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Gil McElroy
Peterborough
September 28, 2010

Begin with the marvelous. Start in southeastern Ontario in the main exhibition space of the Art Gallery of Peterborough where artists Laura Kavanaugh and Ian Birse have just installed the latest incarnation of their Instant Places. It’s an audio-visual structure that uses a long, high wall in the gallery space as a video projection screen before which are situated several benches surrounded by a complex speaker system.



Laura Kavanaugh and Ian Birse, Instant Places (detail)

Back in June, Kavanaugh and Birse spent some time in Peterborough photographing the city. These digital images, cropped and recontextualized into stills, are the source material for their manipulations. A computer programmed with algorithmic instructions takes a detail of a group of performers on a waterside stage in downtown Peterborough or even something as mundane as the crank-down foot of a parked tractor trailer, and breaks them down into, say, isolated blocks of colour before stretching and deforming them into abstract skeins and whorls of line and colour on the wall. They intertwine, ever restlessly shifting and changing until, six minutes into work, they reassemble back into yet another image (or, more accurately, a row of seven identical images) and the entire process of decay and reassembly begins again. There’s nothing flashy about any of it, just fine variations on the abstraction and reconstruction of the representational that are utterly compelling. The audio component fills the gallery during this process-oriented work with something acoustically akin to a rumbling that, mirroring the transformative nature of the structures visually wrought and then dissembled upon the gallery wall, swells and diminishes in intensity like waves.



Michael Poulton, Time Flys

Still in Peterborough and over at Artspace, a group exhibition of work by seven artists entitled Lost and Found is up and running. Essentially a curatorial recreation of the members’ group show, the work ranges from paintings like a small multi-panel piece by the late Bob Boyer to installations like Michael Poulton’s Musem of Temporary Art. The latter is comprised of found objects that the artist has assembled into sculptural artifacts that tend to be a bit more interesting than the titles he gives them. For example, Time Flys [sic] is an old wind-up clock apparently manufactured in Peterborough in the early 20th Century with the skeletal remains of a small bird placed behind the glass face.



Joseph Muscat, Storm Warning (detail)

In one of the gallery’s back rooms, Toronto artist Joseph Muscat is showing a series of three rather good wall-mounted works collectively entitled Storm Warning that use tar paper roofing material (a favorite medium of Muscat’s) to retell the biblical story of Noah’s ark and the flood.



Lindy Fyfe, Interweave 14, Purple, Yellow

Down south at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, Toronto painter Lindy Fyfe has installed Confluence, her first major show at a public gallery. Fyfe’s an abstract artist and has utilized two adjoining spaces within the gallery to mount two very different bodies of work. The lower of the spaces is given over to her paintings, works in which a kind of geometric abstraction meets up with abstraction of the more expressionistic variety. That’s a vast oversimplification of Fyfe’s work and really doesn’t do it justice, but the short version of things is that these paintings are overshadowed by the series of works collectively entitled Interweaves in the upper gallery space. Fyfe’s been working directly with textiles, taking the bold and colourful geometric patterns of knit fabrics used for articles of clothing and stretching them, deforming the patterns, and juxtaposing them against other patterns, then mounting all of it over canvas stretchers. It’s bold and visually insistent work, and a reminder of the longstanding parasitical relationship between visual art and fashion.



Diane Pugen, Covenant, Promised Land: Hiawatha Falls #1, where I first connected to the land, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

And so eastward to Bowmanville and the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington where Toronto artist Diane Pugen has filled the entire gallery with her Drawings and Installations. This is all about landscape – or, I should say, landscapes, from that of urban trees softening the harder edges of downtown Toronto to the wild shoreline of Lake Superior right up to Baffin Island with encompassing visual excursions both east and west. It’s a large show, almost overwhelming in scope and historical depth (pieces date back to the 1970s), clearly demonstrating Pugen’s prodigious drawing skills and keen relationship with the environments she depicts. Her spare drawing style is confident and assured, allowing both her subject matter as well as the paper substrate on which she works real breathing room. Up on the third floor of the gallery, in what is essentially a large, drafty attic within which interesting things can be done (and often have been), Pugen’s created an installation ringed about at the periphery of the space with yet more of her drawings. In the centre of the space itself is a mass of soil which holds plants and tree limbs and even a tiny little pond, all of it contextualized by two video projections, one of which shows waves breaking on the Lake Superior shoreline and the other of which wasn’t working when I saw the piece. But that didn’t matter terribly much though, for this is a show that’s about paper and the more-than-a-bit of the marvelous Pugen’s wrought upon it. That should be enough.


Gil McElroy is a poet, artist, independent curator, and freelance art critic. Author of Gravity & Grace: Selected Writing on Contemporary Canadian Art, four books of poetry, and the forthcoming Cold Comfort: Growing Up Cold War, he is currently collaborating with artist Peter Dykhuis on a series of exhibitions based on abandoned military installations in Canada. McElroy lives in Colborne, Ontario with his wife Heather. He is Akimblog’s roving Ontario correspondent.


Art Gallery of Peterborough: http://www.agp.on.ca/
Laura Kavanaugh and Ian Birse: Instant Places continues until October 31.

Artspace: http://www.artspace-arc.org/
Lost and Found continues until October 15.

The Robert McLaughlin Gallery: http://www.rmg.on.ca/
Lindy Fyfe: Confluence continues until October 31.

Visual Arts Centre of Clarington: http://www.vac.ca/
Diane Pugen: Drawings and Installations continues until October 10.

 

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