A lifelong dedication is required in order to be a straight man. It’s not the type of role you can step out of with a wink and say, “Just kidding!” You have to live it and leave the punters always wondering whether the gag is a gag or for real. A similar sort of commitment is required of a contemporary artist, particularly one who dabbles in the realm of the post-Conceptual (though I could probably spend a good evening at the pub arguing that all art is now post-Conceptual). Or perhaps it’s the post-Minimal. With either, the reduced palette gives an appearance of simplicity that is easy to mistake as a ruse. The straight man is the comedian who appears too simple to know it’s a joke, which is what makes the joke all the funnier.
Kristiina Lahde, String and a Box, 2015, chalk reel, nails
Kristiina Lahde is a straight woman and her routine is built around a gag so simple it must elicit slaps to the head. She makes things out of the tools for making things. That is, her signature rulers and measuring tapes should not be the objects of your attention; they are simply just the means for mapping out a space. They are meant to disappear; they are indexes to something else. On their own, they are insignificant. However, in Ultra-Parallel, her current exhibition at the Koffler Centre, she turns them into materials for sculpting space, the edges of fabricated containers of air, and self-referential japes at their own pretensions to exactitude. A geodesic sphere made from yardsticks dominates the space, but her works come alive when they have to deal with the walls. The clumsiness of their utilitarian nature (the exhibition could be sponsored by Home Depot) is countered by the elegance of their arrangement as they triangulate an angle off the floor or mark a grid in the corner. Measuring tapes split down the middle provide a ridiculously direct demonstration of the dialectic of straight versus curved through the vertical pull of gravity. Elegance in mathematics is a measure of the simplicity of the solution; Lahde makes work both elegant and hilarious.
The funniest part is an (unintended?) echo of her life partner Adam David Brown’s work. The blue powder collected in the corner beneath her chalk marked String and a Box is matched by the pink eraser dust beneath his wall works. He is pink; she is blue. Are they cracking a joke about identity politics across two exhibitions? I have a feeling neither will confess. That would ruin the gag.
Michael Wolf, #33, Tokyo Compression, 2010, pigment print on archival paper
I rode the Toronto subway on a daily basis from the age of twelve until my mid-twenties. Then after a dozen years of biking around downtown with the occasional streetcar ride, I headed back underground when I started working uptown. The two things I noticed on my return were that reading is alive and well on those longs commutes and that my faith in humanity rests upon the quiet collective unity agreed on each morning by the hundreds of strangers crammed up against each other in those tight containers. There is a lot of poetry in the purgatory of a subway ride and Stephen Bulger Gallery’s group exhibition Subway collects a variety of artists documenting the visuals. There are archival photos, movie stills, pictures of hands, windows and walls, but the images you have to see are Michael Wolf’s series of Tokyo commuters pressed up against windows waiting patiently for their torment to end. They were the highlight of a Contact exhibition at MOCCA a while back and continue to evoke religious iconography in the guise of street photography. Alone, they are worth a visit.
Koffler Gallery: http://kofflerarts.org/exhibitions/2014/04/17/kristiina-lahde/
Kristiina Lahde: Ultra-Parallel continues until March 29.
Stephen Bulger Gallery: http://www.bulgergallery.com/
Subway continues to March 14.
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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