Friday, November 30, 2007

Five, McMullen Gallery, November 13 to December 6, 2007

One of the last, if not the last exhibition at the Extension Centre Gallery before it moves to its new home in Enterprise Square, the tiny 2nd floor room is currently exhibiting new works by five female Alberta based visual artists. Of exception, Margaret Witschl's stark and sparse paintings of Alberta roadscapes evoke a collage approach to the canvas with elements of discarded roadside shrapnel. In "Crossing West From Banff," a faint outline of a polaroid framing an empty ash tray is overlapped by the remnants of discarded car tires and pieces. The majestic rockies stand distant in the back, and with the spatially abstract horizon of memories, Witschl is building a landscape of waste and loss in contemporary Alberta with thought and poignancy.

Image credit: Margaret Witschl, "Crossing West From Banff" 2007

Artists: Allison Argy Burgess, Tersa Halkow, Brenda Inglis, Sharon Moore Foster, Margaret Witschl

Scott Cumberland, "Somewhere in Between" FAB Gallery November 27 - December 15, 2007

Saskatchewan bred and Modernist fed, Scott Cumberland's MFA exhibition in provides a body of work that seeks to bring volume into the flatness of painting. Warm cascading multicoloured ribbons flow throughout each of his pieces--and walking through the show, it is clear that Cumberland's work will find great commercial appeal. Bold craters of molten colour describe the larger works that start with 'Flux' and peak with 'Opulence.' The works are high gloss and decadent. All except for 'Pod,' which stands out from the rest with its raw canvas background. In contrast to the mixed media granular backgrounds, or perhaps sub grounds as many appear to "hold" the ribbons, the raw canvas provides the greatest contradiction in Cumberland's search for volume in flatness. Against the blank cloth canvas, his illusionist formations work best as a mark of the painting's ability to distort and affect, that it is this paint, and now the full coloured square hanging on the wall, that achieves and communicates.

Malcom Brown lecture, "Break or Teach: Rules for the Unruly", Thursday, November 29, 2007

Presented by the Graphic Designers of Canada Northern Alberta chapter, art director Malcom Brown spoke to a handful of designers last night about his past. As one of Canada's leading magazine art directors from the short-lived but much heralded I.C.E. magazine to work for ARTFORUM, AdBusters, Shift and basically any other "it" magazine, Brown is currently on contract as A.D. for Unlimited, a business magazine published in Edmonton.
Starting late and a bit slow with preparatory difficulties, Brown eased into his talk by getting into what he knows best: himself. An avid reader from the beginning, his early interests in stamps and his aunt's ration book continue on as influences for inspiration. After unceremoniously leaving art school following a spat with the dean (Brown broke a rule for how you should present a work, and in turn, the school massacred the presentation), he quickly climbed the ranks at CHUM TV, freelanced, and stepped into a magazine funded by a substantial private source with nobody to answer to.
The result is that Brown has carved his own path in graphic design, a field that's paradoxically as restrictive as it is artistic (not to mention competitive), and by knowing the rules, which are mostly standards held and not questioned, he has become a leader in his field. It is this sentiment that should be applied to all art forms, in the constant challenge to process, create, and distinguish a work that propels the form forward.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The New Alcehmists, Harcourt House, November 22 - December 22, 2007

The New Alchemists singles out two of Edmonton’s most heretical sculptors into one unified and transformative exhibition. Having exhibited in group shows from the landmark Edmonton Art Gallery 1985 Sculpture City exhibition to the inaugural Alberta Biennial in 1996, sculptors Catherine Burgess and Blair Brennan are brought together again by independent curator Caterina Pizanias for the current show at Harcourt House.

Burgess and Brennan, both Edmonton-based installation sculptors, have carved divergent paths for themselves in a city best known for its modernist steel formations. Since their first show together at the AFA’s then-functioning Beaver House Gallery, both artists have continued to fine tune their exploration of where sculpture—as presence and as object—can take the viewer narratively. Uncovering the multiple meanings in presence, working with different materials such as stone and wood and branching beyond taking “sculptor off the pedestal,” both artists have been actively and progressively seeking to engage the viewer to see the potential of sculpture as installation, and in so doing uncovering their own narratives within their art.
The latest creations are no different in their intent. Isolated together in The New Alchemists, Brennan and Burgess’s sense of narration comes out for full display. Seemingly opposing aesthetics are harmonized through their mutual preoccupation with storytelling through symbols. Side by side, Brennan’s brute playfulness and Burgess’s clean precision are compelling compliments of each other. Brennan’s “In any case the moon” demonstrates the artist and his medium in the most literal and poetic of alchemic expression. A curved piece of galvanized steel refracts the light of the moon over a transformed cast iron pan.
Transformed by the hammer, transformed by moonlight (as was the special opening night wine), change and results are here suggested as a combination of forces.

Directly located in the diagonal corner is Burgess’s “Where in the world,” a continuation of her philosophical pondering between the circle and the sphere. Playing with the micro and macro cosmos associated with these shapes results in a dialectic geometry. The hard slanted presence of the rectangle comes in as almost an intrusion, but the balance sought in the overall piece draws out the viewer’s contemplation of cosmic relations.

Spatially, both artists produce work that engages the mental and physical proximity of their viewers, and together, the bombardment of transformative apparitions is certainly palpable.

Twenty-some years ago during Sculpture City, then-sociology of art PhD candidate Caterina Pizanias first noticed Brennan and Burgess standing out from the rest. Over the phone from her home in Calgary today, Pizanias relays, “In 1985, modernism really was dead, but everyone in Edmonton believed it wasn’t. What attracted me to these two artists way back was that they were both butting the system.”

Continuing to root their works in the personal, Pizanias’s effort to bring them both together was to direct the viewer out of their normal viewing habits.
“Installation forces the viewer to complete the art,” adds Pizanias. “We have to get away from the slumber of expecting beautiful art. It is lazy to just look at a piece and not engage. Every viewer brings a new life story and every piece can be translated differently.”

First Published in Vue Weekly, November 29, 2007

Jenny Keith Hughes, Honey Lens, Prairie Artsters: Vue Weekly, November 29 - December 5, 2007

It was almost one year ago to the date that I first met and interviewed Jenny Keith Hughes. Meeting up at the then-still-functioning Red Strap Market, we spent the first half an hour of our interview unloading her relatively large paintings out of her proportionately small car and moving them one by one through the snowy parking lot up to the second floor gallery.

I learned that although she had completed her BFA in painting at the U of A in 2003, Hughes didn’t stick around Edmonton after graduation—neither was she then interested in the local arts scene. She wasn’t really sure about integrating into any scene, but just knew she loved to paint. She felt confident enough about her work to apply for a small independent show, but didn’t feel quite ambitious enough to go knocking on commercial gallery doors. The Red Strap show was a reintroduction of herself and her whimsical, animal-inspired pieces, and since then it has been a whirlwind year for the 26-year-old artist.

Before its doors were shut, the Red Strap introduced Hughes to the works of Sydney Lancaster, who has become an impacting inspiration since the two set an artist play date. Lancaster’s influence has transpired as the base of beeswax that has completely saturated Hughes’ current body of work. A duo summer show between the two artists emerged with wax as the common denominator; it became quickly obvious that the malleable etching nature of wax melded beautifully with Hughes’ penchant for the finer details of horns, claws, tentacles and scales.

Fast forward four months and Hughes couldn’t believe her eyes as she sat listlessly in her grey cubicle, still trapped in that remedial identity between office drone and aspiring artist. Opening her e-mail, the short paragraph that flashed back read, “I am interested. Give me a call and we’ll discuss the parameters of your show.”
Flash back to three weeks prior, Hughes was alone in New York City, ditched by the friend she had travelled down to visit, and was having a few drinks with freshly acquired friends at the Grand Saloon in the Grammercy district. Following a tequila-infused conversation with “Reggie and Yvette,” an e-mail address transpired for a gallery in midtown. Not thinking much of it once sober and home, Hughes eventually followed up with a link to her artist webpage not expecting to hear anything. An hour later, Jonathan Rieves, gallery manager of the Prince George Ballroom Gallery replied back, “I am interested. Give me a call and we’ll discuss the parameters of your show.”

It was definitely luck, affirms Hughes today, as she sits exhausted and nervous in her west-end basement. Scrambling since then to finish 18 new works that will exhibit for two months on Times Square over the Christmas season, it was pure luck that the original slotted artist cancelled—but it’s pure ambition to continue her art, reach out to a long-shot contact and in receiving what she could only dream of, buckle down and continue to plow forward to whatever may come this next year.

Image credit: Jenny Keith Hughes, 2007
First published in Vue Weekly, November 29, 2007.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Global Gallery, Vue Weekly November 15 - 21, 2007

The sprawling maze-like hallways of the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers was filled to capacity last Friday with a new visual arts initiative. Temporarily serving as exhibition space for the Global Gallery, a new venue dedicated to showcasing visual arts from the immigrant perspective, the inner city location of the EMCN marks a starting point in recognizing the non-labour related benefits of Edmonton’s population influx.

Curated by artists Keith Turnbull, Ian Mulder and Pauline Ulliac, the 25 artists showcased are a diverse representation of established and emerging visual artists from Iran, Ukraine, Austria, Poland, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and India, Australia, El Salvador, Czech Republic, Croatia, Philippines, Spain, Jamaica, Uruguay, Russia, Japan and Peru.

