Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Apartment Show March 16-18, 2007

(Photograph by Tiffany Shaw-Collinge 2007)

Daring, surprising, pungent, fantastic, alarming, refreshing, bold, challenging et al. Only so many adjectives can be used, correctly or not, in describing The Apartment Show. Co-curated by Tiffany Shaw-Collinge, Robert Harpin and Aspen Zettel, the dilapidated and barely inhabitable unnamed apartment at the bottom of 104St and 97Ave was, for one weekend, the vortex of a vibrant conceptual art scene rising from the underbelly of fresh post-academia ennui.
Each room in each apartment, four in total, was a full experiential sensation. Walking through the midcentury designed building, still intact with a charcoal furnace in the basement, in a city known for its transience, the building's mysteries and haunts temporarily came to life. Artists Jessie Forman, Shane Krepakavich, Gabriela Rosende, Andrea Pinheiro, Blair Brennan and Jonathan Lawson may be singled out for their attention to the atmosphere of the space (excluding Apartment 1's kitchen, which was pure living art)*. From Rosende's claustrophic and unsettling video confession, to Brennan's scavenging pack rat bedroom, to the clinically skewered non-space of Forman's kitchen, the inevitable doom, the silence of the building's previous tenants*, and the uncomfortable coziness of the building broke out in lolling chills to each passing visitor.
The apartment grounded what could have been a cold and sterile exhibit anywhere else; the history of the building and its previous inhabitants, which was the very root for most of these projects, was fully felt by artist and audience alike. The detachment between process and result was fully evident, as the building itself was exceptionally inspirational. Maybe it was only shabby chic, or perhaps something far more profound was going on; but this site-sensitive exhibition did more for the notion of "public art" than any public sculpture, mural or project has ever done.
Surrounded by a changing city, with luxury condos rising all around in a city that lulls between booms and busts, The Apartment Show proved to be a beacon of promise for individuals in this city who had all but forgotten the notion of l'art pour l'art in a time of boom.

1. Blair Brennan (apt 5, bedroom)
2. Richard Brown (apt 5, livingroom)
3. Bonnie Fan (mailboxes)
4. Jessie Forman (apt 2, kitchen)
5. Robert Harpin (apt 6, bedroom)
6. i Human (apt 1, kitchen)
7. Jonathan Kaiser (apt 6, bathroom)
8. Wallis Kendal (apt 2, bathroom)
9.Shane Krepakevich (apt 6, closet)
10. Jonathan Lawson (apt 2, livingroom)
11. Lindsay Macdonald (apt 6, closet)
12. Agnieszka Matejko (janitor’s closet)
13. Mindy Yan Miller (apt 1, livingroom)
14. aAron Munson (apt 1, closet)
15. Holly Newman (apt 2, bedroom)
16. Andrea Pinheiro (apt 2, crawl space)
17. Sian Ramsden (apt 5, kitchen)
18. Tim Rechner (north side stairwell)
19. Gabriela Rosende (apt 2, closet)
20. Tiffany Shaw-Collinge (apt 5, closet)
21. Clint Wilson (apt 5, closet)
22. Yarko Yopyk (south side stairwell)

*Although the show doubled as a fundraiser for iHuman Society, it was purely coincidental that a few iHuman youths had been squatting in the kitchen of Apartment 1 just previous to the show. Left behind besides the as-is living installation in the kitchen was some rusty blades and a bloody fork, which (I was informed) had been used to self-inflict an eye wound while coming down from an unnamed inebriant. It was seeing the bloody fork, then seeing the girl with the eye patch at the centre later, that the connection was made.

*It should be noted that two of the six apartments in the building were still occupied at the time of the show and obligingly used as the green room for artists and performers.

Group Show “Warmth” April 28 - June 16, 2007. Portal Art Gallery.

It’s been six month since the opening of The Portal, the commercial gallery based on emerging local artists. In its third show, curated by managing director/artist Anya Tonkonogy, the theme has been loosely set as “Warmth.” There are more warm colours than previous shows, but other than that, no apparent attempt appears to have been made to adhere to the theme.

Not that one is really needed.

With a multitude of visual artists in their roster, many of whom are becoming staples to the curation, The Portal has become a haven for local artists to address their emerging profession. Each show so far has been a group showing; and although there is talk of solo exhibitions to come, the gallery is finding itself as the place for artists of similar elk and stature, artists who wish to exhibit, to sell, and to reach out to an audience on a continuous basis with samples of their newest works.

Artists: Vivian Bennett, Megann Christensen, Charlotte Falk, Giselle Denis, Cheryl Ervin, Jana Hargarten, Karen Nichols, Ross Snashall, Kamal Toor, Anya Tonkonogy, Trevor Warechen

Erin Schwab “Rooted In” April 5 - May 12, 2007. Front Room, Harcourt House.

(Erin Schwab, Quercus, charcoal on paper)

Without any assumptions, presumptions, or field notes, but on first impressions alone, the image looks most like a hand, wrist exposed, reaching down, clutching and holding on to--or maybe being held onto? Neither hand nor tentacles appears to be letting go; each will desist if the other let goes. In shadow and shade, the image doesn’t seem to be rooted in any one place, from any one time. It simply exists.

