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Terence Dick
Krista Belle Stewart at Franz Kaka
May 10, 2017

If anyone ever gets on your case or in your face about how arts funding is a waste of money, it’s worth pointing out that one thing artists in this country have learned to be good at is stretching a buck. From wet-behind-the-ears emerging artists to the oldest institutions in the land (and particularly those scrappy artist-run organizations that manage to survive one year to the next), the art community is (almost) always efficient, frugal, and responsible with their money. And it’s amazing what they accomplish on so little. There are long running festivals whose yearly operating budget is about the same as a single luncheon for a mega-billing consulting firm. Add in the economic return on those invested dollars and you make every other government subsidy look like grift in comparison.

Krista Belle Stewart, Sim-real/very, 2015, jacquard weaving with Ruth Scheuing (photo: Yuula Benivolski)

It’s not just the publicly funded operatives that demonstrate this financial acumen. There is a long tradition of exhibition venues too new or little or independent or whatever to dip into the taxpayer’s pocket and so they go it alone. Or, in the case of Toronto’s fresh-faced Franz Kaka project space, they… or rather, he (as in gallery director Aryen Hoekstra) does it by partnering up with another equally inspired visionary – in this case, Kevin Boothe’s Towards Gallery – and they alternate months to present the artists they deem worthy of presenting.

Nestled in the basement of a studio building near the railway tracks just west of Lansdowne, this modest venue is reminiscent of any number of equally unlikely spaces that crop up over the years in a healthy city of culture. Some survive for a while; others disappear after one exhibition. There have been barren upper floors on King that now house tech companies. There have been ramshackle houses in Parkdale that are now worth ridiculous amounts. There were gallery apartments, garages, windows, and satchels. They blur into a fever dream of vague memories that make them all the more magical. And despite the apocalyptic cost of living in this city, there are even more places than usual popping up like saplings pushing through the concrete.

Krista Belle Stewart, Land

Franz Kaka is well situated to present compact exhibitions by senior emerging artists like their current resident Krista Belle Stewart. Rather than cram a big show in a small space, Hoekstra has isolated two works (maybe three) in a concise summary of the Vancouver-based artist’s range. The major work is a weaving that replicates a photograph of Aboriginal leaders dressed in traditional garb. The original image caught Stewart’s eye because it includes a female figure. After some research she also discovered that an Indigenous figure in European dress had been cropped out. She had the weaver add a section that included him, but strange circumstances kept it from rejoining the other panels. Sensing something significant in this, the artist displays this missing part in the shipping tube where it remains sealed.

Alongside this layered work of colonial history, there is a bucket of dirt from Stewart’s home in the Okanagan Nation. Land, home, space, ownership, and the politics of place aren’t only the concern of the art community, and this collection of earth that the artist carries from place to place – and, in this exhibition, creates a minimal wall drawing with – conveys the weight of that relationship and anchors it in the ground that lies forever beneath our feet.

Franz Kaka:
Krista Belle Stewart: Eye Eye continues until May 27.

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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