Monday, December 22, 2008

Jennifer Stillwell, Plug In ICA, December 13 - January 31, 2009 REVIEWED By Noni Brynjolson

Walking into Jennifer Stillwell’s exhibition at Plug In ICA is like entering a construction zone gone haywire: slices of tofu spew out of ventilation slits and cracker crumbs cover black logs of asphalt-like material. Everyday objects have been de-familiarized from their identities and functions and estranged into new assemblages that call into question their signification. Curated by Steven Matijcio, the new exhibition includes installations created over the past several years and shown in Toronto and New York, as well as two new pieces created specifically for Plug In’s gallery space.

Image credit: Grate, Jennifer Stillwell, 2006. Medium: tofu, vent, drywall. Photo: Jennifer Stillwell

Wandering around the mostly floor-based works, Marcel Duchamp’s readymades came to mind, especially with Stillwell’s newest pieces involving slurpee cups and beer bottles: two beloved prairie staples that account for a fair amount of Winnipeg street litter. Once drained of their sugary liquids, these appropriated products have been altered to create something recognizable, yet entirely new. In Brainfreeze, a grouping of three differently coloured net-like arrangements have been applied to the wall. Like magnified models of molecules, they also give off a vibe of Christmas ornament-like festivity. They provide virtually the only colour in the show; aside from an orange extension cord coiled up beside a row of fans.

Across the gallery, a piece called Range features 97 bottles of beer on the wall. The labels have been covered over with white so that only picturesque snow-capped Kokanee mountains remain. Placed upon a shelf of differently leveled vertical 2 X 4s, the rugged landscape humorously depicts several Canadian icons at once: mountains, lumber, snow, and beer.

Image credit: Dock and Propeller (detail), Jennifer Stillwell, 2004. Medium: fans, power cord. Photo: Jennifer Stillwell

One of the main attractions of the exhibition is the opportunity to puzzle over the processes that went into each installation. Stillwell’s work can be usefully viewed within the context of minimalist artists whose artwork explored repetitive processes. German-born Eva Hesse used materials new to sculpture in the 1950s, like fiberglass, latex and plastic, and created pieces that were labour-intensive and meticulously made. Stillwell’s approach to sculpture also involves a consideration of time and work. This can be viewed in many of the pieces, from the hours she must have spent peeling and pasting slurpee cup decals, to the boards that have been dipped in several different shades of grey and are exhibited in front of the fans, suggesting that they are still being dried.

I was slightly disappointed that nothing from Stillwell’s exhibition Bale (a 2004 solo exhibition at YYZ Artists’ Outlet in Toronto) was on display at Plug In, since the bales so cleverly demonstrate her laborious working process and her Prairie-tinged sense of humour. Setting up a complete living room, Stillwell then dismantled every piece of furniture, rolling up the contents in a carpet to create a hay-bale of domesticity and thereby punning on methods of theoretical deconstruction.

Even without the bales, there remains plenty of opportunities to ponder processes of production, recognition, and identification in the making of Stillwell's work. The video Wall Plow is included, and features another reference to the prairies as the artist slowly pushes a white wall-divider over a trail of rubble, plowing until it reaches the front of the screen where it becomes indistinguishable from the gallery wall on which it is projected. Repeating itself over and over, the video demonstrates the labour that Stillwell puts into her creations, raising questions of purpose and futility in art making.

By some strange coincidence, an orange construction sign is very appropriately positioned just outside the gallery on the street and can be seen through the large windows in between Propeller, the fan and painted-board piece, and Collisions, in which small clay rectangles have been shaped by the grill of a Chevy truck. The sign serendipitously reminds viewers of the thoughtful construction, both in terms of materials and ideas, that Stillwell has made visible in this exhibition, and the technique of deconstruction visible throughout the different states of incompleteness we witness. Laborious processes are on display, and yet an element of play remains in the perplexing, unexpected, and provocative transformations of once familiar materials.

- N.B. Winnipeg

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Passages,Lynn Malin and Elizabeth Beauchamp, Harcourt House, November 27 - December 20, 2008 REVIEWED by Erin Carter

Sometimes having the ability to fly, swoop and swoon over the flatlands of the Edmonton area on a nice summers day would be amazing. Watching the square patches of ripe canola surround the green fields of wheat. The lines drawn by farmers meet up with the fine line of perfectly placed patches of spruce trees. Man vs. Nature is a heavy theme played out in Passages, a collaberation of works by Lynn Malin and Elizabeth Beauchamp.

Quoting from Malin’s artist statement, “Why is it so seductive…to change something that doesn’t need changing?” Malin started this exhibit with an exacto knife and a point: we as people attempt to control nature with fences and crops. This time Lynn decided to rip apart previously painted works, once imbued in sunlit prairie scenes and now blended together as a bird’s eye patchwork of natural contours and man-made fences. Each painting is also held in a box that lights up when you walk past, illuminating and capturing the raw imagery of the Edmonton potpourri prairies.

At the back of the room the projected shadow of a plastic tree swaying softly in the wind stands tall. To the left a text to Tom Thomson explains how all trees are now plastic. "Texting Tom" articulates Beauchamp’s view of natures' battle against the elements with the reference of Jack Pine (which struggled against rock and wind to find it’s perch) by Tom Thomson by using the shadow of a plastic tree to inform us of what our future may be. The text is written in a very naïve tone and creates a total acceptance to the fact that nature has been replaced by plastic.

