With her current exhibition at YYZ, Libby Hague has the potential to be our very own Sarah Sze-like occupier of gallery space. Her distinctive multicoloured printed paper constructions – folded, bent, stapled, pinned, hung, etc. – overrun the room, spreading from floor to ceiling and dropping right down into the middle. One particularly out-of-the-way addition even disappears into the ceiling and suggests an invasive species of representationally-oriented fungus. Or, at least, a paper-doll model of such. Hidden amongst the noise and commotion of pattern, recognizable forms emerge and recede. The most distinctive of these are the small hollow puppets made simply from thin strips of paper. They act as stand-ins for Hague's titular call to arms – Be brave! We're in this together! – and provide an entry point for the interactive and collaborative element of her work. They are meant to be manipulated, but carefully because paper tears easily. One must be delicate, which is a good way to initiate any interaction – with care and delicacy. A number of gallery interventions were programmed and there is video documentation of these, but the potential for audience participation is ongoing and particularly compelling. Hague's choice of materials, bright hues, and busy composition is reminiscent of childhood art projects and the ease with which we used to imagine such complex worlds from the most basic and everyday stuff. This invitation to imagine requires bravery but, as she reminds us, we are not alone, so go for it.
Niall McClelland, Stains – Freebird, 2012, leaked printer ink on handmade paper
As has been remarked elsewhere, trans/FORM, MOCCA's summer group show, does the local art community a big service by assembling a crop of the freshest young artists in the city united under the banner of a focus on material and its transformative qualities. The glaring lack of any of the usual subjects and the participating artists' stark refusal of overt politics, didacticism, or conceptualism further sets this exhibition apart from what we have come to expect of our museums. Now, if only they would put together a catalogue with great pictures and some solid essays in order to document this moment. Is that too much to ask?
While I shared in the surprise and delight on entering the gallery, I left with a lingering sense of an underlying conservatism at work in these works. Their easily marketable objectness made them ripe for dealers and collectors, but felt far too strategic for an unrepentant Marxist like myself. The dominance of formal concerns leads one into a debate over old-fashioned aesthetic categories. And the impression that it's all been done before is one only a few of the works transcend. Those that succeed do so through the use of unique materials or processes. Niall McClelland's tapestries, for example, are remarkable for the combination of technology and random failure by using leaking ink jet cartridges. Sasha Pierce, on the other hand, draws on the extreme precision of a cake-frosting dispenser to turn her paintings into something more than Op Art retreads.
On that note, the accompanying selection of work from the National Gallery in an complementary exhibition called The Shape of Things shows the youngsters that continued transcendence is possible as long as you stick to your guns. Outstanding work by Luanne Martineau, Ron Martin, Elizabeth McIntosh, and Claude Tousignant provide further context for return visits to the main gallery and encourage deeper viewing on each circuit.
YYZ Artists' Outlet: http://www.yyzartistsoutlet.org/
Libby Hague: Be Brave! We are in This Together continues until July 21.
trans/FORM continues until August 12.
The Shape of Things continues until August 12.
Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. 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. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.
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