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Terence Dick
Toronto
August 05, 2010

Michael Klein at MKG127 is the only gallerist so far to include an explicit mention of it in his press releases, but given the currently unrelenting temperatures in Toronto (and everywhere else, it seems), one of the more appealing factors in art-hopping these dog days is not art so much as A.C. I remember riding out my summers in the clammy comfort of a climate controlled white box when I worked in the trenches of the art world (aka The Power Plant). I don’t have that luxury anymore but the free summer admission at my old stomping grounds and the possibility of cooling off while watching hours of art videos (albeit on less than comfortable box-chairs) makes a visit to Toronto’s waterfront gallery a no brainer.



Javier Téllez, Letter on the Blind, For the Use of Those Who See, 2007, video (courtesy the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann)

As I understood it, the group exhibition Adaptation: Between Species was concerned with the relationships between humans and animals (or, at least, that’s how everyone I talked to referred to the show; you know, as the “animal” show), but on looking at the fine print, this twenty-strong contingent of mostly international artists includes some references to nature in general. That explains the handful of works that diminish (and sometimes really mess up) the coherence of the smaller, superior exhibition that Adaptation might have been. Three pieces that should go (Allora & Calzadilla’s video, Jeff Sonhouse’s mixed media piece, and Hew Locke’s photographic portrait) also happen to deal with race and placing them alongside works concerned with animals as animals does them a disservice and is borderline offensive. I’d also toss out Hanna Liden’s photographs because they are the boring remains of some pseudo-rituals that rip off heavy metal imagery and have as much gravitas as a fashion shoot.   



Francis Alÿs, The Nightwatch, 2004, video (courtesy the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann)

The rest of Adaptation, however, depicts a wide world of relations with our fellow creatures in ways that are comical, poetic, and tragic. Javier Téllez’s Letter on the Bind, For the Use of Those Who See is all three and the highlight of the exhibition. This short film brings together an elephant and six blind New Yorkers in a collaborative experience that teaches us about being human and the nature of “seeing” in a way that is immediately obvious and tied to so much cultural history that I’m still trying to wrap my head around the experience. Téllez’s collaborations with non-artists (and often special needs communities) are always models of respect and restraint. The same can’t be said of Marcus Coates’ painful and ridiculous quasi-shamanic performances that derive most of their sadistic pleasure from the discomfort of his captive audiences. You’re much better off watching John Bock’s low-fi tribute to Matthew Barney featuring his bunny. Or Cory Arcangel’s YouTube cats playing Schoenberg. Or Lucy Gunning’s lady horse-mimics. Or Nina Katchadourian’s attempts to collaborate with a spider. Or Francis Alÿs’ gallery-going fox. All these and more will elicit a sense of recognition and understanding that is too often limited to interactions between select homo sapiens.



Amalie Atkins, Stitch, 2010, photograph on archival paper

While you’re down at Harbourfront Centre, be sure to visit the York Quay Gallery for curator Patrick Macaulay’s late summer show Combine. This collection of eighteen artists from Saskatchewan is a fine and eye-opening experience. Some of these folks might be familiar names: Alison Norlen contributes three fantastic wall-sized paintings of incredibly intricate amusement park rides and Tyler Brett’s solo work looks a lot like his collaborations with Tony Romano as T&T. Brett is also represented by an alcove diorama plus photos and video documenting his and Serena McCarroll’s Bruno, SK gallery/café/music venue All Citizens. New names to me include Amalie Atkins, whose surreal videos are both creepy and whimsical in a way that is reminiscent of the Royal Art Lodge, and Clint Neufeld, whose ceramic farm engines on antique furniture are bold statements that manage to be ugly and beautiful at the same time. The solid body of strong work here has me wondering if Saskatoon will be the next Winnipeg. Curators, book your tickets now.



Ilse Gradwohl, Marea III, 2008, oil on canvas

Finally, I chilled out in a mental as well as physical way with a stroll through Diaz Contemporary’s current two-person exhibition. After so much time spent reading didactic panels at The Power Plant, it was a relief to be surrounded by paintings that weren’t about anything so much as themselves. These works require you to see before you understand (too many lesser conceptual works have it the other way around) and remind me of the value of restraint on the artist’s part. I just watched the film Wendy and Lucy the other night and am still in thrall of its resistance to big, bold gestures in favour of quiet realism. Ilse Gradwohl’s paintings are hardly realistic but they quickly reveal themselves to be fairly evocative given their limited palate.



Flavio Trevisan, Untitled (Up Down, Side-to-Side, Round and Round), 2010, acrylic and millboard on board

In the back room, Flavio Trevisan’s ongoing exploration of city maps is presented in a variety of wall-hung constructions that turn familiar streets into incomprehensible hieroglyphics, complex circuit boards, and accumulating cell structures. I’m no big urbanist so his straight-up maps aren’t really my thing, but three black-backed works, one of which looks like a map in the middle of disintegrating, the other two foregoing grids for linear pulses, caught my attention and seemed to lead the artist into newer, less clearly navigable territory. Me? I’m lead back into the muggy streets.

  
Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. He is currently working on a catalogue essay for urban printmaker Matthew Janisse, a review of William Eakin's found photography, and a cinematic account of the suburbs. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog.


The Power Plant: http://www.thepowerplant.org/
Adaptation: Between Species continues until September 12.

York Quay Gallery: http://www.harbourfrontcentre.com/visualarts/yorkquaycentreYQC10_3.cfm#A
Combine continues until September 19.

Diaz Contemporary: http://www.diazcontemporary.ca/
Ilse Gradwohl & Flavio Trevisan continue until August 14.

 

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