“It’s healthy to have as many artists as possible in this first showing,” says Turnbull, a senior sculptor and chair of the Edmonton Arts Council. “At this stage, the more the better for the arts community.”

The biggest struggle so far has been maintaining outreach to the diversity of new communities and gaining access to these groups. Beginning as a conversation a year ago by a few of the lead artists in this project, such as Pedro Rodriguez De Los Santos, the Global Gallery will be temporarily moved online before finding itself in its permanent location in the yet-to-be constructed new EMCN site on 117 Avenue and 82 Street.
As a place to facilitate assistance and information for immigrants who face difficulties in transferring their professional abilities, the EMCN is taking a bold step in reaching out to immigrants who were professional artists in their countries. De Los Santos, who has been an educator and professional artist since 1990, is one of those artists who has begun to flourish since coming to Edmonton a few years ago.

During the packed opening reception, he shares, “I’ve been more focused and can identify more of myself. In Montevideo, there’s less diversity, less shows and more competition. I’m also inspired by the multiculturalism here and being able to see original works of contemporary art from around the world.”

Confronted with the lack of galleries willing to be the first to showcase artists with no professional Canadian exhibitions, the Global Gallery hopes to fill that void for the time being.

Setting up workshops on how to give gallery presentations and connecting resources on outreach and granting councils, the aim for EMCN is to pave the way for new Canadians who were professional artists to remain professional artists in this city.

“There’s a lot of talk about Edmonton as just a place for receiving immigrants,” begins EMCN Executive Director Jim Gurnett, one of the lead organizers who pushed this initiative forward this past year, “but what’s not always acknowledged is that the rest of Edmonton benefits from this diversity. Part of what I’m hearing is that artists are exploring their role as artists in this new environment, whether sharing their culture in Edmonton and enriching our city or whether they’re learning how to do art in Canada. Details as the difference in space, in light, all those things we may never think on our own. Edmonton’s quality of life will only continue to be enhanced by the works of newcomer visual artists.”
Visit for more details on Global Gallery artists

Photo credit: Wendy Martin, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Theory of Fragements and Tape, Lane Robert Mandlis, Latitude 53 Gallery, November 9 - December 1, 2007

Described as "performance ethnography," Lane Robert Mandlins traces his self (be it physical, mental, emotional) as the embodied transsexual (FTM) scholar. In layman's terms, a maze of textured shower curtains guide the audience on a journey of introspective thoughts. From the faux curtains that could double as transparent blackboards down to the inscribed bathmats that feel like stepping stones, the private sanctity of one's personal space is well conveyed into an accessible and shared experience. Doubling as the liminal head space that brews endless thoughts to the cleansing of the free, private and naked self, the shower maze-like construct is marked by numerous images of transformative figures from various cultures. From Haida to Mexico, the notion of transformation is here enlightened as a passage of life and being.

Images from the Tarot are also employed, the end card in the maze being the Death card, once again pointing to transition and change. The text and images caught in fragments and bits of tape compliment each other for an overall experience of transformation; only, I am not convinced that transformation can be given set parameters of time and space, and so perhaps this exhibition is but a blip into the transparency of our ideas of gender.

Image credit: Lane Robert Mandlis, 2007.
Photo credit: Karen MacArthur, Womon on the Edge

For those editors out there, here is what is pulled from Mandlis' site:

The word Fragements is not a miss-spelling of the word Fragments. In this art work, the word Fragements is a combination of the English word Fragments and the German word Frage, which in English means to question, or in some cases, to wonder. This work questions and wonders about things, but in a fragmented form. Thus, Fragements!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

La Perle, Michael Wawrykowicz, The Artery, November 8, 2007

it is only fitting to have Michael Wawrykowicz kick off the art exhibitions in The Artery. The first official art show to premier in the newly renovated furniture store-turned-alternative venue below the legends of Studio E, La Perle sums up all that this flexible space along Jasper Avenue and 95 St. could be: a casual gathering for the creative and the informal. The downside is that it's hard to view the art if you miss the opening. Gallery hours range usually for two to three hour shifts on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and also during the bi-weekly Guerilla Art Fairs that take place on Saturdays (this weekend is one of those every other weekends.)

The works in question (of which the public may or may not be able to see) fill the walls as giant blocks of colour and memory. Every day moments, of individuals caught off guard in glee or in awkwardness, is reiterated in big, bright, and brilliantly blurred strokes. There is a sense of fleetingness that directly reflects these casual moments lived and rarely remembered. In particular are the photo-based works of friends and loved ones from their childhood, images that reveal a private glimpse from a privileged perspective, and a perspective that ultimately echoes our everyday relationships in a pure and uncomplicated light.

Image credit: "Jana" Michael Wawrykowicz, 2005-07

Friday, November 2, 2007

Andrea Pinheiro, Emanations and Other Ghosts, FAB Gallery, October 30 - November 17, 2007

A summation of printmaking, from its basic formations of etching, layered and transplanted onto film, wax, and paint to the laborious task of photogravures, Andrea Pinherio's MFA show is a feat of range and a feat of vision. Basic in its spare black and whiteness, but tumultuous in energy between its layers, the works evoke an otherness, a presence of being that has been lost. Buildings, or remnants of them, appear throughout the show. A French window frame, engulfed, ephemeral, the structure exists but its history does not. Building ruins in the modern era, with more alliance to junk yards than sites of former worship, take on that sense of sacredness, a sense denied to them in their glory years but here created or perhaps plainly and meticulously caught and restored. The depth of printmaking, in its varied tones and hues is here clearly expressing wonder with both the content and process, delving into the greater mystery of "what is" and "what has been".

Image by Andrea Pinheiro, 2007
Photo credit courtesy of Sheri Barclay

Sherri Chaba, Vestiges: Fragility of being, FAB Gallery, October 30 - November 17, 2007

The enclosed net(work) of Sherri Chaba's intermedia works forms an estranging experience. The tiny hair like growths, made from soft wire scraps and mesh, have an unnatural resemblance to foliage from a distance and a remarkable reminder of follicles up close. The large scale work "Tenacity" for example can at first strike you as an overhead perspective of a woodland, with clusters of high density growth in some areas over others and the possibility of life deep within the strands of black against a brittle white landscape. But up close, the work takes on the microscopic view of surface, of skin, pushing for an overall haptic quality of the work that is at once sensual and sterile.
Always enjoying a physical engagement more so than just wall works, the sentiment was shared as the interactive installation of "Atrophic Utopia" was a buzz for most of the night with shoeless visitors. A large mesh-like tent, hanging overhead and with a parted entrance, set a top of sub floors. The elevated floor, the separation of space, made a great difference between a piece of work as concept and a work to be actively engaged in. Large cylinder spirals of the same mesh wire material hanged down throughout, conjuring half mythical forest and the other half entrapment. Just slightly needing to crouch as you navigate through the wire, you realize how frail the creation really is. There is a beautiful subtleness to the material and the form, forging a deeper meaning on the dependency of each other.

Prairie Artsters, Vue Weekly October 31 - Novemer 6, 2007

Crowded into the badly lit corner of the Ortona Building last Thursday evening, a gaggle of Edmonton’s arts community filled the room for a question and answer period over yet another new arts grant.

A joint initiative by Canada Council for the Arts and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the Alberta Creative Development Initiative was announced earlier this year as a total of $6 million to be doled out over the next three years. With new money pooled from endowment funds, and with a poor track record of Alberta-based applications to the Canada Council, the ACDI seems to be the small boost our arts-funding-depraved province needs.

A bonus for the little guys, only small to midsize organizations with less than $2 million in operating capacity are qualified—meaning the bigwigs such as as Alberta Ballet or The Fringe are ineligible for these funds. Individuals recognized as professional artists can apply to up to $20 000, and registered non-profit organizations can receive up to $30 000. Even the peer assessment committee will be mostly Alberta-based with limited national and international presence to overcome any regional mistranslations. And first-time Canada Council or AFA grant applicants and the often miscategorized field of interartistic disciplines will be given priority.

Along with this year’s Cultural Capital grants that are still being administered, professional artists with project ideas are (theoretically) living off the fat of the land—for the moment. The ACDI is new, but is just another line of project grants restricted to the production of Albertan projects. The funds are not permitted for building operational capacities or to build up administration. Basically, the fat of the land is for now and will be used now—and not for creating the infrastructure that artists so desperately need to sustain their practice.
Without infrastructure, artistic fruits of labour remain limited to one-off notches on curriculum vitaes. Imagine creating a city without first building the roads. There would be no foundation from which ongoing activities can sustain their existence with any regularity or network of support.

With the ACDI’s deadline looming on the first business day after Dec 1, professional artists and administrators across the disciplines are outlining their project proposals and crunching their budgets. The feet-shuffling turnout of Thursday evening dragged on with the usual repetitious and self-answerable questions, but the general direction of inquries looked towards projects that benefited the individual more than the community.

