To paraphrase Mike Kelley, “an adolescent is a dysfunctional adult and art is dysfunctional reality”: an equation that might explain something of our culture’s ongoing fascination with things teenage. There is a certain appeal to the heightened emotions of youth; it certainly makes for good melodrama; though, having spent the last couple years working with living, breathing young folk, the reality is nowhere near as entertaining as the finely crafted version we are exposed to in films and on television. This Platonic Ideal of adolescence sets the standard even in its carefully scripted failures. For those of us realists, however, who can’t abide by such groundless conceptions, our only recourse is to the material truths of our own past. The trials and tribulations (and sometimes triumphs, but mostly trials and tribulations) of our high school years feed the pool in which we reflect, looking for some clue to our adult selves.
Kirsten Johnson, Prom Storm, 2011
Kirsten Johnson’s series of prom-themed paintings at KWT Contemporary are rooted in such a return. The short video that accompanies the exhibition is essential viewing for those of us who didn’t peak at graduation. Her refusal to succumb to nostalgia is the first step in a critical, rather than celebratory take on that fraught party at the precipice of adulthood. Intercut with footage of Johnson from the past and a present-day soliloquy on that past are scenes from the photo-shoot that resulted in the paintings. The models she chose to play the part of the revelers seem a tad old to me, but they manage to get the moves of a dancing mass down pat, and the artist does a swell job of capturing those gestures and expressions on canvas. The puzzle is completed with the background newspaper images of storm damage. Without the video, this conflation of two forms of disaster is too simplistic, so even though she distances herself from the autobiographical elements of the project (having the models read her diaries, instead of revisiting them herself), the specific circumstances of Johnson’s past are the real story here.
Jon Rafman, The Nine Eyes of Google Street View
Reality rears its ugly head in other ways at InterAccess. Despite its pedestrian title, the group exhibition Cyber-Surveillance in Everyday Life reveals the found poetry of the world made available through the seemingly limitless portal of the Internet. Fascinating new contributions to the landscape genre can be seen in the public-webcam suite that is David Bouchard, Bruno Lessard, and Pierre Tremblay's Meta Incognita - variations estivales. They have restricted themselves to one wintery view, but elicit a wide variety of atmospheric and lighting effects over their five hundred or more individual images. In contrast, Jon Rafman’s appropriated stills from Google Street View are a National Geographic of the 21st Century. The mind boggles at how much he must wade through in order to find these oddities (some so weird that I suspect they’re set-ups but gallery director Alex Snukal assures me they’re real). A larger selection found on Rafman’s website confirms my observation that fuck-you fingers, prostitutes, cops, and car accidents are a global phenomenon.
Laurel Woodcock, Stickies, 2011, steel, car paint, magnets
A far quieter take on the world around us can be found at Laurel Woodcock’s elegantly subdued note to self at MKG127. Her metal post-its are essential additions to any collection of contemporary art: what better tribute to their iconic status as reality tags that to render them permanent. Apart from that burst of pale yellow, the rest of the exhibition falls into degrees of white, be they a collection of blank end pages from books on nothingness to white sheets embossed with typography grids. It’s all very minimal and cleansing, like a Swiffer for the mind, clearing out all the junk jpegs and drawing our attention to the silence.
Kevin Schmidt, Burning Bush, 2005, HD DVD
Kevin Schmidt’s newly opened survey exhibition at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery is meditative in its own way. Two of the videos on display clock five and eleven hours each; the first a locked-on view of a bush in the wilderness made up to look like it’s set aflame, the second a screening of the entirety of The Lord of the Rings trilogy as projected on a one-man boat slowly making its way down river (and filmed from another boat following at a short distance). The former changes as the natural daylight shifts and would be worth visiting at different times in the day, particularly if you are of a mind to reflect on the elements. The latter tests my patience and leads me to wonder what other movies could have replaced Peter Jackson’s opus (Fitzcarraldo? Too obvious.). Tucked in a back room is a further contemplative piece, though one marked with melancholy; Sad Wolf tracks the furtive pacing of an omega wolf – the wolf pack’s outcast and scapegoat – at the Metro Toronto Zoo. Projected through a hand-made device, the parallel of artist and animal is inescapable: not only are we dysfunctional humans, we’re the freaks of the animal kingdom too.
Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. He is currently working on an interview with artist Kai Chan, a profile of artist Micah Lexier’s apartment, and a book review of YYZ’s Byproduct. 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.
KWT Contemporary: http://kwtcontemporary.blogspot.com/
Kirsten Johnson: Prom Storm continues until June 25.
Cyber-Surveillance in Everyday Life continues until June 18.
Laurel Woodcock: note to self continues until June 25.
Justina M. Barnicke Gallery: http://www.jmbgallery.ca/exhibitions.html
Kevin Schmidt: Don’t Stop Believing continues until August 20.
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