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Ontario
Deborah Margo
DEBORAH MARGO in Ottawa 10/11/11
October 11, 2011

It must be fall. On my bike rides along both sides of the Ottawa River, I have observed the predominant art threads to be those of gathering, preserving, collecting, and ordering. For example, for a long time the Bytown Museum sat in obscurity, nestled between Parliament Hill and the formidable Rideau lock system, and flanked by the Chateau Laurier. Easy to miss, things began to change in mid-2009 when Christopher Davidson curated Justin Wonnacott’s Somerset to challenge received ideas of what Ottawa is within and beyond the tourist circuit. More recently Hidden Treasures continued to probe, taking on the Museum’s deep vaults, only to find expertly presented curios accompanied by lengthy labels following a standard descriptive museum practice and attempts at a fictional narrative to animate the objects. A wonderful opportunity, yet what drew the respected list of curators to their choices? Unfortunately, on the day I visited, the rooms were stuffy and airless. 



(In)habitus: The Art of Collecting

On the other side of the locks, and a stone’s throw from the National Gallery, Blink (home of a former cannonball depot) had its doors wide open with fallen leaves blowing across the diminutive space’s floor. Open from June to mid-October, this artists cooperative packs in a whirlwind exhibition season. Their budget is ridiculous – close to non-existent – yet their programming is more ambitious each year. One gripe, though: three to fours days per exhibition is too short! (In)habitus: The Art of Collecting is unabashedly nostalgic and melancholic, containing fictions of objects taken from the personal collections of the gallery members, all selected, ordered, and arranged by emerging curator Diane Bond. Ownership and authorship are challenged, and instead the space is permeated by a poetic experience of glimpses. One wants to linger.



Louise Borgeois, Echo IV,  2007, bronze, painted white, and steel (courtesy Cheim & Read Gallery and Hauser & Wirth Gallery, © Louise Bourgeois Trust, photo: Christopher Burks)

Across the street, Louise Bourgeois’ legacy is honoured by three rooms of her work at the National Gallery. As a longstanding part of the permanent collection, five of her early wood Personages have often been exhibited yet never like this. Joined by multiple other sculptures from the series thanks to the Louise Bourgeois Trust, they rise directly – daringly – from the floor,  no obvious plinths or metal supports for these totemic, humane presences. And so it continues with the pacing of her later Echos bronzes where the work is again fittingly installed and illuminated. Visual connections are made between different periods of work, highlighting her ability to make images combining pathos and a wry sense of humour. 



Véronique Guitard

Ramassis affectif is Véronique Guitard’s absurdist paean to collecting. On the floor of DAÏMÕN’s imposing exhibition space sit one hundred carefully placed spectral packages. What do they contain? Possible elucidation comes from the video-monitor placed on a file cabinet where a pair of white gloved-hands repeatedly take sheets of wax-like paper, tenderly wrapping the disparate objects. We see each one briefly before they are encased: an ash tray, compressed butterfly wings, a figurine, toy parts…. Another video is projected large scale on the back wall of the space. Reminiscent of a Raymonde April photograph, the image is of a woman enveloped like the objects. Speaking evenly and endlessly, her speech is hampered by a white bulbous substance in her mouth. She is not gagged, but her words are nevertheless garbled and recognizable only intermittently. The result is complex, strangely comic, and haunting at the same time.


Chris Simonite, A Promise to the Lord (still), 2011

Refreshingly unpretentious and irreverent, Chris Simonite’s work had me laughing out loud. Though I am at a loss to explain the current plethora of exhibitions honouring masculinity (whatever that means), Mansongs unabashedly takes on such, investing in a minefield of contradictions. Watercolour (can you believe it?!) self-portraits, with the artist dressed in drab underwear, “entertain” alongside three animations composed of watercolour imagery and the artist’s country music songs. My suspicion is Simonite wishes he could believe in innocence while dreaming of his own peculiar version of the Garden of Eden. This is one of the better exhibitions I’ve seen at Gallery 101 in some time.



Jennifer Cook, Will Work for Food

Will Work for Food is the beginning of the Ottawa Art Gallery’s initiative in community arts programming and has already encountered its share of bureaucratic nightmares, sprinkled with acts of vandalism, human feces and vomit, as well as this year’s tough growing season, all set in the constrained exterior spaces surrounding Arts Court. The invited artist, Jennifer Cook, believes in utopias and celebrations of food, but has been grounded in the everyday for the past six months as she developed a large vegetable garden from scratch. The old question of whether this project is art has inevitably, and appropriately, surfaced. Recent sighting include bees asleep in the grove of sunflowers growing at the corner of Nicholas and Daly Streets (a noisy, high traffic intersection in downtown Ottawa) and pedestrians tasting an abundant crop of tomatoes along the fenced perimeter. On October 14, the project will culminate in a community feast to thank all who volunteered in the garden’s ongoing care. 


Deborah Margo is an artist who combines different disciplines including sculpture, drawing, and ephemeral installations to question the contextual identities of public and private spaces. Since 1984, her work has been exhibited in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. She is represented by Patrick Mikhail Gallery. Margo is also a faculty member at the Department of Visual Arts, University of Ottawa, where she teaches drawing, painting, and sculpture. During the summer she works as a gardener. She is Akimblog’s Ottawa correspondent.


Bytown Museum: http://www.bytownmuseum.com/
See website for current exhibitions.

Blink: http://www.blinkgallery.ca/
See website for current exhibitions.

National Gallery of Canada: http://www.gallery.ca/
Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) continues until March 18.

DAÏMÕN: http://www.daimon.qc.ca/
See website for current exhibitions.

Gallery 101: http://www.g101.ca/
Mansongs continues until October 15.

Ottawa Art Gallery: http://www.ottawaartgallery.ca/
Will Work for Food continues until October 14.

 

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