One of the perks of creating in the new west is that we can still forge our own form of structure and community. The legacy is being created and the rules still being written. Grants appear aplenty right now, but without individuals and organizations willing to create projects that reach out to their broader community, there will be no one benefiting from this money in a few years.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

JustSeeds, Visual Resistance Artists Cooperate, Naked Cyber Café

Part of the North of Nowhere Expo that took place in October and held over at Naked Cyber Cafe until December, JustSeeds is an exhibit of socially active prints and posters designed by the Visual Resistance Artists Cooperative.

The activist aesthetic reminds you that print (especially the rudimentary and anonymous block print) had its roots in resistance literature and the exhibition's rough edges--whether they were intended or not--demonstrate that in this type of work, the message is often more important than the medium.
Much like chapbooks in the publishing world, this type of original print posters give voice to the underground. Most of the times, the products are produced on a limited budget and quite poorly done, but for every ten, there emerges one that may stand out, and with most DIY, it is usually the intentions that count. It is however pleasantly surprising to see this group as active artists exhibiting, and if in the future they collectively focused on a single cause, their body of work could make for interesting shows to come.

Photo credit: Courtesy of ESPA, 2007

Artists: Colin Matthes, Icky A., Josh MacPhee, Meredith Stern, Pete Yahnke, Chris Stain, Bec Young, Dylan Miner, Erik Ruin, Kristine Virsis, Mary Tremonte, Nicolas Lampert and Roger Peet.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Beth Pederson, Annex, Harcourt House October 4 - November 5, 2007*

Packing up her apartment as she prepares for the move out east, artist Beth Pederson spared a few moments to talk about the completion of her recent residency at Harcourt House.

Her artist-in-residence show, Annex (which opened Oct 4) occupies the main space of Harcourt with its bare installation. Dirty paint-splattered school chairs sit stacked in the middle of the room, which looks unkempt. Re-creating the idea of any annex or mechanical room possibly found in your typical public building, the everyday mechanical subjects of water pipes, drywall sheets and thermostats are here privileged as the objects of sole attention.

The overall installation may have benefited from the application of sound, the white noise found in the nether regions of a building’s infrastructure, and there is always the question of why one draws out dry wall with pencil tracings rather than keeping in uniform the pop-paint aesthetic, but the installation as a whole is the strongest showing of Pederson’s work to date.

Image credit: Beth Pederson, 2007.

Originally from Alberta, Pederson’s interest in the everyday mechanical most likely came from her early influences, growing up in a family of tradesmen who all loved talking about cars and car parts. She may have never picked up the tricks of the trade, but she certainly found interest in the objects of her brothers’ affections: an earlier series explored the different components of a tractor truck, focusing solely on different parts against a stark white background.
Canvas paintings of pipes and bathroom fixtures followed along with a show at Profiles Gallery, but it was during her residency at Harcourt where she stopped second-guessing herself.
Progressing steadily in the pop-realism venue of James Rosenquist and David Salle, Pederson’s works have grown into 3D representations of the everyday by eliminating all background. Painting directly onto specially pre-cut MDF boards, the pipes and mechanics are now given their shape again, and the works are mostly installed in corners and closer to the floor, where one may anticipate the functional over the conceptual of the framed and hanging work of art.
“I wanted to bring significance by putting objects out of context and to make people notice all the daily things around them that they use on an everyday basis—but probably don’t notice,” Pederson explains.

Her first residency provided her with time, free studio space and a supplies stipend to experiment and focus on her art, privileges she has not had since graduating from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 2003.

“The residency helped me to stay disciplined and to go to the studio for eight hours a day,” Pederson explains, although she always maintained part-time employment. “It’s valuable for just working out ideas and definitely needed here [in Edmonton] to keep artists going and making art.”

However, she and partner and artist Shane Krepakavich are saying farewell to Edmonton (at least for now, she says) for the cultural hub of Montréal, where both local artists feel they will be surrounded and supported by a greater network of art and culture.

With no more free studio space and the prospect of having to return to full-time hours to keep up with the increasing cost of living, Edmonton has just lost another pair of promising young artists.

*First published print and online in Vue Weekly, October 24 - 30, 2007

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Edmonton Print International, SNAP

SNAP Gallery had a busy week with two openings and the media conference for the 2008 Edmonton Print International to be held next fall.
A Day of Discovery by Japanese print artist Jun Shirasu and Paper Cuts both had artist talks and their exhibitions are reviewed below. Only able to stay for the first half an hour, bits of maki were had and the opportunity to listen to the respective talks were missed.
Unable to stay for more than half an hour at the EPI conference as well, all speeches were missed, starting with remarks by artist Ian Craig, SNAP President Teresa Kachanoksi, now former Councilman Michael Phair, and EPI '08 General Secretary Walter Jule.
Slated as another world class event to be held in Edmonton, EPI is building off the success of 2002's True North international print competition and looks to create a sustainable international print exhibition for Edmonton's already rich and internationally recognized print community.
Spilling over into the former Red Strap Market for its festivities, and with an open and well stocked bar along with catering by KRAVE, with almost every arts-related individual and cellist Anna Matejko filling in any dead air, the only thing missing was the actual line up of artists.
So far, only a screenprint by renowned Canadian printmaker Carl Heywood has been used in early promotion, but with an a well-stocked advisory panel, the six week long exhibition featuring over 100 as of yet named artists will be something integral for the international and transnational print community based here and elsewhere.

Paper Cuts, SNAP, October 18 - November 24, 2007

Curated by SNAP Programming Co-Director and print artist Andrea Pinheiro, Paper Cuts brings together emerging artists from across the disciplines and their relation to the material that is paper. Described by Pinheiro as a "most humble yet versatile surface," paper is here explored via various media, from your collage to mixed media mache, leading to the conclusion that the pulpy sheets are the real darlings of art.
As paper is also making a comeback on the international art "scene", with paper based works once again in vogue, the local version does not push any limits or expectations, but works by painter Travis McEwen successfully transplant his androgynous silhouettes into his equivalent of paper dolls. The stretched bodies and faces, last seen during Next Fest, are here paper specters--losing the transient energy of paint and canvas, but finding new life in the more subtle and restrained arena of papier.

Artists: Chelsea Boida, Jessica Delorme, Travis McEwen, Josee Oulette, Craig Talbot, and Andrea Zariwny.

A Day of Discovery, Jun Shirasu, SNAP October 18 - November 24, 2007

Enthralled with the process of language, Japanese print artist Jun Shirasu presents a series of works dating from 2001 to the present exploring the similarities (and limitations) of drawing and pictographic writing. Japanese, the artists' mother language, grew from the Chinese Han and its pictographic language, where each character (close to 50,000 in recorded total) originated in a nature-image manifestation. Combining the text of Kohsuke Shirasu in his aquatinted works, Shirasu focuses on the discipline of drawing and sketching as a manual way of returning to the image-meaning. His images of nature, of trees, insects, water observes the natural form as expressed in life as it is expressed in its Han symbol.

The four untitled prints on the east wall of the gallery appear to be the culmination of earlier experiments such as "Words Fathomed in the Backwater" that is also included in the exhibition. Each piece, with strokes generated for infinite combinations, wrestles the problematic ideal that representation can capture any single meaning--be it intended or interpreted.

Image Credit: A Day of Discovery, 2001
Jun Shirasu
Paper size: 340x300mm
Image size: 245x200mm
Paper: Hahnemühle 300g
Technique: Etching/Aquatint/Sugar-lift

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fun House, Vue Weekly October 17 - 23, 2007

Embarass/Debarass, the literal fun house installation by Montreal artist Patrick Berube, may just be the most enchanting gallery experience the AGA has ever offered.

As part of the larger group exhibition of emerging Canadian art stars, Berube’s work may not be anything new or original, but certainly his bare construction of finding wonder in forgotten spaces represents most clearly the show’s overall theme: that the life we live, mirrored askewed in art, can still hold simple pleasures.

Facing Berube’s construction, four narrow doors going from left to right present themselves with little appeal beyond the anticipated entry point of any gallery installation. The inside rooms of the two middle doors have been constructed as utility closets, with a blown-up photograph in each one depicting a man and a woman in a similar situation before the miscellaneous boxes and cheap storage shelves. Both the man and woman look to be in their 20s to 30 and look tired, but the looming shadow of a large red helium balloon is arguably keeping them conscious and upright. Is the banal chore of cleaning out your storage closets suggested as an uplifting experience full of wonders and surprises? As you continue to explore the two other rooms, the novelty of wonder and wander perpetuates with every corner taken.

A projection of a closet shines down if you look up and carefully survey the shelves for items ordinary and not. In the room to the right, you discover the resonating sound that permeates the entire exhibition, a droning wail that is in fact a Yamaha keyboard on permanent synth bass mode. What keeps the machine moaning is in fact one of the room’s support structures, reinforcing that it really is the keyboard that is the fundamental foundation for experiencing this space.
In the left room, with the inside wall painted bubble-gum pink, another photograph of a man on his hands and knees with his head tucked beneath an arm chair realizes itself into life as you the viewer soon take up a similar position peering into a lower crawl space on the opposite wall. Once inside the quaint and cozy space, there is not much to survey about you until you look up. Only in lying flat down can you take in the partitioned-off glass ceiling filled to the brim with the bottom of unclassifiable objects. From magnetized letters to the bottom of jars filled with knick knacks to the sole of a dress shoe and old boxes and cartridges to everything you forgot you ever had, the layout of shapes and colours with the glimpses of light shining through becomes a galaxy of garage-grown forget-me-nots.