Paraphrasing the artist statement:

“My research has led me to look beyond the instant gratification of the lush surface to a beauty that is less familiar, to the unseen essence of the plant -- its roots.” - Erin Schwab

The image, in context with Schwab’s exhibition, is a tree root. There are more charcoal drawings of roots. Porcelain sculptures of roots, some purposefully crumbled and shattered beneath its wall positions, line two of exhibition walls. In context, the image loses its ability to stir the imagination. The image is once again rooted in a meaning, lined up in a defined exhibition that does not know how to present itself as its own entity. There is a tree root. There is a connection between roots and drawings. Finitio.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Inventions and Uncommon Places", April 19 - June 2, 2007

(Jorg Rothenpieler, 2007. Ink)

SNAP Gallery, having never looked better since its move from 104th St., and now with new Director Katherine Thompson on helm, shows Munster artist Jorg Rothenpieler's meticulous investigations of the wonders around him. Printmaking continues to be a mystery to those wary of its stern intensity and gruelling labour process. The prints usually reveal a familiar world, but the art lies in the process of those lines and shadows. Rothenpieler's focus on the abstract resonance of urban construction gives plenty to the atmospheric grade of printmaking. Able to give ordinary brick walls a mood that we may only see at a certain time in a certain light, to engrain an emotion to a snapshot of reality, the illusion comes across rather humbly and humbling.

"Flat", April 13 - May 27, 2007

Playing, or harping, upon Clement Greenberg’s influence upon our mid-20th century’s modernism art scene, the first exhibition in the new temporary home of the Art Gallery of Alberta asks prominent local artists to render their representation of Greenberg’s idea of the “flat” surface.

The theory goes:

“From Giotto to Courbet, the painter’s first task had been to hollow out an illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface. One looked through this surface as through a proscenium stage. Modernism has rendered this stage shallower and shallower until now its backdrop has become the same as its curtain . . . we may feel a certain loss. It is not so much the distortion or even those spatial rights which images used to enjoy back when the painter was obliged to create an illusion of the same kind of space as that in which our bodies move. This spatial illusion, or rather the sense of it, is what we may miss even more than we do the images that used to fill it.”*

Greenberg’s influence and his relationship with Edmonton continues thirty decades later as one both revered and uncovered. For those who know (or care), the tradition of modernism continues on in all its esoteric magnanimity. For the rest, the comprehension of the city’s aesthetic remains apathetically endearing and completely void of context. With “Flat,” one hopes to shed some light on why Greenberg still matters when discussing contemporary art--in Edmonton and elsewhere.
From the basic and inevitable representation of flatness, portraying the surface of objects everyday and erudite, to its conceptual configuration, the underlying theme emerging from this group exhibition hinges on balance: balancing the tense compression of the flat line. There is a bound energy in most of these pieces, one that is often found in modernist pieces, a tepid restraint of great discernment.

The most interactive piece, Catherine Burgess’s, situates a small boulder adjacent from its apparent 2D shadow with only a U-shaped steel post acting as a double-sided frame. Looking into the frame from either side, whether from the 3D real object or from the void flat circle of a shadow, what is most clear is that the frame is not a mirror for reflection, but a portal into a completely other realm. The boulder and its supposed shadow are not mirror opposites; they are different shades of the same matter. That is, or was, the goal of modernism: to emerge into a new world, and not to reflect the existing and exhausted one we live in.

“Flat”, April 13 - May 27, 2007
Allen Ball, Catherine Burgess, C.W. Carson, Jim Corrigan, Peter Hide, Ryan McCourt, Daryl Rydman, Mitchel Smith, Arlene Waslynchuk, Barbara Astman, Aganetha Dyck, Jules Olitski.

*Clement Greenberg, ”Abstract, Representational, and so forth,” from Art and Culture (Boston: Beacon, 1961), pp.133-138, from a paper delivered in 1954, reprinted in Theories of Modern Art, ed. Herschel B. Chipp (Los Angelas: University of California Press, 1968).

Friday, April 13, 2007

"Free for All" AGA March 2007

(Image courtesy of Art Gallery of Alberta)

With close to 3000 pieces submitted*, The Art Gallery of Alberta’s “Free For All” exhibit surpassed any and all expectations. From floor to ceiling, from room to room, canvases, canvases, 3D constructs, and more canvases out ratio white wall space by 10:1.
Deciding to open the walls up to the community, from esteemed professionals to Sunday painters, the response was simply overwhelming.
From shrines to self promotion, brand new works to older recycled works, pieces that have already adorned other gallery walls, to pieces that will never again make it past a gallery door, the arts community clearly took full advantage of this opportunity.
Whether artists dropped off work to fill out their cirriculum vitae or whether they just wanted to be a part of something greater, the “Free For All” turned out to be one of the strongest group shows this city has ever seen--let alone accomplished.
Wandering through the packed gallery, which must have broken all attendance records the building has held, the sheer excess of visual stimulation was the real gem of the entire exhibition. Purposely or not, themed walls began to surface. Prairie sky landscapes conglomerated on several load bearing walls, while nudes and similar figures congregated in corners. An already infamous “tiger” wall sat restlessly upstairs, striking visitors who by this point must be exhausted and confused as to why there’s a tiger wall before them.
Suffice to say the entirety of this specific exhibit would not hold its own in any other city. Neither a barometer or litmus test to the vibrancy and depth of Edmonton’s arts scene, “Free For All” was a direct reflection of its citizens work and the community’s response to support their own.
The idea of holding “Free For All” as an annual exhibit has been murmured more than once. Although good in theory, this would be a serious undertaking in organization and a reevaluation of the role of the gallery. With its temporary move to the still-in-construction Enterprise Square on Jasper Avenue and a fancy new home a few years down the road, the AGA has a chance to rebrand its mandate from outside in. Whether as a centre for showcasing regional artists or as a venue for travelling international and contemporary works, the slate is fresh.
But for the time being from the building’s last exhibition, no one piece could be singled out for its technical or artistic merit; for the first time, the gallery itself was the strongest work of art in and of itself.

*Please stand up and give a hardy round of applause goes out to the gallery prepators, who installed this megashow in a mere few days and must have endured temporary retinal exhaustion.