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Sue Carter Flinn
SUE CARTER FLINN in Halifax 01/11/11
January 10, 2011

As birds come crashing down from the sky in some parts of the world it seemed like an appropriate time to visit The Last Frontier at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Curated by AGNS’ Sarah Fillmore, this tight group show includes works that use technology to investigate the complexities of our relationship to nature. Of course we’re disconnected from the environment - that’s nothing new - but several artists have fabricated stunning natural worlds, which makes this show interesting beyond the expected Ed Burtynsky prints. I also appreciate that Fillmore has a light touch: there is no enviro-finger-wagging here.



Scenocosme, Akousmaflore

In a corner of the gallery lobby there’s an odd collection of houseplants hanging from the ceiling. Akousmaflore is the creation of Scenocosme, or French duo Gregory Lasserre and Anais met den Ancx't. As you touch a plant, it reacts: burping, roaring, tweeting, or singing. Or at least a speaker above the plant does. The interactivity made me slightly giddy. It’s an experience akin to petting a horse for the first time, but also disturbing like a scene from a campy sci-fi film.



Kelly Richardson, The Erudition, 2010 (courtesy the artist and Birch Libralato)

Downstairs, the real highlight of the show is Kelly Richardson’s The Erudition, a video lunar landscape populated by holographic trees that pop out of the ground. It’s dreamy and strange, a pastoral scene for the Avatar generation. And even though it’s from 1969, David Askevold’s video Nova Scotia Fires, and its distorted, synthesized soundtrack, hasn’t lost its chilling impact.



Stephen Kelly, Open Tuning (WaveUp), installation view (photo: Steve Farmer)

While at the AGNS, I popped upstairs to visit again with Stephen Kelly’s Open Tuning (WaveUp), a show that changes as often as the ocean’s tides. A series of speakers attached to metal beams gather wave data buoys from Fisheries and Oceans Canada via the Internet. Ocean waves then translate into sound waves, causing the speakers to move. During one visit, while standing under a speaker I had a vertigo-inducing reaction to its sway, but on this snowy January day, there was a sense of calm and little movement. I have no clue how clever Kelly makes this technical work, but his genius really lies in the emotional response and sense of wonder that Open Tuning inspires in landlubbers like myself.



AD Hunt, Planet Patrol, oil on canvas

There was a very different sense of the natural world at Halifax’s latest pop-up gallery space on Gottingen Street. Titled Landscapes is a small show of paintings by Mitchell Wiebe and Ryan Vessey of Halifax, and AD Hunt of New York. Wiebe’s exuberantly bright paintings are well partnered here. Everyday objects become royal icons in these fantasy lands: logo-emblazoned drinking glasses appear in Hunt’s collage-like Planet Patrol, while an owl wraps itself in a Heineken ribbon in Wiebe’s Ghost Rider. I love the glimpse of a tube sock on Wiebe’s The Raft: it’s these details that make him such an entertaining painter. Vessey holds his own with dense, sometimes crudely textured modern folk-art scenes that occasionally overwhelm, but my favourite works are where he holds back, like Rampage in the Dell - two awkwardly posed pink bodies curled up into a acid-green field.



Douglas Gordon, Play Dead; Real Time, 2003 (courtesy the National Gallery of Canada)

Back in the day, before animal cruelty was recognized and BBC’s Planet Earth existed, many of us got our first real taste of the natural world through zoos and circuses. Art star Douglas Gordon’s three-channel video Play Dead; Real Time, currently installed at Saint Mary's University Art Gallery, recalls those memories, using a traditional symbol of memory: an elephant. Minnie, a trained Indian elephant, silently performs tricks (as does Gordon, in the video’s superb editing) in a bare studio, and the effect is mesmerizing and heartbreaking, especially as she struggles to get up off the floor. Unlike William Wegman’s dogs, there is no distracting set-up, and the intimacy, especially the close-up of Minnie’s eyes, is a guilty thrill.


Sue Carter Flinn is the Arts & Deputy Editor at The Coast, Halifax's alt-weekly newspaper, and editor of Visual Arts News, a nationally distributed magazine dedicated to Atlantic Canadian art. Nominated for three consecutive Atlantic Journalism Awards for Arts & Entertainment Reporting, she won the Gold Medal in 2007 for her feature on photographer George Steeves. Her reviews have also appeared in Fuse and Canadian Art. She is Akimblog’s Halifax correspondent.


Art Gallery of Nova Scotia: http://www.artgalleryofnovascotia.ca
The Last Frontier continues until April 26.
Stephen Kelly: Open Tuning (WaveUp) continues until January 30.

Tilted Landscapes continues until January 26 at 2053 Gottingen Street.

Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery: http://www.smu.ca/administration/externalaffairs/artgallery/ex.html
Douglas Gordon: Play Dead; Real Time continues until February 6.

 

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