In the back of the left room, where the hallway adjoins to the keyboard room, a ladder takes you up to another hallway, a route I originally and consciously passed up on my first visit to the exhibition. (First time around, the mentality of being in a gallery space still remained strong; and a ladder or a closed door or anything you have to actively engage and touch would transcend the rules that maintain a gallery’s perceived inaccessibility.)
Up the ladder there is a narrow hallway with lowered ceilings. With yet another storage space spilling out excess boxes, you question whether or not this upstairs may actually be official storage space for the ceiling trinkets you earlier saw); but at the end of the hallway, a single light shines on an unplugged hand saw behind a sheet of builder’s plastic. The lower corner of the plastic has been invitingly torn, and so moving the plastic aside into this attic-like room, the first thing you notice is that floor/ceiling boards are unstable. In the final corner of this maze-like installation experience, with the resonance of the keyboard hum rising from below and walking along the nail studs as the boards feel like they may give way, you discover the projector set up that has been shining below. In this moment, you are arrested in thought at the notion that you are at once nowhere and engaged, that you are at once made privy to the backstage workings of the illusion inside of a fabricated crawl space in a construction that has been purely created for this very purpose of interaction and discovery. The urge to remain inside this nowhere space all day long becomes irresistible ... but the outside world wades in as you hear a field trip class entering below you and realize the weekday lunch hour is almost over.

Running into one of the AGA’s key personnel on my way out, we chatted briefly about the exhibition’s opening. He shares that all in all it was great, but his nine-year-old son inadvertently broke through a piece of plastic in the back of Patrick Berube’s exhibition and now the gallery staff have to figure out what to do about it. Do they just block it back off or reinforce the floor boards? What are they doing in the meantime so that visitors of the gallery don’t fall through the roof?

So it goes that the only Stendhal experience I have ever experienced in the AGA may have all been from err, but with all great moments in art as in life, there can be no set rules of engagement. The officious gallery space presents Fun House for the enjoyment of its visitors, and for some—not just unruly nine-year-olds—we take this engagement very literally

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Ian Craig, A Point Parethentical, FAB Gallery, September 27 - October 20, 2007

A MFA thesis by printmaker Ian Craig focuses on the drawing aspect of printmaking more so than previous MFA thesis exhibitions in FAB. In emphasizing the drawing element in the ever-elusive medium of printmaking, the labour of the artist comes in a far more direct way than the often pristine and clean production of a print. With focus on drawing over other print allies such as photography or engravings, Craig's exhibition immediately reveals an intuitive voice for the young artist.

Engaging, but perhaps precocious, there are several stand out series ranging from the black and white on mylar in the front space, to the "The Stories of Waters Itself" to "A Formation of Interstices". There is certainly a strong voice at play here with great dexterity in colour and linea and although the titles may be a bit dramatic, the works do mostly live up to their grandiose names.

Photo credit: John Craig, 2007

A Saturday afternoon at the commercial galleries

A few hours was recently and unexpectedly spent going from commercial gallery to commercial gallery. Starting at Scott Gallery, where Gerald Faulder had "Landscapes" to next door at Bear Claw Gallery, where Carl Beam opened with "Lateral View".

Image credit: Gerald Faulder, "Flying" 2007.

Faulder was disappointing nondescript as another landscape painter amidst Scott's lineup. The tranquility of the lakeside perspective was expressed clearly, as this perspective shines almost year round, but I find the world represented in most of Scott's strong Canadian programming to be a world I do not recognize or relate with. As impressive landscapes that cover this land, the paintings do not strike a chord that propels the viewer to explore; rather, they represent a world that is removed and isolated.

Image credit: Carl Beam, "Ionization" 2007.

Beam, as one of Canada's first Aboriginal collage/print artists to re-propose the First Nations people and identity, offers a series of meditative pieces that focus on the modern environment and our relationships within this place and time. Using the "I Ching" iconography in some of his mixed media works, as well as newspaper clippings, playing cards, and archival photography, the pieces are at best juxtapositions of cultural memory and personal memory.

Image credit: Doug Jamha, "Scissors" 1992-1993.

Onwards to Front Gallery, where local artist Doug Jamha exhibits work from the early 90s. "Scissors" is just what you would expect, which is unfortunate, as his former works with figures and phonebooks channeled a vibrant expression. In exhibiting work that is nearly 15 years old, there comes an expectation to re-evaluate, but this gesture was not expressed.

Agnes Bugera held an opening for former Edmontonian Ernestine Tahedl, whose impressionistic landscapes have a glow and glisten. Perhaps pushing one of the more Romantic programming schedules with always lush and dreamy imagery, the quality of work carried does usually speak for itself--a fact not necessary true for a lot of commercial galleries.

Image Credit: Tim Okamura, "Grey, White, Gold"

A loop back onto 124th St led to the Fall Show at Douglas Udell Gallery featuring prints by Picasso. As one of the more esteemed galleries in town, the Udell Gallery is suffice to say the closest art world Edmonton has to call its own. With international pieces by contemporary artists like Gabriel Orozco to big name Canadian artists Annie Pootoogook, Greg Curnoe and former Edmontonian-turned-New York based Tim Okamura, the programming at Udell can be quite stellar. It is just disappointing that the gallery and its reincarnations in Calgary and Vancouver are well-aware of their prestige and that they remain a space where not everyone does feel welcome.

And finally, a visit was made to the Lando gallery, perhaps the most striking gallery space in town. Sitting in the middle of the mini-industrial wasteland just north of 104 Avenue, local artist Adele Knowler "Lake Series and 20 years" was exhibiting a retrospective ranging from portraits to lakescapes and every step in between. Although Knowler's paintings were quite standard in content and composition, an overall sense of vastness was apparent across her subject matters.
Noted was that Lando too was carrying Picasso (engravings though) and featured locals Michael Levin, Mark Bellows, and Brenda Kim Christiansen. As this was the first peek into their programming, it was clearly the space that was most overwhelming and the space that gives plenty of reason to return to future shows.

Regular trips out to see the commercials have been difficult due to scheduling conflicts, but on this non-first and estranged outing, my non-first and estranged impression only confirms the reputation that Edmonton artists and galleries are not taking any aesthetic risks, especially in reference to the local programming. There is a slight diversity, which doesn't quite pronounce itself, but in a city that may never really champion its art scene, what do galleries and artists have to lose in challenging our humdrum viewer expectations? Will carrying Picassos change or develop art appreciation or will it only attempt to fuel a detached art consumption
of works one thinks we should have, rather than works we are compelled to have.

Joel Rhein "Modern Life" Latitude 53 September 28 to October 27, 2007

The photo-based paintings of Joel Rhein are literal snap shots of a city disappearing before us. "Gallery", "Theatre" and "School", all generic signifiers that contribute to the quality of any city, are here magnified, stripped down to its basic facade, a facade that we as Edmontonians may be able to recall, but as it goes, these buildings are already turning into memories rather than locations.

But it is Rhein's abstract lithographs that are far more interesting and sustaining. Large square outlines of blocks, resembling an aerial view of a contained city, loose grid streets tangling into corners and alleys, point towards navigation and exploration, rather than the mourning of a city that is still so young and for many, so unexplored.

Photo credit: Jessica Tse, 2007

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Art and Censorship, Prairie Artsters: Vue Weekly October 3 - 9, 2007

With the recent wave of protest over sculptor Ryan McCourt’s Hindu-inspired works outside of the Shaw Conference Centre, I have to wonder about the state of art and censorship in this city.

Walking past the Shaw Conference Centre recently, the physical absence of the large Ganesha sculpture seemed detached from the international media frenzy that led up to its removal. While the majority of the headlines focused on the “unapologetic artist” versus the “Hindu protests,” the art in question was after all public art, and the dialogue started by this piece of public art was silenced almost as quickly as it started.

The works that stood along Jasper Avenue for the past year were steel-crafted sculptures depicting the holy figure of Ganesha along with detached formations of the female form. A few weeks ago, Mayor Stephen Mandel ordered their immediate removal after he received a protest letter signed by 700 members from the Hindu community. Now, numerous oversized flower pots clumsily fill the sidewalks while Donald Moor’s multi-coloured “Dream.big” mural casts a peculiarly ironic shadow over the former setting of the offensive works in question.

Instead of investigating the accused works of blasphemy, which the Mayor said he was unaware of until the controversy started, the public works were swiftly and ignorantly removed from public sight.

The immediate result has of course led to the sale and private collection of these pieces (which McCourt’s website has confirmed), but for the general public and arts community, the city has demonstrated that it will bend to appease before it will defend and challenge. What’s more disconcerting is that McCourt’s works were not even provoking.
Most sensational cases of censored art usually revolve around highly social or politically charged works. These works, which demonstrate a preoccupation with form and colour, are hardly worthy of political censorship.
It is usually the artistic statement—that dangerous protest emanating through a form and able to reach the masses—that strikes at the heart of censorship cases. Usually offensive to anyone but the general public, censored art tends to challenge a dominant way of thinking; in Edmonton, art will be censored if it challenges any mode of thinking.

