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.