Working together Malin mocks the boundaries of human control over nature and Beauchamp warns us of what’s to come if we don’t let up our grip. Malin’s zig zag maps of cultivated land unfolds the truth that the natural setting of what Edmonton looked like before the settlers arrived no longer exists. With each new development and each new passage, we are moving closer to living in plastic land.

Image credit: Lynn Malin, 2008

- E.C. Edmonton

Softly Softly Images of Femininity, Andrea Magnuson, Harcourt House, November 27 - December 20, REVIEWED by Erin Carter

Andrea Magnuson wants to seam rip the mythical threads of perceived femininity using collage as her tool. Applying found objects to create a backdrop of communication, Magnuson received her B.A. in Woman Studies in 2007. Living in Vancouver she now scopes the city streets looking for lost or tossed objects to create new forms out of old topics. Softly Softly Images of Femininity opens with a discarded pattern framed in a shadow box against a red backdrop.

Using thread and other such methods to frame found objects such as book covers and cut-outs of a fifties cowgirl, Magnuson tries to discuss our pre-conceptions of what it means to be a girl in the year 2008. A woman careening through life on a horse with the word "modern" printed underneath didn’t quite say “we’re breaking down the wall of feminine image” to me. Other found items used were a butterfly and cutouts of birds, which lacked strength and seemed out of place in the exhibit.

I found that the concept of breaking down preconceived notions of femininity was a strong conviction supported on a weak canvas. The use of found objects was an interesting technique--- that has been done time and again. The work seems a little more like a craft exercise than a piece with a message.

Image credit: Andrea Magnuson, 2008

- E.C. Edmonton

History of Monsters, Group Show, ArtsHab, November 20 - December 18, REVIEWED by Erin Carter

History of Monsters is a collection of works by the habitants and guests of the Arts Habitat building on 106 st. and 102 ave. When I walked through the doors I felt like I was walking into the secret of the lonely and the repressed. The title of the show is based on a manuscript by Ulisse Androvandi that was published posthumously in 1642. As an exhibition platform, artists were invited to express their own battle with both internal and external monsters, and collectively they have placed their personal demons on public display.

Bill Richards' "Music" established a spooky audio atmosphere and a series of photographs by Christopher Payne set the visual tone. Greeted with what looks like ventricles of a heart shot at high resolution, Christopher Payne gets to the point that “A Little Flesh” can stir up a gruesome tale. Going deeper, bacteria and disease are the monsters that haunt the framed photos by Jody Tychkowsky. An obsessive compulsive nightmare, a “Monstrous Production” creates a dialogue in my mind about the internal struggle to keep things orderly and germ free and how it is demolished with a magnified depiction of the infectious pests.

Then we get to the occult. A series of paintings by Tristan McClelland portrays Celtic symbols, hypnotic lines and schizophrenic outbursts. McClleland’s ritualistic method roots itself into the shadow world of crosses and blood stains, nightmares and back alley mayhem. Similarly, Devon Beggs' depiction of “Heroine” with a broken down shadow of a skeleton not only worked with the outer shell of the word monster, but also turned the symbol inward showing the daily monster that some people have to deal with.

Throughout the display, Bill Richards' soundtrack of shadow music complimented the visual underworld creations. All in all the artists worked with their own caricatures’ of fear making the show a bit unbalanced. Each set made sense, even though some were shouting much louder than the other. It is strange to see such monstrosity after Halloween and so close before the Christmas season, but I’ve seen those demon shoppers and maybe the Christmas spirit needs a little mirror slapped in its face.

Artists: Caitlin Sian Richards, Devon Beggs, Jody Tychowsky, Christopher Payne and Tristan McClleland. Featuring music by Bill Richards.

- E.C. Edmonton

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Frank Grisdale Photography Show at the Peter Robertson Gallery REVIEWED by Erin Carter

The battle between slush and cowboy boot was beat by the welcome mat at
the Peter Robertson Gallery where Frank Grisdale is showing his prairie
landscapes and water scenes until December 20. A self- taught city born
photographer, Grisdale has created colorful photographic “watercolor”
scenes using the exacting lens of the camera. In his bio Grisdale
states, “My aim is to peak artistically at around the age 90.” It’s
refreshing to come across someone who’s not in a rush to please.

Image credit: Frank Grisdale "Two Tone Field" 2008. Photography.

The walls of the gallery were awash with vibrant colors juxtaposing
Mother Nature and her apparent love of Edmonton's seven months of winter
grey. Portraits of the summer sun peaking through fields of hazy gold
and refracting the endless reflections from still and shaky waters were
planned out evenly throughout the well-lit gallery. Grisdale’s use of
lens and color make most of the landscape photos dreamlike--as if a
person was walking through a secret path in the forest with a centaur
having a telepathic conversation while admiring the out of focus trees
that fade in and out of reality.

Image credit: Frank Grisdale, "Cowboy Trail Looking West" 2008. Photography.