Although the artist declined a formal interview with this column, McCourt did provide links to his own writing on similar subject matters. From his writing and his art, it is evident that McCourt draws his inspiration from the world around him in mostly aesthetic-based qualities. And as aesthetics cannot and should not be separated from their social or political connotations, these works—created as an expression and not a statement—have been banned because of interpretation.

One of the major pleasures of art, especially public art, is its ability to attract multiple interpretations, and it is amazingly agonizing that any single interpretation can now have art banned for all to view.

First published in Vue Weekly, October 3 - 9, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Searching for Balance, Leszek Wyczolkowski, SNAP Gallery September 14 - October 12, 2007

Image credit: Leszek Wyczolkowski, 2007, Courtesy of SNAP Gallery

As you take in SNAP’s inner gallery from left to right, Polish Canadian artist Leszek Wyczolkowski’s graphics build upon an intensity of restraint. From earlier works dating back to early 2000 to recent works completed at the Banff Centre for the Arts, Wyczolkowski’s Searching for Balance reflects a convergence of two worlds: one world of stoic geometry and the other of organic movement.

Sequestered blocks of embossed squares reach out for a dualism in balance; offsetting black and white symmetry with shape, texture and eventually primary colours, the eye wanders from block to block, guided by an unbound rhythm at play between the squares (which in themselves resemble windows into separate worlds in motion).

There is a motion occurring within each work, and in following this motion, you begin to see the artist’s search for balance.

Just as the geometric cleanliness of a work sets the eye at awe, the next graphic introduces an organic element, from the bark of a tree to the stamp of a cabbage—natural shapes and textures strike a new balance.
The influence of Taoism emerges halfway through the show, where the simplicities of movement and containment begin factoring into the overall experience of the work. There is no one way to view the works, but the graphics would work best as a whole, stretched out side by side in an evolving succession of logic and intuition.

The introduction of solid colours also brings a surprisingly modern contrast to the former works, which though formally quite similar, take on a new dimension on the visual plane with the addition of colour. A solid square of yellow, offset by a square panel of thick vertical two-tone stripes—in itself a strong pattern—is weighed and balanced by an organic rendering of tree bark. There is a witty harmony running throughout the pieces that tempers both the emotional and logical side of perspective.

Wyczolkowski, an internationally recognized artist who was onsite during the opening of his exhibition, mused about the balances unfolding throughout his works.

“There are layers,” he says pointing to one of his newer pieces, “at odds with one another. There is something very basic, but strong about each square.” Tracing a line beyond its embossed border with his finger, he reflects, “How does the line continue here and how does it relate to the other squares?”
Wyczolkowski asks these questions with earnest intention, as they are questions for himself as much as they are for his viewers.

(First published in Vue Weekly, September 26 - October 2, 2007 Print and Online)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sean Caulfield lecture, Whitemud Crossings Edmonton Public Library, September 23, 2007

Promoted as a lecture explaining print artist Sean Caulfield's interest and use of historical scientific illustrations, the slide show lecture inside the Programs room at the Whitemud Crossings EPL turned into a sneak preview for the upcoming art and science amalgam show tentatively scheduled for the AGA in November 2008.
Gathering leading scientific researchers from around the globe as well--as artists to match including Montreal's BioTechika who Create sculptures from stem cells--the art and science group played off one another during a workshop held at the Banff Centre. Local artists include Caulfield as well as Liz Ingram and Lyndal Osborne.

As an idea sparked by Caulfield and his brother (who works in nanotechnology), they wanted to bring together both their respective folds.
Art and science are intrinsically linked worlds, but divisions have led us to think we can have live and excel in only one world and not the other. It may be too early to ponder aloud, but I wonder if this blind separation of art and science will be addressed or if it will just be an exhibition featuring art created and inspired by modern science.

Kurt Schwitter: Collage Eye Official Opening with Pop Art, Funhouse, and The 1950 Ford Show, AGA, September 21, 2007

Noting the difference between experiencing an exhibition and attending its opening, the AGA provides a fair ground to start from since only the common area was crowded as drinks were not allowed inside any of the exhibitions.

In the front reception space, speeches were held unveiling the official opening, which many of those present had already sneaked a glimpse during last week’s collage-a-thon. The ceremonious cheque exchange announcing TD Waterhouse’s $150,000 contribution to the New Vision Campaign was also marked; but as the campaign goes on, the AGA still needs a few more contributions in the seven figure region.

As the speeches went on, the regular opening vultures descended on the refreshment. Already under supplied what for a few marinated cherry toms and typical chicken skewers, only the cash bar remained opened for the 100 + public long after the remanants of basil leaves were cleared.

A few of the artists were in attendance from their week long install, and as they mostly clustered amongst themselves, the art in the other room now had didactics up to explain the works before you.
Usually a good idea in a public gallery, didactics can be as useful as they are harmful, but with the AGA's re-introduction of them, let's hope they are read as one singular entry point that can and often should be challenged.

The 1950 Ford Show, AGA, September 22 to January 6, 2008

Image credit: Amanda Kindregan, 2007 Courtesy of AGA

Curated by Anthony Easton, The 1950 Ford Show sets out to challenge Easton’s idol Ed Ruscha’s 1977 drawing “Will 100 Artists Draw a 1950 Ford from Memory” to its literal root. Selecting 100 artists from an international call-out, many of which ended up being locally based artists, the showing of 100 depictions of a 1950 Ford magnifies what pop culture could mean when situated within a collective memory.
Pop culture, arguably the ash tray of our social indulgences, is here pared down to its nostalgic essence. A 1950 Ford, a slice of a bygone era of postwar American glory, is asked to be remembered in its various reincarnations. It is highly unlikely that a majority of the artists who submitted have ever encountered a real life 1950s Ford model beyond a mausoleum showroom, but the idea, the request to draw from memory a shape so common as a mid-century American car, releases a flood of layered iconographies--and it is in this release that captures the surprise and subversion of Pop with wit and poignancy.

Images credit: Daphne Louter, 2007 Courtesy of AGA

Friday, September 21, 2007

Prairie Artsters on the Roam: Calgary

Lack of updates on the home front, Prairie Artsters surveys as much of Calgary's arts scene as half an afternoon can beget.
Highlights and not necessarily reviews included the Triangle Gallery's exhibition on Swedish design; both the space and show were pleasing and surprising. The Art Gallery of Calgary was showing a retrospective of Alex Janvier for the AB Biennial, and along with Janvier's more well known works from the 80s, a sample of recent floral paintings were on the top floor from 2005. A similar stroke was present, but it is unfortunate to say that perhaps Janvier's best works are well behind him.
In the basement media room of the AGC was Red Eye, a compilation of contemporary Aboriginal short films put on by Carleton University and curated by Ryan Rice. Taking on the narrative of the "cinematic" Indian as mythologized by Hollywood and mainstream cinema, works by Terrance Houle and Nadia Myre represent a new channel of storytelling.

Also visited were Truck and Art Central, both reviewed below.

Calgary as a whole certainly appears to have both more commercial appeal and credibility (what with ACAD and all), but I saw little or no risk happening at all in the art. Even in the Truck exhibition, which was probably my favorite space and exhibition (if you discount the films and videos from Red Eye), most of the art seen can be summed up in the overheard conversation that happened inside Axis Gallery.
For a city booming faster than Edmonton, I can only wonder where all the artists are working from and working towards. And hopefully, more visits to the south can be taken to see what arises.

ENDGAMES, TRUCK Gallery, Calgary, September 7 to October 6, 2007

Refering to the most rewarding and challenging portion of a chess match, Endgames as a group exhibition plays upon the perception of individualized strategy and outcome of gaming culture.
Housed in the raw basement that is TRUCK Gallery, Craig Le Blanc's astute floor-based sculptures fuse the plastic fun sensibility of toy and game culture with the precision of architecturally sound designs and moldings. The world created is one for the future and emanating from each piece is the urge to step into this world and play (as it were).
Michael Coolidge's photographs depict an abandoned world where the game (what appears to be a set of multi-coloured lawn bowling balls) can occur anywhere and does exist everywhere. From side walk curbside to interior abstract spaces, the absence of players in each photograph arouses a sense of conflict in our collective culture's representation of games as solitary activities that were once about interaction.
The other two artists, Laura Wilson and Mike Paget, directly invite you into their pieces as interactive games. Though lightly impressive for their constructs, the works on their own do not engage with the audience as much as their non-interactive counterparts.
Though the title and artist statement may have been more clever than the pieces, the show as a whole was a well-balanced exhibition that hit its theme from all different perspectives and mediums.

Image courtesy of TRUCK Gallery

Artists Michael Coolidge, Craig Le Blanc, Mike Paget, Laura Wilson

Art Central, Calgary, September 2007

Spread out over three floors on one of Calgary's renovated and rejuvenated corners is Art Central, a hub of 56 galleries, studios and knick knack art + design stores.

