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Toronto
Terence Dick
TERENCE DICK in Toronto 02/28/12
February 28, 2012

West Queen West is swamped by condo-dwellers, Parkdale can’t seem to sustain any gallery other than 1313, and Roncesvalles is practically suburban. Where is a young gallerist to go in these ballooning times? Northwest, of course, to the still somewhat (not very) untrammeled territory of Lansdowne and Bloor. But move fast because the hipster bars are already there. And, truth be told, galleries have already settled. Two relatively new additions to the area, both actually off even this unbeaten track, are hardly novices to the business of art. One, Daniel Faria, made his mark working for Monte Clark, then partnered with him, and has now struck out on his own. The other is a power couple of collectors who’ve done the Ydessa-thing and started up their own white cube. The two spaces work well together, sequestered away down a residential road and so low key that you have to know about them in order to find them (and even then I had to ask directions); let’s hope their gravity continues to draw more of the same. 



Douglas Coupland, QR Barcode installation

Faria scored a coup taking Douglas Coupland with him when he left his old gig. The Vancouver writer-artist is one of those piercingly smart guys who make any odd thing they take up engaging (except maybe television). His background is in visual art (he’s an Emily Carr grad), so his increased profile as an artist shouldn’t be a surprise. As for this current show, it includes the kind of literate, historically astute, technological aware, zeitgeist pricking objects you might expect. The hard-edged Pop-Cubist riffs on the Group of Seven suffer from coming off as gags (a not-uncommon fate for Coupland’s work). The colour bar towers are pleasant to look at, but what really grabs me are the QR Barcode paintings. Miles away from Damien Hirst’s relentlessly hollow dot paintings, these high tech patterns function as multiple-reference anchors that link Modernism, Abstraction, appropriation art, new media, video games, electronic devices, and the whole tornado of internet-abetted communication and our obsessive circulation of connection, consumption and interactivity. Think I’m joking? They even vibrate with Op Art agitation (but maybe that was just me coming in from the sun). You see them with your eye, then you scan them with your smart-phone so they not only work as paintings but emit texts as well, linking both parts of Coupland’s métier. The final straw? According to the artist, this type of graphic is already obsolete. Hence: history painting!



Lois Andison, Heartbreaking, 2009

Round the corner, down an alley, through a metal gate, across a scrap strewn yard, and discretely marked by an oblique sign designed by Micah Lexier, you can find Scrap Metal: a privately funded exhibition space started up by Samara Walbohm and Joe Shlesinger. She is part owner of Type Books, so it’s not a big surprise that the first exhibition focuses on text in art. It’s not a stupendous collection, but there’s a solid body of work here drawn either from the owners’ possessions or borrowed from nearby dealers. The artists are local (Derek Sullivan, Laurel Woodcock), national (Graham Gillmore, Michael Dumontier), and international (Ragnar Kjartansson, Annette Messager). The curating is pretty conventional but there are a couple surprises, most notably John Latham’s book-ravaging The N-U Niddrie Heart way at the back. The heart of the show, however, is Lois Andison’s poetic Heartbreaking machine, a device that slowly works its way through every possible word you can spell with the letters H,E,A,R,T,B,R,E,A,K,I,N,G (in that order). It’s the closest thing I’ve seen that’s come to a perfect marriage of word and art.



Annie MacDonell, From the Picture Collection – 1, 2012, digital inkjet print

Back on the main drag, there are two curious shows at Mercer Union that play around with concepts of originality with – strangely – varying degrees of originality. In the first gallery, Annie MacDonell riffs on the mirror with a handful of visual cues from a collection of found images of reflection to a mirror-walled room that holds a movie theatre/camera obscura. Having done my time in academia in the early nineties, the theorizing around repetition was a bit “been there, done that” for me, which the artist, through her annoying theory-geek talking head, admits, so I guess it’s the point, but it leaves me with the same empty feeling as art about boredom that succumbs to its own represented tedium.



Diane Arbus, Anderson Hayes Cooper, NYC, 1967

In the next room, Pierre Leguillon escapes this trap by repeating the mass-produced (that is, commercial work for magazines) photographs of a true (faux pas, I know) original: Diane Arbus. I have to admit that the appeal here was a chance to peruse the images – some iconic, some new to me – in their original (that word again!) context, often alongside accompanying texts. The past might be in doubt, but it’s still fascinating. Who knew Jane Jacobs’ son was such a junior high firebrand? Who knew Anderson Cooper’s lips were perfect from the get-go? Who should I thank? Diane? Pierre? Any number of editors and publishers? The subjects? It’s all too much. Especially, given its neighbour, the possibility of high-theorizing this into oblivion. Enjoy it for the history lesson it provides and learn to love the images all over again.



Seripop, Dis-donc à la grosse de se tasser, 2011, screen printed paper

Striking out on a seriously western trek, I headed to Mississauga and the University of Toronto’s satellite campus to check out Montreal duo Chloe Lum and Yannick Desranleau aka Seripop’s three-part installation at the Blackwood Gallery. Like many an (ex-)indie rocker, I came to know this pair’s visual work through their distinctive concert posters. Very little of that mash-up style is present here. They seem to have directed their efforts to more formal ends, reducing the sign-like elements of their practice to sentence fragments and nonsense words, and focusing their energy on colour and shape spread across walls, floors, doors, and suspended from the ceiling. The dominant form is a accumulation of paper units – in one space assembled like bricks into a towering castle, in the other bound up in a net that directs them toward a colour-coordinated target. Given their parallel practice as noise musicians, the emptying out of meaning to create pure visuality and mass is something they’ve perfected. It somehow brings me back around to Coupland, which is as good a place as any to stop.


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.


Daniel Faria Gallery: http://danielfariagallery.com/
Douglas Coupland: Welcome to the Twenty-First Century continues until April 7.

Scrap Metal Gallery: http://www.scrapmetalgallery.com/
Read All Over continues to May 1.

Mercer Union: http://www.mercerunion.org/
Pierre Leguillon features Diane Arbus: a printed retrospective, 1960-1971 continues until March 10.
Annie MacDonell: Originality and the Avant Garde (On Art and Repetition) continues until March 10.

Blackwood Gallery: http://blackwoodgallery.ca/
Seripop: Landscapes events reproducted continues until March 4.

 

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Posted by , on 2012-02-28 15:46:56