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Sue Carter Flinn
Halifax
October 12, 2006

Throw a rubber ball through Halifax’s north end and you’re bound to bounce up against an artist. Cheap rents, diverse populations, colourful low-riding architecture and a strong sense of community have made it the most culturally active neighbourhood in the city. On September 9, Go North!, the city’s first north-end studio and gallery tour, celebrated its creative activity and spirit.

A grassroots project initiated by Eyelevel Gallery, the all-day event (followed on the Sunday by a community street festival) featured workshops, presentations and guided tours of over 45 locations and 100 artists’ work. Streets were filled with iconic pink and orange flags and tour guides wearing red and gold-printed “north-end” t-shirts. Designed by Cathy Busby for her Berlin exhibition, The North End, the t-shirts feature a collection of past-date music and event posters taken from neighbourhood poles during a four-month-span. It’s awesome to think of fashionable Berliners buying up Halifax-inspired wares.

 
Michelle Allard and Kate Terry, More and Less, 2006, installation view

At the end of the day, crowds gathered back at Eyelevel Gallery for the opening of the wonderful More and Less, a joint exhibition of Vancouver’s Michelle Allard and UK resident Kate Terry. Terry, who could house her installation materials in a hotel sewing kit, uses symmography (or string-art for those brought up during the 1970s) to create a minimalist play on colour fields and space. The effect is both magical and vertigo-inducing, especially as you stand under its geometric web. Like Terry, Allard’s materials are readily available - this time at the local Staples store. She spent days before the exhibition rolling tubes of acid-green office paper into fanciful hand-railings that appear to be oozing out of the back room of the gallery and into the main space. 

Outside, a small crowd gathered around Eyelevel’s new adjunct window space, the A. McLaren Gallery (named after Andrew McLaren, a long-time member of the local arts community who recently moved to Calgary), as a small drum kit and amp were loaded into the closet-sized storefront. It was barely large enough to accommodate the three musicians jammed into the space. There was no room for Dave Ewenson’s elbows, let alone his saxophone, and Selwyn Sharples’ long limbs gave the performance an Alice in Wonderland “drink me-eat me” vibe. Sharples switched between guitar and drums with Dweebo, a.k.a. Mitchell Wiebe, a creature in a white suit and marshmallow-shaped headpiece that looked like a cross between a nuclear-radiated fly chemically mixed with a lost, featherless eagle.


Kate O’Connor, DIY, 2006

Heading downtown, there was a tangible electricity in the air as September shook Halifax out of its summer slumber, thanks in part to the Atlantic Film Festival, a rain-fated outdoor Rolling Stones concert and a new exhibition at the Khyber Centre for the Arts. Extensions of Our Hands divides the Ballroom Gallery into three drawing installations. Local artist Kate O’Connor’s deceivingly simple drawings are razor-sharp in their dark humour and sagging breasts. Pulling from everyday mundanity and recognizable situations, her work is sophisticated without ever straying into cutesy territory. O’Connor is well-paired with Vancouver drawing collective The Lions and their dense collection of anthropomorphic cartoons as well as Newfoundland’s Jerry Ropson, who drew bits and pieces directly onto the vinyl-lined wall, creating a netherworld forest of colourful creatures, ideas and objects. 

 
Léola Le Blanc, Comfort her (detail), 2006. Organic pads, embroidery thread, cotton/polyester sheet

Down by the waterfront, Léola Le Blanc’s exhibition Pelvis Envy, at Mary E. Black Gallery’s new digs, peels away the flesh - almost literally - to examine gender roles, women’s labour, intersections between science and art, our private versus public lives and the status of craft within contemporary art practices. Le Blanc repeats the distinctive shape of a pelvic bone over and over (on filet crochet panels, on long rolls of hand-resisted wallpaper created with Vaseline and organic make-up, on needle-felted tampons) until the complex symbol of femininity and childbearing is reduced to a pretty, abstract motif that wouldn’t be out of place in a William Morris wallpaper sample book. The labourious and often private nature of women’s housework is also reflected in Le Blanc’s intensive processes - those lacy crochet panels took her a year to complete and the results are just as complex as the symbolism behind them.


Ilan Sandler, The Book, 2006

Much further away, along the 401 Highway, there’s now a large piece of Halifax situated outside of Pearson International Airport. In fact, it’s probably the biggest Halifax export since Sloan and even taller in height than the Trailer Park Boys. Along with works by Michel de Broin and Carl Skelton, Ilan Sandler’s The Book was one of three projects chosen for Toronto’s newest public art initiative. His is a gorgeously rendered 3.5 meter-tall steel white book with a page torn, almost dancing away, from its red spine.

I was lucky enough to have Sandler walk me through his entire creative and engineering process - right from a handheld paper model through to the metal fabrication stage, which was completed in Dartmouth and then shipped to Toronto. He deals in the unexpected (you might remember peering up at his giant lawn chair from the Toronto Sculpture Garden) but he has also created bicycles that ride power-lines through the sky, full-sized helicopters made out of plaster dinosaur bones, and giant fleshy ears that listen. It’s enough to make Michel Gondry green with envy.

As cars drive past the runaway book, they will instantly recognize its shape. Those who are lucky enough to get up close will make out actual clusters of words, or their shadows, cut into the steel. It’s a high-concept tour of the history of the Latin alphabet, including Egyptian hieroglyphs, Phoenician letters and the syllabic sounds of early Semitic languages - the symbols representing various technological and architectural innovations. If you want to be one of the first to read it, the official launch is today (Thursday October 12) from 10am to noon (see directions below).

Sue Carter Flinn is a Halifax-based writer, editor and artist. Currently, she is an arts feature writer and editor at The Coast, Halifax's alternative newspaper, and editor of Visual Arts News, the only publication dedicated to visual arts in Atlantic Canada.

 
Eyelevel Gallery: http://www.eyelevelgallery.ca
Michelle Allard and Kate Terry: More and Less continues until October 21.

Khyber Centre for the Arts: http://www.khyberarts.ns.ca
Extensions of Our Hands continues until October 15.

Mary E. Black Gallery: http://www.craft-design.ns.ca/mebgal.html
Léola Le Blanc: Pelvis Envy continues until October 22. 

Ilan Sandler: http://www.artstage.ca
Opening reception Thursday October 12, 10am to noon. Directions from the 401:  Take 401 westbound to Dixie Rd. Take Dixie Rd. North to Britannia Rd. (second traffic light). Turn right onto Britannia. Head east directly towards Pearson Airport. As you approach the Airport bear right and stay on Britannia Rd. It will fork and at the stop sign turn right onto Convair Drive. Follow Convair around the perimeter of the airport.  After about one kilometer you will see the GTAA Busing Facility and parking lot. On your right you will see a hard packed gravel road leading up to Artstage. Park in the parking lot on the south side of Convair, adjacent to the berm.

 

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