From the street level, Axis Gallery looked promising, and it did turn out to be best space inside the entire building. Currently showing was Greg Gerla's figure photography, which was less interesting than most of the other work on display including Jim Mroczkowski's mixed media meditations and Caroline James' abstract explosions. Also found were works by Edmonton based artists Ryan McCourt and Tony Baker (now relocated to Toronto), which lent to the strong regional representation of contemporary artists. A lot of Calgary-based artists appeared to be exploring the city, not in any inventive or original way, but the changing city was a dominant preoccupation.
As I rounded the back corner of the gallery, I came upon a conversation that I can only assume to be gaining in popularity.
A man, mid forties to fifties, business attire, was confidently pondering, "Yep, I still like that one . . . Since I bought my new place in Canmore, I'm looking for something to fill the walls. I got a lot of walls!"
And so the gallery representative measured a large black and white Turner-esque painting to make sure its dimensions would accommodate. I left at this point to browse the other galleries and shops, whose works were all mediocre and cramped into their spaces, but as it goes, the taste of commerce over substance lingered during my entire experience.

Realistically speaking, the tenants of Art Central must sell their work on a fairly consistent basis to make Calgary's rental fees, but this self-described axis of Calgary's art scene registered more as an "arty" mall than a destination point for any arts community. Art Central seems to be a good idea, but the overall atmosphere and quality was homogeneous and lack lustre.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Prairie Artsters: Vue Weekly September 19 - 25, 2007

Taking advantage of the fluctuation of trial students that happens every early September, I decided to sit in on an intro-level art fundamentals class at the U of A. Unprepared but for a roll of white legal paper and an ancient pack of conte sticks, I had absolutely no idea of what to expect as I sat down in one of the many chalkboard green drafting tables loosely arranged in the round.

The instructor—who will remain anonymous, but was privy to my informal visit—presented slides of Max Ernst and Sigmund Polke’s works to start off the class. Breaking down composition and form without contextualizing the forms in its history, it quickly became clear that I would have to re-learn how to see shapes and form over the next three hours.

A solid evening of studio work with no break in between, this particular art course was designed for students with little or no previous experience in art making. Having not actively attended an art class in close to ten years, I was definitely just another candidate sitting down with the ever-impending question: “So where/what/how do I begin?”
Starting from basic art and design fundamentals, we were there to focus on the formal qualities of drawing; examining proportions of balance, repetition and layout, the questions answered were always in relation to the “how” and not “why” artists do what they do. Extensively elaborated were the methods and possible techniques of how you achieve certain textures; missing was why these hues mattered.

Even though I understood it to be an intro visual fundamentals class, and that perhaps digging into context would be pre-emptive, I couldn’t help but wonder if technique can be so cleanly removed from the history from which it came from. Regardless, art fundamentals was not about history—fundamentals translate into technique.

And so, being confronted with a blank sheet of paper, the task of drawing a line, 12 lines to be exact, was surprisingly discomforting.

Twelve lines. Vertical across a blank landscape layout. The execution of where, length, width, tone, shape for each individual line and the lines in relation to each other became a daunting ordeal.

Coming from the dark side of art, the critique and examination of a finished product, the detachment of form from context was like severing off my limbs. Unable to grasp onto any context, all that was left were shapes and tones, assembled to a rhythm that I could not hear and in a light in which I could not see.

As an exercise to loosen everyone up, all us students repeatedly rotated their works to the right each time we were asked to change our mediums with new instructions. In the last round, after graphite, charcoal and white paint had been applied, we were asked to really show a sense of conviction with the medium, to mark down and own whatever it was we were expressing without feeling a sense of entitlement to the work.

Awkward and liberating at the same time, the sensation of not knowing at all what the hell you’re doing, but just doing and exploring is at best, a positive experience.

Art making at this level--leaps beyond doodles and ages before concepts come into play--explores how you see and move to the world around you; and only in exploring yourself and your movements first in relation to the world do you then proceed to explore how everything else connects and matters.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Collage-a-Thon, Friday, September 14, 2007 AGA

More party than arty, the collage-a-thon put on by the AGA in partnership with Latitude 53 filled the cavernous halls of the old Bay building from corner to corner. In the earlier part of the evening, the collaging tables were mostly filled with supervised children working away. As the evening grew and the line up for drink tickets filled the doorway, those still collaging had distractions ranging from a live band to the troupe of black clad ladies from Mile Zero Dance.

Image credit: Zachary Ayotte, 2007

Highlights included the little old lady in pink who sold the drink tickets; the dancers who presented strong visuals, but with a pulse; and the enthusiasm of the children as they put up their works on the gallery walls, knowing others would get to see them.
Lowlights may have been the overall output of work produced, as most collages looked more like the inside of diaries and dreambooks; and the amount of individuals who didn't bother collaging at all.
Collage, the mash up of images and meaning--and if artfully done, the seamless integration of all things supposed juxtaposed--may have been the overall atmosphere of the evening in action as in theme, but certainly some found it very difficult to collage amidst all the commotion.
But for those who just wanted a spectacle (or could only find spectacle), there was a general consensus that the AGA (or for better or for worse) hasn't been that hip since the opening with ArtBar.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Offering, Adrian Cooke, Harcourt House, August 31 - September 29, 2007

Image credit: Adrian Cooke, 2007. Courtesy of Harcourt House Gallery.

As the central and title piece in The Offering, Adrian Cooke’s multidisciplinary piece (pictured) offers little insight into the contemplative and contemporary nature of the land. Fabric-covered lights, human sized and sitting at the four posts of a wooden altar, Cooke’s first foray using internal lighting or fabric drew a strange contrast to the mostly small-scale lathed works, sketches and cardboard dioramas of a former era.

Citing British sculptor Henry Moore as an early influence, Cooke’s smaller works continue to have a soft tactile friendliness. The fabric of the lights, however, were too soft and light to hold their own against the sculptures, but on their own they could possibly have been haunting.

The small scale sculptures themselves are objects you feel you want to touch, resembling solid crafted vases, but that have been set in grain and left teetering and unreachable.

It is no coincidence that many handcrafted pieces sitting atop of the altar within The Offering resemble the traditional shapes and silhouettes looming over the prairies, including miniature lathed grain bins from old bowling balls. (It’s an interesting footnote on the materials list, but in relation to a larger context to the work and exhibition, there is a detachment between inspiration and execution.)

As a peace offering to the land or environment, The Offering as a whole greatly idealizes the vast openness of the prairie land.

“Driving for three or four hours you cover a lot of land and you see a lot of things and that certainly has become source material,” Cooke explains of his pieces. “This is an accumulation of a lot of information and this is what comes out.”
With sculptures dating back to as early as 1983 on display, the pieces accumulated seem to work best collectively, contrasting colours, shapes, levels and surfaces that each represent a memory and an afterthought. In re-creating the bygone era of man-made intrusions upon the land, perhaps Cooke is attempting to find a sense of peace about a slowly fading vista.

The one other installation sculpture envisions the horizon as three dimensional, offsetting a photograph of a sunset with a sculpture at its forefront. Only the sculpture alone can stand for the flat vicissitude of a big red sun hanging over the land, but reinforced with a photograph, the paleness of the sculpture’s natural wood is lost and redundant.
Not that Cooke has not experienced the land he treads on. As an international artist who has continued to live and work in Lethbridge for the past 26 years, there is a heavy folk aesthetic to Cooke’s pieces that ties him to the land.
“I’ve lived in a prairie-like setting since 1950. It’s become for thirty years or more a source material,” he said during his opening reception last Thursday. “When you have that kind of openness, any structure, a tree or a barn or a fence, it runs at odds with the landscape.”

In his artist statement, Cooke explains that his work “draws its inspiration from considerations of how man-made structures and ingrained patters of human activity impose and intrude on the landscape and alter what was once austere open space.”

What strikes as a disconnect is the interchangeable use of landscape with horizon. A tree once grown becomes one with a landscape, as does a grain tower, or fence, in the way that it collectively forms as a unified image in vision as in memory

(First published in Vue Weekly, September 12 - 18, 2007. Print and Online)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Friday, September 7, 2007: An opening and a closing

Friday, September 7 marked the closing reception for Tim Rechner and fellow Red Deer artist Craig Talbot's "Morning Light," which actually was the first time many would see the finished product of their collaboration together. As an ongoing art project/exhibition, Talbot and Rechner slowly filled the ProjEx room at Latitude 53 with their bits and pieces of drawings that at times resemble children scrawls, and at times were actually Talbot's childrens' scrawls.
Stepping inside the ProjEx room, visual focus couldn't be directed onto one particular thing. The works, both independently created but in collaboration with the space, carried a progression that was far too dense to absorb all at once--and on the night of its closing reception, there was simply too little time and too much distraction to take in something that was soon near its end.
Slightly poor in attendance where one observer noted it resembed "an underground party where no one went to," the experimental sounds by Chris Zaytsoff and ongoing video projections maintained an elusive happening atmosphere where nothing happend at all.

Works by Andrew French, Terry Fenton, Mitchel Smith, Hendrik Bres, and Peter Hide. Image credit: Ryan McCourt, 2007

A few blocks away, the Edmonton Contemporary Arts Society had their opening reception for their 15th annual show at the Peter Robertson Gallery. Jam packed with arts and arts professionals, with the live jazz band blearing, the room was so crowded that you couldn't even see the giant steel sculpture in the middle of the floor until you almost tripped over it. Similarily, most of the art on view was obstructed from view; but from what was seen squeezed inbetween bodies, nothing comes to mind as outstanding. With a mixture of large-scale colour abstractions to landscapes and even photography, a theme besides visual art from contemporary edmonton-affiliated artists may have helped root the show for viewers and to present any mandate that ECAS currently has.