Focus is usually the key element of photography 101. If anything is out
of focus the photo is ruined and there is no choice to go out and
reshoot; but Grisdale plays with the art of focus. The landscapes are so
sharp in color that you know immediately you are witnessing a field of
wheat under a topaz stormy sky. Upon closer inspection you can see the
wind blowing through the fabric of the wheat playing with the clear
image of the golden fields. Even the paper the photos are printed on
work with the images--making them seem more like a hazy yet crisp
watercolor. Grisdale has surpassed photography 101.

Winter is still here and yet I can’t wait to dip my toes in whatever
lake Grisdale shot from or feel the warm breathe of sunrays heating up
my vitamin D deficiency. Everything Grisdale has created leaves me with
the distinct feeling that those “lazy, hazy days of summer” are just
around the corner. A prairie whisper of hope is all I need to get me
through the next six months.

Peter Robertson Gallery on 123rd and Jasper Avenue

- E.C. Edmonton

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Yes, but who loves the 70s more? Friday, November 21, 2008, The ARTery, REVIEWED by Sarah Hamilton

“Hot Topic vs. Wednesday Lupypciw" with the Ladies in the Back Room promises to challenge visitors and how they identify with singular labels. Kirsten McCrea, an Edmonton native, back from Montreal with “Hot Topic,” a painting series of 60 notable feminist and queer icons mentioned in the song “Hot Topic” by Le Tigre. Wednesday Lupypciw, a Calgary-based performance artist, whose work “Beige Decade(s)” combines performance and fibre art in a loving tribute to the 70s. The third artist in the show is Corissa O’ Donnell, whose ink nudes are places on vintage textiles and presented in baroque vintage frames.

In her curatorial statement, Amy Fung states that she hopes that “gathered together, the connections and disconnections between these three artists aim to prompt audiences to re-evaluate what still constitutes as a “Hot Topic” in our increasingly post-ism identities.” The works all individually pay tribute to the history of feminism, queerness, and subversion, but together are strained in scale and medium to make those strong connections over the louche din of The Artery. The fourth, unacknowledged conversant in this conversation is the seeming apathy of nearly everyone in the room.

Photo credit: Sarah Hamilton of Wednesday Lupypciw in "Beige Decade(s)" 2008

All the artists seek to address a certain aspect of feminist history from the 70s but each one is approaching it with her own medium and politic. McCrea’s paintings, a little smaller than legal size paper, are hung in a grid style on several chains dangling from the ceiling. Most of the images are head shot portraits, with a few exceptions. McCrea discovered in her process that she couldn’t find images of some of the icons mentioned in the song, or any information, in the case of one or two. Undaunted, McCrea interpreted what information she had about the figure and created her own image of the person.

Across the room, Lupypciw is capturing the essence of a decade through interaction with weaving and text. She sits, perched in beige, amidst an unmitigated compilation of fragments weaved in tribute to 70s naturalist fibre art. Her work is ritualistic, almost without purpose besides the task at hand. Beige was chosen for its historical relevance. With the emergence of fibre art in the 1970s, many fibre artists moved away from brightly coloured polyester and towards organic, undyed fibres. Beige, though unexciting, came to stand for what is natural. Lupypciw participates in their ode to beige – she wears a beige blouse and a pair of beige pantyhose (an especially brave move, since they are one of the most unattractive garments I think any woman or man could put on, but Lupypciw has embraces them whole-heartedly). Lupypciw is surrounded by a mountain of books, ranging from the 70s to the 90s which you are invited to look through as you sit with her.

Corissa O’Donnell’s work, which is in the backroom of the Artery, is a tribute to the women left behind by the work of the women in the front of the Gallery. In the eyes of the feminists that are celebrated in front of the house, these women are the exploited, mistreated and objectified casualties of the era. As interesting as O’Donnell’s work is, it remains in the back of the mind of the exhibition, unaddressed and unresolved, though ultimately where a great many of this evening’s revelers reside.

O’Donnell, McCrea and Lupypciw individually work to convey a message about maintaining connections with the past and acknowledging the hard work of those who came before you, but I think that in this post-ironic, post –ism crowd, these themes require stronger, louder voices all around. A simple “fuck you” cross-stitch will not do in the era of over-the-counter counter-culture. Give us an obscenely large tapestry that reminds us of where we have failed our own history. McCrea’s paintings come close to this, but the positive tone to her work does not address our failings. This performance and exhibition was the initiation of a conversation that is no where near complete but brings these issues to light.

The work lives right now as a tribute to the past. In future incarnations and exhibitions the historic references could be reframed in a contemporary light; all three artists intend to take their work further (with or without collaboration). These themes can be investigated further without compromising the integrity of the work and it would be interesting to see how Lupypciw and McCrea’s work would change if they sought to make it actively political. They have both shown a strong recognition of feminist and queer history by celebrating it. Lupypciw’s cautious sense of irreverence could be cultivated further. McCrea originally exhibited the “Hot Topic” series with the subtitle “A Feminist Memory Project”. A stronger voice from each artist would give the overall collaboration more potency and meaning. This more engaged sense of storytelling could transcend community boundaries.

It’s also worth noting that this is the first collaboration of its kind in Edmonton. There are no artists in Edmonton working in performance and fibre art simultaneously and this was a debut for both Lupypciw and McCrea. This is a type of risk taking that Exposure embraces and something I hope the larger visual art community will take up.

