takes the buffalo metaphor into a literal realm, and the playful ironies of Buffalo Boy being a transgressive, queer prairie icon is utterly absent.

Also on display was curator Jen Budney’s Innocent Years: Stories and Pictures by William Kuralek, Ian W. Abdulla, and Marjane Satrapi. Engaging in stories of major cultural shifts as drawn from the memories of three international artists, the highlight of this exhibition was Satrapi’s enlarged storyboard retelling of the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war (which became the Oscar-nominated animated film Persepolis) contrasted with childhood memories from farm life during the Great Depression and the personal histories of growing up in remote South Australia.



Geoffrey Farmer, Ongoing Time Stabbed with a Dagger, 2009, various components (courtesy Catriona Jeffries Gallery)

On to the city of Regina where the Dunlop Art Gallery operates out of two locations through the Regina Public Library. On display at the Central Branch was the Canadian premiere of Geoffrey Farmer’s Ongoing Time Stabbed With A Dagger. The Vancouver-based artist’s first attempt in using kinetics, this work premiered at the Art Basel Miami in 2009 and is already owned by a Los Angeles collector. The work has the set-up for a surrealist theater-in-the-round and the inclusion of both sound and movement was hardly necessary. It was, in fact, distracting as it neither enforced or suggested temporal relationships between pieces.

On the other hand, Regina-based Sylvia Ziemann explores the potential of humanity in a post-oil apocalypse. As a series of installations for survivalists, be they hidden away in a camouflaged watch tower in the British Columbia interior or in bunkers either floating above the wasted sea or embedded within the desolate prairie, Ziemann painstakingly creates an all too plausible world of surveillance and protection. There are also watercolour drawings that go into great detail on air and water filtration systems, all created with the enthusiasm of a child’s imagination, but rooted in a devastating pragmatism.

Also in Regina, the MacKenzie Art Gallery features a retrospective show by James Henderson, a Scotsman who was known to the Indigenous peoples of the West for painting the land, the faces, and lives of those who resided in the Qu’Appelle Valley. However, what’s more interesting is the complementing exhibition, to be reckoned with..., which is a direct response to the historical representations of First Nations people by figures such as Henderson. Curated by Michelle LaVallee and featuring collection-based works by Mary Anne Barkouse, Ruth Cuthand, David Garneau, Robert Houle, and Nadia Myre, all the works are fiercely contemporary reconsiderations of identity and history through the clear lens of colonialism. As a gesture of reconciliation that spans across art histories and human rights injustices, the exhibition reinforces the power that art can hold in creating dialogue between existing lands and generations.


Amy Fung is the author of PrairieArtsters.com. Her writings appear regularly in print and online publications including Vue Weekly, Galleries West, and Canadian Art Online.


University of Lethbridge Art Gallery: http://www.uleth.ca/artgallery/
In the Stillness continues until September 10.

Walter Phillips Art Gallery: http://www.banffcentre.ca/wpg/
Ron Terada: Who I Think I Am continues until July 25.

Latitude 53: http://www.latitude53.org/
National Portrait Gallery continues until July 17.

Art Gallery of Alberta: http://www.youraga.ca/
Timeland continues until August 29.

Mendel Art Gallery: http://www.mendel.ca/
See website for current exhibitions.

Dunlop Art Gallery: http://www.dunlopartgallery.org/
See website for current exhibitions.

MacKenzie Art Gallery: http://www.mackenzieartgallery.ca/
to be reckoned with... continues until August 22.

 

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