Returning to Latitude 53, many of the same faces seen in both galleries continued to pass both doors either on their way or just coming from the other show. Gripes from both ends, that Robertson's was "too loud, too hot" and Latitude was "dead" leads to a couple of thoughts: that a) art functions have gained social ranking on a Friday evening? b) nobody seems to want to talk about the art.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Prairie Artsters: Vue Weekly September 5, 2007

On the weekend before classes resumed across the city, I was taken on a tour of MFA studios by Gillian Willans, an MFA painter in her last year. Although internal MFA tours are scheduled a few times a year, this was a rare public foray into the graduate facilities for painting, drawing and intermedia, sculpture and printmaking, which are evidently their own distinct and loosely connected worlds.

Each studio had its similarities: a well-used microwave and canisters of Coffee-Mate, a communal bulletin board, somebody’s boom box; most noticeably, each space carried the heavy atmosphere of processing-in-the-waiting. Half-construed thoughts, attempts and experimentations, moments of revelation and pieces in contemplation unfolded across the various disciplines in their respective lairs.

If viewing the campus as a city, the artist quarters are similarly scattered and hidden. The painting studios, for instance, fall below the bustle of HUB, where noise isn’t so much a factor as the occasional HUB smell (and for the record, each discipline studio had its own distinct scent from the different mixtures of chemicals respectively used). Sculpture takes up a good corner of FAB, filling an area the size of your average warehouse. A walk-in kiln the size of most industrial freezers sits in one room, while most of the heavy metal tools rest, for the time being, on the concrete floors.

The pristine lab of printmaking is behind one of the many anonymous doors along FAB’s music chamber, widening into a well-lit and clean hall slightly resembling a magnificent hull of a ship. Cubicles and beautifully sterile presses sit in several rooms on two floors, and only student Andrea Pinheiro, who exhibits her thesis in two months, was found working away on photogravures. The MFA drawing studios sit in the centre of campus above the Powerplant, partially squeezed since the closure of the South lab building.

MFA student Elaine Wannechko has new digital prints on the excess, or excrements, of the body lined up in her studio, which she uses as more a contemplative space than a creation space.

“Space is the biggest issue right now,” says Willans, who notes that, while there are four new buildings currently being erected for nanotechnology, the MFA painters are just finally getting a used communal computer for their studio—not words of bitterness, but a straight expression reflecting the reality of things. Studios spaces across the city as well as on campus are facing a crunch, and the value of studio spaces continues to skyrocket out of reach. In comparison, the quality of space on campus remainss luxurious to the holes in the outside world, and the MFA grads are aware of it.

“We are very lucky,” says Brenda Christiansen, who along with Scott Cumberland and Willans were onsite below HUB. “I don’t even want to think about what I’m going to do after I graduate,” Christiansen says with the others nodding in agreement in the space they have come to call home for the past three years.

Aside from the issue of physical space, it is also the community mentality that brews in these spaces. Informal drop-bys and critiques by staff, techs and other students are a major facet of the time spent growing in university. The concentration of ideas, the constant dialogue and the network of support are what constitute as the experience of an MFA, which in itself is a terminal degree and often the end of the line as far as official education goes for most artists. This is why studio space remains so important, as basement and garage studios can be sufficient, but it is about the creation of a network of support for individuals working in a common struggle to create. To incoming students and outgoing graduates, just note that your world is about to change.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Shannon Collis, Temporary Geography, Harcourt House, August 31 - September 29, 2007

Image: Shannon Collis, 2007

Former Edmonton-based artist Shannon Collis returns with an intricate network of digital and wax-based prints from her current position at the Sam Fox School of Art & Design in St. Louis, Missouri. Taking off on Tony Bennett’s visualization of memory fragments as a palimpsest, the works in question draw the viewers into the brink of losing ourselves into decoding the scatter of multicoloured fragments--confetti-like explosions that recall the the real and the remembered. The row of prints on the south wall of the Front Room carry titles like “Accumulation” and “Strata,” suggesting both the atmospheric layers at work and the cloudy residues of thought.
The one question that comes to mind is whether Collis intends on examining memory as a personal or collective endeavor. Regardless, the prints--some of which are rendered on wax--take on the reconstruction of memory and thoughts quite imaginatively.

Osamu Matsuda, New Work, FAB Gallery August 28 - September 22, 2007

Simply titled New Work, Osamu Matsuda’s prints as the U of A’s international guest-artist in residence in printmaking is simply spectacular. Spectacular in the very root sense of the word, as Matsuda’s pieces are a constant re-evaulation of how we look at the given world. The treat here is that we get to look through Matsuda’s eyes on familiar territory, an act in itself that shifts the way we look at our environment and perhaps shifts the way he looks at his.
Mixing mirrors and video to filter through the layers found in traditional printmaking, what also emerges is a haptic quality to the works that is at once deep and clear.
In following traces of bike and car tire treads, there is an ease of lines, already found in our winter and reconfigured in how one line moves into another. Next to the way the snow appears, a stop-motion (on delay) video loops the movements between the upstairs printmaking lab down the stairs to the outdoor sculpture graveyard. No zooms, no pans, only staccato vantage points that in many ways assemble the half-moments of the way we look at the world in transiting through a liminal space of a stairwell.
The most intriguing piece however may also be the most creative presentation of an artist statement found at any opening. A terminal screen looped a stop motion disassembly of letters set in a press, the very letters that match the artist statement narrating a short personal anecdote of how his first teachers had asked him to just look and draw, and how that request has continued to baffle him.
In the act of looking, there is the how and what that carry and express multiple layers of intentions and meanings. In looking, we are just beginning to understand what we see.

On the Verge: Tim Rechner profile

Inside his singular dwelling space and studio, the workings of Tim Rechner's mind are splayed out for all to view. Mad scribbles line the studio walls from floor to ceiling -budding ideas spilling over immediate thoughts and untethered ramblings both energized and voracious, scraps of paper ranging from post-it notes to oversized hand-stretched canvases topple over one another. Layer after layer, level after level, condensed expressions and illuminated sketches piece together every inch of available wall space.

Image credit: Rechner and Tony the cat by Ted Kerr, 2007.

On the surface, Rechner's studio apartment in Edmonton's ArtsHab epitomizes a romantic notion of an "artist" space. Most people may have first seen his apartment in Trevor Anderson's short film, Rugburn (2005), where Rechner's actual day-to-day living space served as a set for Anderson's tempestuous artist.

Large in presence with a full head of massive dark curls and an even fuller dark beard, Rechner speaks in a very hushed and subdued tone accompanied with periodic small hand gestures. "I think the role of an artist here is to make Edmonton more culturally interesting," he begins once we settle inside the studio with his cats, Jimmy and Harold, nearby. "I don't want to sound spoiled or righteous, but I personally feel a drive to really create things as much as I can."

As the longest tenant in ArtsHab, the only city-sanctioned artist's co-op in Edmonton, Rechner has rooted himself into a steady arts community. With regular exhibition openings coupled with open studio visits every six weeks, he has a continuous feed of stimuli that conveniently lingers outside his front door.

A graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art + Design and Red Deer College, Rechner has built up his exhibitions from small cafe shows to public murals, culminating in his year-long residency at Edmonton's Harcourt House Gallery in 2006. Expressionistic and intuitive, Rechner's work often draws parallels to abstract expressionism, but Rechner himself doesn't feel aligned to any formal school of aesthetics. Working from his subconscious, there is a pure approach in his already-trademark expressions between line and colour.

"I'm moving in a more honest and free way than I have before," Rechner says as he sits up and moves one arm across in a single sweeping motion. "I'm now moving my arms, and not just my wrists, and my strokes are reaching my full length span."

At 6'1, the energy and physicality involved in each of his pieces have taken Rechner to a new level. After returning from a self-directed residency in Catalonia, Spain, this past summer, Rechner's daily ritual of art-making has spawned a tighter structure to his subconscious spurts. Taking note of contemporary Spanish artist Anthony Tapies, Rechner's signature style of abstraction is starting to crystallize into work that is structurally sound.

Image Credit: Tim Rechner, Emily's Dream, 2006, oil and graphite on canvas

"I feel like I'm on the verge of something groundbreaking," he says of the drawings made during his residency in Spain, as well as the works completed upon return. Cash-strapped from his trip, Rechner has begun painting over older work in lieu of fresh canvas. Pausing to reflect this watershed moment, Rechner has no regrets. "I'm going over a lot of my older pieces and wondering if I really want to keep these, because I know I can do something better."

One of the results from painting over an existing work is "Morning Light," a piece he believes to be the best work he has yet to do. Picked up by Front Gallery this past year and completing his first commercial solo exhibition in the spring, the commercial world remains foreign to Rechner, who is more accustomed to a DIY effort.

Front Gallery Director Gregoire Barber describes Rechner as somebody she has "known of" for several years. She has come to know him personally in the last year and a half and believes he just needs time. "Tim's paintings and drawings are now starting to come together. The visual amount he was taking in overseas, it's just going to happen."

As the proprietor and director of a gallery representing only local artists, Barber notes that it has been an uphill battle since taking over Front Gallery three years ago. "I believe in the work, but it takes time for people to know that this work is here; that there this is a new body of work with a different style."