- S.H. Edmonton

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Amie and Matthew Rangel, FAB Gallery, November 12 - December 6, 2008

Touted as the first ever wife and husband exhibition in FAB Gallery, Amie Rangel’s “From the Observation Room” and Matthew Rangel’s “a transect - Due East” are certainly a great compliment to each other’s shows.

Both shows present an interest in spatial relations, albeit executed differently as Mrs. Rangel remains preoccupied with phenomenology of interior institutions while Mr. Rangel is invested in the cartographic traversal of landscape.

Working in drawing and intermediary, Mrs. Rangel’s research has been primarily based in the clinical pens within the Swine Research and Technology Centre. The spaces she devotes her black and white renderings are always empty, void of the presence that permeates those spaces nonetheless. In the single installation, “Overflow,” she situates her fascination for the sterile institutional glimmer through an endless row of miniature standardized single steel cot beds. Offering a memory of being in this specific space, Rangel follows her intuition, as it is not so much the space itself that is alluring, but its lack that pulls you in.

Mr. Rangel on the other hand places himself directly into the spaces which interests him, namely into the foothills and Sierra Nevada Mountains. His presence along the cross-country hikes in his encounters and observations fuel many of the works through a mixture of archival prints, correspondences, and even audio files. The sound bytes, however interesting on their own, simply remain on their own without formally integrating them into the rest of the show, which stands as a very precise conception of experience into art.

On their own, the exhibits each respectively address our experiences of space as remembered through being and our ontological presence as a remembered experience; but together, the works present two different entry points into a mutual interest--and appear stronger because of it.

Prairie Artsters: Expose and express*

Spending the better part of the past week invested in the second year of Exposure: Edmonton’s Queer Arts and Culture Festival, I’ve had to question what “queer art” actually means. In our fluid understanding of borders and identities, being queer can be as simple as identifying with a queer community. Not exclusive to sexual orientation or gender or how we relate to the people in our life, being queer may be as basic as standing up for the right to be queer.

In the art world, queer art exists at various levels, as demonstrated by this year’s Exposure lineup. From a wide-ranging selection of works by youths who identified as queer, to lectures by internationally renowned Canadian artists AA Bronson and Wayne Yung—both of whom pushed forward ideas of queerness in their works dealing with AIDS and transnational identities, respectively—to films and lectures by transgendered individuals such as Gwen Haworth and Eli Claire, queer art appears to encapsulate artistic expressions dealing with repressed voices, usually in direct relation to representation in mainstream media and culture.

My experience with Exposure this year involved curating “Hot Topic vs Wednesday Lupypciw,” a one-night exhibition featuring art work by Lupypciw, Kirsten McCrea and Corissa O’Donnell. McCrea painted a series of 60 portraitures based on the feminist/queer/activist icons in Le Tigre’s song, “Hot Topic.” She created a work preserving and celebrating these individuals that have either been elevated to pop icon status or swept into the dustbins of history. Many of McCrea’s figures come from the 1970s, so I posed the question of “What is Feminism(s)?” to Calgary based fibre/performance artist Lupypciw. Weaving to life “Beige Decade(s)” as a direct response to McCrea’s 2-D work, Lupypciw created several fibre works in the style of 1970s feminist natural weavings, an art form often negatively relegated to the craft world in a traditional discipline hierarchy that favours painting and sculpture over forms such as craft and intermedia. Bringing together the activist icons, fiber artists, and anonymous women in McCrea, Lupypciw and O’Donnell’s works, I hoped to pose the question of feminism and identity to a contemporary audience who, for the most part, have formed in a post-ism era.

I approached Exposure to present this show for the primary reason that the issues being raised by the works are inherently political and, framed within a queer arts and culture festival, I hoped the issues of identity would hold its own against the artistic merits of the work. I had similar expectations for the Bathhouse event, undeniably the show stopper of the festival, with close to 400 audience members packing SteamWorks on a weekday evening. Turning the men-only bathhouse into a temporary exhibition space for visual art installations and performance, Exposure bridged the realm of queer identity politics with art in a very problematic manner. For better or for worse, the general public moved through the two floors of a black-lit labyrinth to view works that ranged from intimate to thoughtful to challenging to downright wet and messy.

No doubt, much of the audience came out of curiosity for the space more than the art, and the space itself remains the most powerful element of that event. Only existing somewhere between art and politics, the Bathhouse event became a spectacle for most, who arrived with camera in tow ready to gawk at the slings, stocks and glory holes. Comments overheard from some surprising and disappointing sources revealed deeply embedded homophobia and AIDS hysteria, where supposed open-minded, art-loving queers didn’t want to touch the walls in fear of contracting AIDS. Unfortunately, very few of the artists featured in this first Bathhouse exhibit addressed this perhaps expected stigma.

Still, in its unfolding, Exposure Festival has affirmed why politics and art need to coexist: to generate different perspectives, to queer our normal view points concerning every person’s basic human right to express him- or herself.

