While I suppose the Surrealists were funny in a funny sort of way (except for Magritte who truly dealt in jokes), humour in the 20th Century doesn't emerge as something serious – doesn't reach its Lenny Bruce phase, say – until the coming of Conceptualism when the work as gag or bit – in both an intentional and a pejorative way – comes to dominate the landscape (sometimes, as with Robert Smithson, literally). This dominance might have faded in the dispersion of interests that came as the millennium turned, but the influence remains and the tendency can be seen in any number of artists from Kelly Mark to Rodney Graham.
Jon Sasaki, Microbes Swabbed From a Palette Used By A.J. Casson, 2013, digital print
Jon Sasaki is our local humourist du jour and his knowing brand of pop culture-savvy and art history-informed art making has made my day more than once over the last couple years. In his current solo exhibition at Jessica Bradley, there is a lightboxed photodocument of the purposefully clumsy Canadian wilderness video he showed at the AGO in 2011. There is a spitball covered ceiling that evokes a starry night (and even allows for the possibility of falling stars!). And there are three photographs that I'd snap up in a second if I had the money to spare because I'd argue they are masterful contributions to our nation's obsession with landscape painting, while also being hilarious riffs on the canonization of the Group of Seven. Each image depicts a petri dish teeming with bacteria grown from a swab taken from a palette belonging to one of A.J. Casson, Frederick Varley, or Tom Thomson. The results are, funnily enough, landscape-like. The references to nature and culture (bacterial and otherwise) are inspired. My response is both amusement and enlightenment, which is my preferred way to transcend the everyday.
Since we're on the subject of funny, I almost laughed out reading the list of artists in gallerywest's current group exhibition Trophy when I came upon the best collective name in recent memory: Phomohobes. The Regina-based duo of Colby Richardson and Jason Cawood make collages, one of which is included in this spotty assembly of videos, sculptures, photographs, and more. Like any compilation album, a couple tracks hit it out of the park amid the dross. Ulysses Castellanos' abject trophy shrine did it for me, along with, strangely enough, curator (and gallerywest principle) Evan Tyler's over-the-top exhibition essay on nothing directly to do with the show and everything to do with a cannibalistic fever dream of the Stanley Cup finals. I exited the gallery safe in the knowledge that the absurdities that make us laugh are also those that make us think.
Jessica Bradley Projects: http://jessicabradleyinc.com/
Jon Sasaki continues until March 16.
Trophy continues until January 28.
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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Posted by pletcherxlp, on 2013-01-31 17:05:50