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