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

13 comments:

MC said...

Why do you describe Brennan and Burgess as "heretical"? They are successful, well-known, visual artists, aren't they? Their work fits comfortably into an international art mainstream, does it not?

Why do you describe the "Sculpture City" show as "landmark"?

When you write about taking "sculptor off the pedestal", do you mean taking "SCULPTURE off the pedestal", or are you talking metaphorically about displacing the artists from a position of worship?

What do you mean when you write, "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"? What is "the mental proximity" of a viewer, and how do the artists "spatially" make work that engages a viewer's "mental proximity"?

You report Pizanias saying "In 1985, modernism really was dead, but everyone in Edmonton believed it wasn’t". What are declarations of an art movement's "death" (an imprecise metaphor) based on, in this view, if, as Pizanias suggests, we cannot rely on what "everyone in Edmonton believed"? Is it possible that Modernism could be dead in one place, but alive and well in another? Is there a rule which states that all artists in all locations must follow an orthodox trend? Brennan and Burgess seem to follow Pizanias orthodoxy, which would make the artists she rejects, "heretical", I suppose on could say.

How and why does Pizanias view the "engagement" in a work of installation art differently than the viewer's "engagement" with other works of art? Why is "expecting beautiful art" necessarily a "slumber", and even if it is, why do we "have to get away" from that? What sort of rule does this represent, and since when is art about rules, anyway?

ADAM WALDRON-BLAIN said...

I think, MC, that amy is using something we in the business call "rhetoric".

MC said...

What "business" might that be, that you and Amy are in?

She's using "rhetoric", you say? Thanks for the tip... do you know what that word means? I thought not...

In any event, the questions I've posed in my first comment have yet to be addressed...

Anonymous said...

the business of 'avant-gardism' according to Greenberg. please see MC's recent post on NESW including Greenberg's text. that text is from 1969. so prescient. amy, MC's crit of your 'rhetoric' is fair and just. if you address each of his questions directly you will find that some of your assertions are just not confirmed in any empirical way. that really is the crux of the issue. what can you really say about what is really there. i am so tired of this artspeakism. i don't see any 'rhetoric' on exhibition as such. so where does it come from?

ADAM WALDRON-BLAIN said...

guys: JOKES.

geeze.

And anonymous: I don't think Amy would appreciate you putting my words into her mouth. Just because I like her more than MC does doesn't mean we are the same person (or even that we agree about things).

Greenberg doesn't understand the avant-garde any better than amy does. Not the current one, anyway (if such a thing exists). It might be because he was writing in the sixties and despite what you might want to think about aesthetics, it would probably be hard to argue that the avant-garde is the same now as it was forty years ago.

Anyway, go back to complaining about things. If you folks are really after art that people actually like (AKA "quality" art, as opposed to Warhol's Gretzky painting, which I think would have been better placed than fun house+anthony easton on yr blog, MC), then maybe you should encourage amy to write about things that she finds exciting rather than yelling at her when she tries. Yeah: people like you are pretty much the reason why she sometimes hides behind awkward outsider trying to use the language of serious canadian criticsm without the conceptual backing text. But it's so easy to rag on her when she's not even updating this at the moment, isn't it?

Geeze.

Anonymous said...

adam, quit being so heretical.

sean

MC said...

...

amy fung said...

what a pleasure to come back from my holdiays to find all of this going on.

I just skimmed most of this, as it didn't seem all that interesting to begin with, but just let me say that although I rarely agree with anything any of you say, I am glad you say it. I only wish what was said was more about the art itself than my writing, but I think we're getting closer.

MC said...

"I just skimmed most of this, as it didn't seem all that interesting to begin with, but just let me say that although I rarely agree with anything any of you say, I am glad you say it. I only wish what was said was more about the art itself than my writing, but I think we're getting closer."

Translation: Fuck you.

Fair enough...

MC said...

... not that there was anything to 'agree' or 'disagree' with in my first comment, which consisted only of (uninteresting) questions for the author... That's ok, though. Amy doesn't need to tell me what the answers to my questions are... I have a feeling I already know. Still, it's nice that Amy has the chance to read my questions, and try to answer them for herself in her own head... We may make some progress indeed, whether she understands that progress, or not.

MC said...

For other readers who might be interested , most of the questions concerning why Amy describes works or artists a certain way, are answered very simply: she is mindlessly parroting what she read in the Pinzanias essay. Period. No individual, original thought to back up the assertions. Nope. Just reading it in the catalogue was enough for Amy to pass it all along, uncritically (as if there was any other way, for her).

The questions concerning Amy's turns-of-phrase that don't make any coherent sense? Well, those are just errors. They can't be defended as written... hen ce Amy's colossal cop-out. "Nah Nah Nah, I don't care what you say..." Ah...Classic Fung.

(I suppose this could be called, "taking ridiculously unqualified, embarrassingly self-proclaimed art critics off the pedestal"...)

ADAM WALDRON-BLAIN said...

Guy, it is an interview piece with pizanias. What did you expect?

amy said...

if I wanted to say FUCK YOU, I would say: FUCK YOU. no translation required.

but I don't actually feel any hostility towards any of this, though I do really like the idea of some 'classic fung' behavior.

for the record: I did contact the interviewed to see if she wanted to respond to your inquiries, but she, unlike most of us, clearly have better things to do.