It’s always a challenge to find exhibitions to write about over the December break; most commercial galleries close up shop after their pre-Christmas sales, artist-run centres tear down one show before starting another later in January, and the big institutions usually keep their fall shows going for the holiday crowds. I hit a lot of dead ends last week but came upon a selection of rewarding efforts that made me hopeful for the new year.
Kai Chan, Aurora, 1975 (detail), cotton and nylon thread, wood (photo: Cheryl O’Brien)
To celebrate their thirty-fifth anniversary, the Textile Museum has serendipitously programmed a well-deserved thirty-five-year career retrospective of artist Kai Chan titled A Spider’s Logic. Chan is the kind of senior artist whose name is on my radar and I had a rough idea of the kind of things that he did (delicately crafted work in textiles or slivers of wood) but welcomed the opportunity to observe the progression of his practice (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: more major single artist exhibitions for Canadians please). I’m not sure what it says about me, but I was most drawn to his earliest work: a heavy hanging expanse of knotted and bundled thread called Aurora. Chan’s fibre pieces get increasingly lighter as you move through the gallery and by the time I got to the elegant Marilyn, I understood that gravity was as much a material for the artist as thread or toothpicks. Some pieces lean too much toward the representational to take you anywhere but there (Rainbow Pants, for example), but others disorient you in the necessary fashion to elicit discovery.
Drawing with Scissors: Molas from Kuna Yala, 2010, installation view (photo: John Alexander)
A further discovery can be found one floor down in an exhibition of traditional clothing from Kuna Yala (an indigenous group near Panama). These complex cut-out blouses are intensely visual in their own right, dipping into what I could only call “psychedelic” patterning, but where minds truly get blown is when the pictures begin to incorporate multi-cultural references as an effect of colonialism and globalism. Suddenly there are political images (military helicopters), pop cultural figures (Tony the Tiger), and current events (parachuting dogs) appearing amongst the mythological iconography. It’s a cultural mash-up that suggests local identities can be preserved in the face of encroaching monoculture.
Joshua Brandt, The World is a Mountain and Everything Gets Buried, 2010, installation view
Kai Chan’s technique of accumulation and repetition can be seen with a slacker’s twist in the massive installation by Joshua Brandt at the centre of Show & Tell Gallery’s current group exhibition Atrophic Existence. It’s only up for another week so try to make your way over there before the artist reclaims every one of his possessions - and hopefully cleans them off – before bringing them home again. Burying all his stuff under layers of grass might simply be a statement about our own mortality and the insignificance of our possessions (it’s all going to be landfill one day), but the sheer heft of the created object and the visual archeology that can be done to discern something of the civilization that once lived here is well worth your time.
David Zack: Wizard? Perturber? Possessed! Letters and other works of a correspondence artist, 1938-1995, installation view
More accumulation was found in the front space at MOCCA just before the year ended. It was nice to see line-ups of patrons waiting for a glimpse at David Hoffos’ exhibition, but I was just poking my head in the door to see the chaotic retrospective of David Zack’s largely letter art curated by former correspondent Istvan Kantor (who appears as a fresh faced youngster in some of the accompanying photos). Life and art overlap in a frenzy of text that works as a melee of nonsense washing over you or a pool to dive into. It’s all cleaned up now though, so you’re just left with the pictures.
Randall Anderson, Primary Prototypes, 2010
Finally, I swung by the Toronto Sculpture Garden hoping to find something playful and inspiring, but Randall Anderson’s theoretically mobile puzzle pieces felt small in the space and couldn’t manage to claim it like previous, more successful work had. His artist’s statement sounds inspiring enough, but the objects themselves are leaden and lack any magic, despite their bright colours and wacky shapes.
Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. He is currently working on a catalogue essay for video artists Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, an essay on Nuit Blanche, and a review of Marcus Boon’s In Praise of Copying. 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.
Textile Museum of Canada: http://www.textilemuseum.ca/
Kai Chan: A Spider’s Logic continues until May 1.
Drawing With Scissors continues until February 13.
Show & Tell Gallery: http://showandtellgallery.com/index.php
Atrophic Existence continues until January 10.
See website for current exhibitions.
Toronto Sculpture Garden: http://www.torontosculpturegarden.com/
Randall Anderson: Primary Prototypes continues until April 15.
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