*First published in Vue Weekly, November 27 - December 3, 2008.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Curatorial Text for Hot Topic vs. Wednesday Lupypciw, Friday, November 21, the ARTery

Based on popularizing queer iconography in contemporary culture (as exemplified by feminist electro-rockers La Tigre), painter Kirsten McCrea’s “Hot Topic” series of stylized portraits celebrates and commemorates feminist and queer icons as identified from the eponymous song. Many of the individuals named and portrayed have come to be held as the pioneers of a subversive feminist queer movement from the late 1960s and early 1970s and the series as a whole represents a culmination of a canonized feminism.

Challenging this concept of re-representing subversion from the past, video/craft/performance artist Wednesday Lupypciw poses the question: What can be discovered from imitating the past, especially if we are aware of its limitations? Lupypciw’s installation and corresponding performance are a direct reaction to McCrea’s paintings and commissioned specifically from a craft perspective. Arguably more urgent than the lineage found in fine art, the craft world’s encouragement for emerging artists to build directly on the work of previous practitioners depend on technique sharing and guild-style communal culture as grounds for innovation. For this premiere performance of “Beige Decade(s)”, Lupypciw sits perched atop the nest of weaving, books, and crafty ephemera observing the classic iconography of feminist weaving while attempting to capture (and not differentiate) what she sees and what inspires her.

Lupypciw’s repetitious act of leafing through black and white textbooks and “project idea” books filled with monumental vagina sculptures and fuzzy natural fibres is processed in conjunction with chic contemporary practices, where knitting has achieved mass conformity and sassy “FUCK YOU” cross-stitches are de rigueur in any young females’ home décor. While the highly informed retro aesthetic multiplies to infinity, the righteously lopsided vulva posters from three decades ago have a certain singularity and bold naiveté that speaks to the forgotten history of subversion.

Corissa O’Donnell’s “Ladies” series problematizes the history of feminist subversion further. Challenging our consumption of reconfigured nudes as inspired from men’s magazines from the same era as Lupypciw’s craft lineage and McCrea’s subject matter, O’Donnell’s fetished ladies arguably offers the most prevalent representation of subversion in contemporary culture that is seemingly post-feminist and trapped within feminism.

Gathered together, the connections and disconnections between these three artists aim to prompt audiences to reevaluate what still constitutes as a “Hot Topic” in our increasingly post-ism identities.

- Amy Fung, Curator

Presented by Exposure: Queer Arts & Culture Festival
Featuring: Wednesday Lupypciw, Kirsten McCrea, and Corissa O’Donnell
the ARTery (9535 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton) 8 p.m. FREE

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Imagining Science, AGA, November 14, '08 - February 1, 2009*

Imagining Science: Imagine That
Science is the new art in landmark AGA exhibit

Imagining Science
will be looked back upon as a landmark exhibition. With origins brewing from conversations between brothers Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy and Research Director at the Health Law Institute, University of Alberta and Sean Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Printmaking, Department of Art and Design at the University of Alberta, the current Art Gallery of Alberta exhibit is a more direct result of a 2007 Banff Centre residency between international artists and scientists. At the center of the residency swirled questions concerning the legal, ethical and social implications in technological advances, and how these issues intersect within the realm between the arts and sciences.

For example, U of A Professor Emeritus Lyndal Osborne has been concerned about the long-term health and ecological affects of consuming and growing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Stretching across the entire west wall akin to any aisle in a grocery shop, rows of illuminated seed pods highly altered in colour and size glow in wonder and estrangement. Osborne, who usually works with organic materials, has also left some seed samples for public handling, acknowledging our basic human curiosities to grasp the strange and unknown.

Increasingly, the strange and the unknown are becoming known, and the limits of how far we go to explore the abyss of knowledge is the shakable foundation of the bioethical dilemma. New York-based Adam Zaretsky explores these limits with the heart of an artist and the soul of a scientist in his work on producing transgenic pheasants. As a proposal to Prince William Alexander of Holland, a descendent of the House of Orange, Zaretsky wishes to create a royal orange pheasant for the Prince’s hunting grounds. Encasing a traditional pheasant hunting rifle (on loan from the Royal Museum of Alberta) alongside a bolistic gene gun, the guns sit emblematically beneath an enlarged microscopic photograph of an embryo disrupted with a microtubular red fluorescent protein (fellow exhibitor Eduardo Kac uses the green version in his project on rabbits).

Without blatantly saying so, Zarestsky, who offers his past as having worked in banks, in the porn industry and his present as a communist, is asking some much-needed and loaded questions within a field that is already contested and supported by extreme political and moral perspectives. What is the ethical position of creating a transgenic creature when the creature will be used for royal sportsmanship? Transgenic creatures are only illegal in the sense of pets, as transgenic animals are continually created and destroyed in the name of pharmaceutical research and other forms of marketable research.

Appearing at first like the amoral scientist injecting and executing embryos, Zaretsky is highly aware of his ethical position that there is sentiment in transgenics. His pursuit within the field rests beyond merely artistic or scientific output; it is a pursuit of diversity, as his main position is to counter the production of only homogeneous utilitarian super-organisms.

Playing the executioner of rejected embryos, batches that are very routinely put to death on ice or systematically flushed, Zaretsky is one of the first (and perhaps one of the only) transgenicians to mix valium into rejected batches of embryo.

