I saw one of the best works of the year this weekend. I admit it's a bit early, at only three weeks into 2014, but I won't be surprised if Ahmet Ögüt's semi-self-explanatory This area is under 23 hour video and audio surveillance is still in my top five come mid-December. When deployed properly, this seemingly simple warning sign does two things I find irresistible: first, it appropriates the everyday as its canvas (not unlike Janet Cardiff's audio walks); second, it turns the artist's authority over to the viewer (both aesthetically and politically). Plus it accomplishes this in such a direct way, I can only slap my forehead in recognition and say, "Yes! Of course!"
Ahmet Ögüt, This area is under 23 hour video and audio surveillance, 2009, aluminum plate
In brief: to stumble upon this sign in a place such signs are commonly found is to immediately become self-conscious of the pervasive surveillance in our world. The missing hour shakes us to attention and then has us realize the impossibility of anyone ever perceiving all that pervasive monitoring. Inevitably, there are gaps. We are on camera, but we aren't being watched. Students of Foucault will point out that such panoptic scenarios lead us to survey ourselves and that's the sad part of the story. The happy part is that gap – whenever it occurs and, truth be told, we never know – is also the hour in which we are free to exercise our liberty. This is the gift of the artist and the space in which the artist works. And since we don't know when that gap occurs, we might as well treat every hour of the day as a potential period of liberation.
Such gaps in the machine are where Turkish artist conducts his practice. The documents of his incisions into the world are on display at the Blackwood Gallery. They demand a sympathetic reading as they are really remnants of the real art that took place elsewhere. The trouble with displaying this kind of work within an institution is that it's first of all anti-institutional (or, at least, it questions such frames) and secondly, it feels a bit like a magician explaining his tricks. I'd rather be a participant than an observer, but I'll have to make do with the lessons learned.
Adam David Brown, LIFE, 2014, Pink Pearl eraser
My favourite part of Adam David Brown's exhibition at MKG127 is on the floor. Gathered at the edge of the wall at the foot of his text piece LIFE, a drift of pink powder anchors the work (the title has been written in big block letters with an eraser and the evidence of that labour is found in the pile) while also extending the metaphor that much farther (so it's not just the brain-teaser of writing with an eraser, it's also the physical reality of mark-making as a temporary but doomed assault on mortality [you know, ashes to ashes and pink dust to pink dust].
Where Ögüt goes political, Brown goes metaphysical. The Toronto artist likes to leap from quotidian materials into the stratosphere and beyond, linking layered paper cutouts to astronomical maps and smoke on paper to the passing of time. Another work on the latter subject – an ingeniously stopped clock – had me laugh out loud, which, when we're dealing with the fundamental dimensions of reality itself, is an accomplishment indeed.
Blackwood Gallery: http://blackwoodgallery.ca/Blackwood_intro.html
Ahmet Ögüt: Strategies for Radical Democracy continues until March 2.
Adam David Brown: For the Time Being continues until February 8.
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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