In the meantime, Rechner shares that he has begun applying for shows across the board from Victoria to Halifax. "I'm trying to connect as far as I can," he says. "I've shown a lot here and it's time to get to that next stage."

First Published in Galleries West, Volume 6, Number 3, Fall 2007. Print and Online.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

On the Roam: Prairie Artsters in Saskatchewan

A four day sojourn to the land of the real FLAT was art-unrelated, but art was sought and art was seen. Prairie art missed was the Mendel Gallery in Saskatoon as well as the U of S's 100 years of collection exhibit; caught were galleries inside cafes and restaurants that were as equal a cafe as it was part gallery.
Saskatchewan as a whole seems to have stopped in time. The era in which it stopped differentiates from region to region as Moose Jaw stopped in 1998 and Tugaske stopped altogether in 1932.
In relation to art history, the days of Emma Lake and Kenneth Lochhead are simply gone with the wind. (The phrase "Gone crazy from the wind" also takes on more meaning than it ever has before).
Contemporary Saskatchewan art appears to be priding itself on the historical, in the same way as its city streets, way of life, tourist appeal, and in the way that their stores and heritage museums both displayed the same items, with just the differentiation of a price tag. Prairie art is taken as literal as can be, and this niche is as tied to the land as the farmers who still bale the fields remain to be. Not exactly successful, but certainly earnest and traditional.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pacific Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan August 2007

"It's summertime, so we mainly sell landscapes," says the proprietor of the Pacific Gallery near the U of S campus on Temperance St. Mostly carrying consigned works from regional artists as well as B.C. and Quebec works, the tourist season demands landscapes that are unabashedly in awe of the land.
Looking more like picture perfect postcards, the works on site were in absolute adoration of the river valley, the bridges, backyard lanes, and of course, that prairie sky. It is that sky that looks like nothing else, and leaves you feeling limitless and at the same time isolated, very much like wading in the middle of an ocean. There is a strange comfort, one that is beautiful and haunting, and you can either lie back and relax or be remiss and have a nervous breakdown.
A few artists, Davis Langeuin from Kamloops, Robert Roy from Saskatoon, and Rolf Krohn from Montreal, choose to approach the land in a less ideal way, favouring to apply heavy texture to borderline abstract landscapes--albeit nothing new, but certainly different within context.

Image Copyright Rolf Krohn "Quiet Evening"

Yvette Moore Gallery, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan August 2007

Renowned Saskatchewan realist painter Yvette Moore is often times standing behind the counter in her own gallery in a beautifully restored city-sanctioned heritage building that houses her gallery along with a restaurant. There are only Moore's detailed paintings along with numerous ceramics from around the region. Each painting and print, many of which are duplicates of various sizes, all depict a Saskatchewan of red brick detailing, ma and pa stands, handsome street carts passing old theatres, empty bridges on quiet rivers, and the tranquility of a place that seems uninhabited except for small playful children. The nostalgia is heavy and unmistakable, and the pieces are all finely detailed down to the last brick and mortar, but as she states on her webpage, "I want my art to be a document – a document of where we came from and where we are going. I find much of the simpler things in life no longer exist," the paradox that the past and the future are identical does not appear to baffle the artist.
Moore's focus on commercialism and tourism has proven successful, and her dedication to preserving the historical roots of Saskatchewan has been honoured at all levels, but in looking at the town of Moose Jaw, I wonder if this place was meant to sustain itself as a tourist attraction for those looking for an old-fashion way of life.

Image: Copyright Yvette Moore, Capital Theatre circa 1930.

Elbow Watercolour Society, August 2007

In the tiny town of Elbow, Saskatchewan, a small bungalow on the two blocks of main street resides as the gallery for the Elbow Watercolour Society. At first glance, there is the feeling that this is another arts society of Sunday landscape painters; but as you start winding through the salon style gallery, there are some formidable works covering its numerous walls.
Viv Brown's effervescent and nostalgic worlds most clearly reflect the end of a certain way of life. Portrayals of long lost structures and land have given way to development; and in the vastness of the land surrounding Elbow, it appears that any change such as the closing of a theatre or the destruction of a tower marks a dramatic impact on the individual who has spent their entire life with the same.
Other notable artists included Brenda Funk, whose mixed media works were solitary in execution and style and Norma Johnson, whose works all had a glow within them, honing a mysterious centre light that illuminated each piece from within.
Some of the artists' bios were available for perusal, and it was not surprising to read that several of these artists had exhibited nationally. The remoteness of a town like Elbow, like many all over the province, effuses a forgotten way of life for most in Canada, a way that was all too common just fifty years ago, and one that now sits as a relic in one of the many antique stores that grace small town main streets.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Prairie Artsters: Vue Weekly August 22, 2007

Art: discuss.
Isn’t as simple as it seems.

To borrow a strip from Elvis Costello: Writing about music—or in this case, art—is like dancing about architecture. If we are to agree with the original Napoleon Dynamite, how are we to decipher one craft and then translate it successfully into another?

It’s true we don’t necessarily have to translate, or describe, a work of art into syntactical form, but we are not all trained to understand art—though we are all taught to read and write—and there is an expectation to filter everything through this medium of natural language. In approaching a work of art I find myself asking: what is the artist attempting to communicate? And how are words going to communicate this communication?

I have recently been blocked twice on this issue: once in an interview gone awry, and once in a writing exercise I was asked to do, a task that asked me to write about a postcard print by Franz Kline.

Arts writers and critics can normally go around the issue of discussing art by throwing around the idolatries of history, theory and formalities that all lend to the “talk” of art; but to capture the presence, an essence wholly unto itself, of a work of visual art in mere words can become a rare and daunting task.

In being confronted with art that stirs an emotion rather than a thought, this task of writing in an informative manner suffers. In the interview with an artist whose body of work was both richly emotional and technically advanced, a struggle in discussing the art, by both interviewer and interviewed, stumbled in the faulty predisposition that the process of creation could be captured by natural language. Without social or political contexts to base the work, and unable to recapitulate a decade’s worth of knowledge in the craft, it was my role as an interviewer to illicit readable insights about the process and inspiration. When you leave out the dry talk of art, the history and -isms and theories, all that remains is the emotion you feel upon experience of the work. The effect, responding to that initial visceral reaction, may be a romantic approach to discussing art, but it is nevertheless the first and foremost step.

Similarly, in looking at the movements of a Kline, you are staring down the pure emotion of the artist. What is there to say beyond what is being poured out on canvas for all to see?
Because how do you use one medium to describe an emotion conveyed in another medium that is so vividly and structurally different? Description fails and details falter. It is near impossible to translate across form and content, and the end result of whatever you produce will always lack a certain significance exempt of experience.
But perhaps it is just this rumination of occurrences and experiences in and with art that is all that may be required, as with this fleeting gesture there is at least an acknowledgement of something intrinsically shared and mutually felt. Regardless, the discussion of art is an ongoing debate with each other and one that is certainly also going on within ourselves.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Best of Art Walk, Fringe Gallery, August 2007

To compare works on the wall versus works on the sidewalk is surprisingly not the issue that came out of seeing the 'best of' show from this summer's ArtWalk. Compressed into a single room down from over five city blocks, the works did not leave any stronger impression within an official gallery setting. In fact, they may have left less.
Without the artist present, most of the works lose their context, as most pieces are personal strains of expression that may be 'creative,' but fail to reach a larger audience looking for some form of originality, context, and investigation. Myka Jones and Gisele Denis may be held as exceptions, but the works represented were inferior pieces to show off their skill, and perhaps this leads into whether artists should show their strongest works, or their most marketable works . . .

Birch Heart, August 17, 2007 Good Intentions, Poor Traits

The Birch Heart basement is full of surprises. As you walk up to this nondescript house where fancy "kids" are strewn about on the lawn drinking beer and sharing smokes, your expectations always take a sudden turn as you enter the house, never quite knowing what to expect and who to run into. The living room always has several conversations going on; the kitchen, always with unexpected appetizers saran wrapped for posterity, is a hub of exchanges flowing from faces on the porch to line ups to the bathroom.
But it's the basement that you come for, where the faux wood walls transform into Edmonton's wickedly uncouthed contemporary art gallery and where visitors can find a little inspiration in the least of expected places.
With the theme of "Portraits," Birch Heart gems this go-around were found in Adam Waldon-Blain's sleekly distorted transfers, possibly an experiment in a new medium for the artist, but one that effused a sense of the known and the unique.
Same goes for Josee Aubin Oullette's 3D paper portraits, an interactive costume between audience and art where visitors may don various paper-constructed items from cigarettes and martini glasses to ties and hats, leading to the costumed pose as then documented by the artist. The sense of the same, the ephemeral, in paper costumes was less a social commentary than it was crafty, but as the digital memory card started filling up, the project is only just beginning.
Andrea Pinheiro's pieces lingering around the back corner were olfactorially taken in with sincere appreciation, always a wonder to visually take in, but in the cramped confines, the forgotten chemicals became an integral part of the experience.

The informal qualities of each Birch Heart are evident and a basis for its success, but the informality appears in slight contrast to its proprietor, who appears to be a rather serious young man. The effort and coordination of the show weighs heavily on Birch Heart the man, but here's only hoping that he himself has taken the time to appreciate the good intentions brewing in his Birch Heart basement.