“Interventions in biology are not new,” Zaretsky shares as we sit down outside the gallery to talk further on bioethics. “Random mutations have always been around, and human intervention has been around for at least 100 years, with scientists making two-headed salamanders. Eugenics was also a form, only it was the subtraction of the undesirable. Now biotechnology has the ability to add difference.”

Only it is the lack of difference that pushes Zaretsky to question the desire behind the direction of most transgenic research. Citing the statistical data that proposes the general population actually wants an extension of the frontal lobe (the storage area for cognitive rational thinking), Zaretsky wonders why there’s been no talk about developing the hippocampus (the region of forebrain where emotion and intuition runs).

“Scientists who seem amoral on the bench are actually highly political in the outside world,” says Zaretsky, who has yet to publish on his research and be implicated as a scientist. “A scientist will look at this cup of coffee and see more than what it is. It becomes a meditation, a state of perceiving the thing as is.’

Citing the creation of transgenic creatures as art, where scientists have to choose a gene to create an organism between the imagination and an objective reality, Zaretsky is transparent about his practice, his concerns, and acknowledges that researchers for the most part have no clear idea of where and how far they are willing to go.

“The things I see in the labs: frogs with eyes coming out of the back of their heads that are connected to the part of the brain that hears instead of sees,” he shares within shades of ambivalence and awe. “Science lives on the edge of knowledge, trying to capture it, torture it until it reveals to us its secrets so that we can claim it. I think these ethical conundrums are worth it. I admit that it’s not just a dream, but a nightmare, a real return of the repressed. We’re afraid of creative thought leading the way."

Image and photo credit: Adam Zaretsky, 2008

*First published in Vue Weekly, November 20 - November 26, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stephanie Jonsson: Urban Organic Absurdity, 2007-2008 Artist in Residence, Harcourt House, REVIEWED by Mandy Espezel

Presented in the Main Gallery space of Harcourt House, Stephanie Jonsson's installation Urban Organic Absurdity was the final product of her year long artist-in-residence. Combining mixed-media sculptures and installation, the exhibition seemed to emphasize experimental presentation as much as it did a completed body of work. Jonsson worked to transform the gallery into an environment for her complex and evocative objects to exist in, producing a museum-like diorama for her fictional biomorphic creatures.

Components of the show have been appearing consistently in Jonsson's body of work, specifically her ceramics that resemble organic shapes ranging from plant life to sexual organs. Finished with glazes that make them shine, they appear always to be moist or dewy, lending to its estranged sexuality. Tubular shapes with cupped openings reveal stems and bulbs that could just as easily be digits, limbs, and protruding organs. Their glossy appeal is visually heightened by contrasting their hardness with a combination of softer materials. Jonsson uses these contrasts to extend and build the bodies and environments around them, incorporating fabrics of varying textures and patterns tailor made to co-exist with sleek, fragile porcelain finishes.

The visual effect of these material hybrids is rich, and their physical ambiguity provides for some very suggestive interpretations. Jonsson makes a point in her statement not to give specific guidelines for what they are or could objectively represent. She acknowledges that her works are often interpreted as evocating reproductive organs. Whether we associate reproductivity to plant life, animal life, or specifically human life is open to each individual's reading. But what she does discuss is the importance of her elaborate aesthetics as a unifying theme. The title of the show, Urban Organic Absurdity, goes a long way in describing her intentions. She sees a separation of our connection to the natural world, where straight/hard edges are not all that common. By adopting the curvilinear line and the subsequent rococo associations into her visual language, she tries to bring that over-the-top elaborateness to her work, shattering some of the banal tendencies of modern day structure by rebelling with visual indulgence.

This particular exhibition marks the first time I've seen Jonsson try and extend this contrast of material outside of the individual form of her sculptures. Embracing the gallery space as a surface to be altered, the walls become patterned with spiraling tentacles of color: turquoise, yellow, and green surrounds all sides. She spreads fabrics on the floor, creating pockets of fur, or mirrors that allude to reflecting ponds. However, even with these efforts to transform the space, it was not as complete as I would have hoped. The areas of carpet not addressed tended to be more visible and the ceiling appeared whiter than usual. I think the intent behind the aspects of the installation were solid, and worth developing, but when using the totality of a room, you really need to do just that: to use all of it. Or at least, consider all of it, and how it will be read as a whole and complete environment. But that is a retrospective reading, and the very ambitious attempt Jonsson made is appreciated. She has developed the visual language of her work into a powerful and identifiable imagery. I think Jonnson's real strength is embracing the fact and function of the materials that she uses to create her biomorphic shapes by translating them into a completely new and unexpected form of reality. I hope that in future exhibitions, if she pursues this theme of installation, she will be able to perform that translation as a unified presentation, rather than remaining in the realm of individual objects.

Image credit: Stephanie Jonnson, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Prairie Artsters - Write Here, Write Now*

For the past two weeks, I have spent my Wednesday evenings inside SNAP Gallery learning how to write. To write is to: rewrite, to read and to know what you want to say and question how you want to say it. Writing is a craft, as I have mused about here and elsewhere, but it is also about placing yourself within a community discussion—a fact easily forgotten within the isolation of writing.

Huddled together with handful of fellow freelance writers and editors ranging from new friends to old colleagues, I participated in SNAP’s Artist-in-Residence Anthea Black’s “Freelance Art Writing Workshop for Emerging Artists and Arts Writers.” Looking around, the people in attendance were certainly not new to writing, but over the course of the evening, many new thoughts and insights were generously shared. I admit I was disappointed to not see more “emerging” faces there, hoping that people were in fact just too busy and that they were not in attendance because of their resistant ego. The group of writers in attendance, all notably women, were not emerging writers in any technical sense. One has her PhD and several of us have been professionally writing for years, but when it comes to arts writing, everyone revealed that they still have these “a-ha” moments when we collectively crawl out of our hermit writing shells, put aside any sense of ego, and openly talk about important issues such as mentors, fees, conflicts of interest and how to maintain a sense of sanity.

The isolation of writing, especially arts writing, where the mantra “art critics have no friends” is beyond humour, the sense of solitude is deeply exacerbated by a region already isolated from a larger arts dialogue occurring nationally and internationally. Arts writers are writing not out of public service, but engaging to take part in the greater cultural dialogue that feeds into the entire system of a community, a city, an economy and an identity.

Looking back, I feel I have written about a lot of artists and exhibitions because nobody else was willing to—in fact, that’s exactly how Prairie Artsters began. New voices are being added to the mix and we are looking beyond our past legacies, and I’ve continued to question why I do what I do. I know I am now adding to a multiplicity of voices that need to grow and speak with and against one another, but for the community to flourish, we need even more voices to bring in new perspectives and challenge existing ones.

That’s why as of this month until next summer, I am opening up to fellow writers who are interested in contributing to the ongoing dialogue. I will remain in an editorial capacity and continue to write and post periodically (and keep this column for the time being), but the online infrastructure is there for writers to come and go as they please. This is a time-sensitive trial, but I know if is to sustain itself beyond a stagnant shelf life, new voices must be willing to step in and step up, and be willing to learn how to write collectively.

Interested writers should contact the e-mail at the bottom of this page regarding contributor’s guidelines.

*First published in Vue Weekly, November 13 - 19, 2008

Natasha Lawyer, The Sugarbowl, November 2008. REVIEWED BY ERIN CARTER

Hoping that it wasn’t too busy I walked into the Sugarbowl allowing a waft of freezing November air to blow in and caress the patron’s necks. Unfortunately it is busy and even more unfortunate I’m going to look a bit like a creep as I hover around other tables trying to get a look at Natasha Lawyer’s art. Lawyer won Vue Weekly’s create a street box competition last year and has done some illustration work for Vue as well. She graduated from the University of Alberta’s Fine Arts program. It looks like she’s been busy ever since graduation. The Sugarbowl’s warm room and dark walls are showcasing twenty to twenty five of Lawyer’s pieces.

Luckily the table I’ve chosen is shrouded with a collage of smaller works by Lawyer. There are about ten or so and almost all of them have to word "Sold" scraggled underneath the reasonably priced titles. As I look closer I notice almost every piece has a bit of print on it. “jesus is hugging the jeep.” is written on mixed media canvas of a black and white forest and a green sketching of a jeep with a few pink petals floating around. I don’t know why Jesus would hug a jeep, maybe Lawyer wrote it for dramatic effect, but I do know I like the looks of what’s going on in that painting.

I decide the most secretive non-creepy thing to do in this situation is to slowly make my way to the washroom and really stare at each painting as I walk by. It is ill fated that I’m closer to the Ladies (as I am a lady) washroom than the rest of the wall hangings in the Sugarbowl. I take a casual pace and hover over a gentlemen who is busy typing madly into his computer. He looks up and instead of looking at him I stare intently at “What am I looking for?” (Which is the title of a colorful busy collage piece done by Lawyer.) Sugarbowl is a hip type of place. What I mean by that is they play music that attracts a certain crew, they have specialty beers on the menu and affordable food and they’re located right by the University. The pricing and style of Lawyer’s art is a perfect fit for the Sugarbowl.

Lawyer has a diverse range of ideas working together on each painting. Lawyer's style is pop-art with subconscious undertones: for example colorful Chair-a-Chutes falling from a bright blue sky. There is thoughtfulness and a sense of humor throughout all of Lawyer’s images. I feel like she knows herself and what she likes leaving us with the evidence of a confident person on all of her canvas’.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I Bet They Can Tell Just By Looking, Travis McEwen, Latitude 53, October 24 - November 22, 2008, REVIEWED BY MANDY ESPEZEL

Within Latitude 53, there is currently on display two exhibitions both dealing with the challenging themes of identity and otherness. In the ProjEX Room, the smaller of the two gallery spaces, hangs Travis McEwen's show, titled "I Bet They Can Tell Just By Looking". McEwen's statement for the show explains this title in relationship to being asked when he first understood his own otherness; "When did you first realize you were different?" This loaded question brought on an experimental body of work that strives to investigate the physical representation of individual internal awkwardness.

On the four walls hang fourteen oil paintings of varying sizes and softly shifting colour pallets. The works are all recognizable as a kind of traditional form of portraiture. We see shoulders, necks, faces, hair. All the images depict a single 'male' individual, either looking straight out at the viewer, or with the head slightly turned, or in full profile. One piece has its subject turned completely away from the viewer, showing us the back of their head, the base of a neck strained as they look down. These paintings exhibit McEwen's experimentation with subtle changes of formal physicality, expression, colour, and positioning, and how each can greatly alter the internal dialogue of the depicted individuals. Though they are entirely fictional and based on no actual living person, the faces are each specific and entirely their own, with great care taken to develop their own physical reality.

Where the work starts to evolve past these rather simplistic basics, is in the vague and fluctuating facial expressions of each boy ( I use the term boy here based on my own reaction to the projected maturity and gender I've interpreted from these paintings, and not as a declarative or classifying term). When the atmospheric quality of paint application diffuses any exactness we appear to be seeing these faces through a veil of fog, which could be memory, could be their own uncertainty, the insecurity of their identities. No one in the room seems to be sure of themselves, everyone is in a state of physical and/or emotional evolution or questioning.

The connection McEwen has found between this 'rubbed in' sort of paint application, and the subsequent visual 'soft focus' effect creates a heightening of the emotional projection each face possess. Though not all the pieces contain this level of ambiguity; there are some works that seem to be starts into other formal directions, becoming either more physical, or more descriptive in the structure of the face. There is a fairly consistent use of softer pastel-ish backgrounds around each figure, and the colour choice does sometimes seem to control how we interpret the emotional state of its sitter too strongly; rather than having the two elements exist totally together, they can become visually separated.

But as the paintings increase in scale, they start to evolve past these weaker elements. Having the portraits exist at a larger than life size intensifies the effect the gaze of the sitter has on the viewer. Even in their obvious physical awkwardness, we are subject to a confrontation made challenging and unavoidable. I think this exhibition as a body successfully examines the themes that McEwen is concerned with in his work; depicting the individual otherness of our own internal worlds, and communication of that with one another. Though he gives us a variety of different formal ways he's experimenting with this theme, it is strong throughout each variation. It is up to his own discretion whether to develop any one stream, or to continue a multi-faceted formal investigation. The considerable conceptual and formal strengths of many individual pieces in this current exhibition are good reason to look forward to a concentrated pursuit in future works.

Image credits: Travis McEwan, 2008, from the series "I Bet They Can Tell By Just Looking"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Prairie Artsters: Sprawling Community*

Driving down the windy Whitemud freeway and taking the exit just off Southgate, you turn into a stretch of mini malls, clustered in standardized awnings in a sea of paved parking stalls. There are no pedestrians except for those walking to and from their cars. There are no bicyclists. No public transit stops. Cars periodically and frequently stop in front of the old movie theatre to drop kids off or idle to pick them up. There are no sidewalks connecting store to store as each awning sits like a fortress surrounded by a cement moat. It’s only one of dozens of isolated mini malls in Edmonton, one of hundreds in Canada, thousands in North America—all resulting from urban sprawl.

Given with what we have already created in one of the worst sprawls on the continent, there are things we can do and steps being taken to overcome the destructive effects of sprawl that decimate a city’s sense of identity and community. In this specific Whitemud Crossing complex in the said old movie theatre, the Edmonton Public Library stepped in seven years ago to take over the former alternative discount theatre as its Whitemud Crossing branch and has since grown into the premiere library serving the ever-expanding South Edmonton.

“The city, especially the south, is expanding so much that we are getting enormous traffic, more so than the downtown library now,” says Benjamin Janke, one of Whitemud Crossing’s library assistants. Looking at the map of the libraries, with the concentration of branches in the central-north area, it’s surprising just how sparse the south seems in light of its hyperdevelopment. Between a branch in Millwoods and another in Riverbend, most visitors logistically have to drive on and off the Whitemud to get to their closest neighbourhood library. A far cry from the basic necessity of being able to walk to your public services and amenities like a library or post office or grocery store, the Whitemud Crossing EPL is nevertheless programming community events by using what they have and serving their community as best as they can.

Janke, who lives nearby and can walk or bike over during the summer months, has started programming artist talks in the 120 capacity theatre—the only remnant from the former movie complex. In addition to the new artist talks, they’re planning a healthy adult programming schedule that includes drop-in “Movies in the Suburbs” screenings as well as musical performances from local musicians and future possibilities of other live performances.

Contacting art professors from the University to see if they would be interested in giving a free public lecture about their work, artists ranging from Sean Caulfield, Royden Mills, Julian Forrest and George Miller have participated since this spring.

“I wanted to see if there were artists who wanted to connect to the community and the general public,” explains Janke, who has been working for the EPL for close to five years, most of which have been spent at this location. “I also wanted to be here and hear the talks,” he continues, as he shares that the general connection to the University was made through his girlfriend, who was taking art courses. “It’s a magical connection to hear them speak live, to explain the process,” he maintains, “especially for art forms where people may have difficulty in understanding it.”

Dropping in on the Sean Caulfield lecture back in the summer, the audience consisted mostly of students looking out of place in this suburban summer setting, but there was a scattering of faces new to the work. As Caulfield spoke eloquently about his processes, inspirations and upcoming projects as a fine art printmaker, the lecture dissolved from any sense of a formal academic talk into an engaging general interest presentation about a local artist and his work. He was under no obligations to share his thoughts and insights, but given the venue, communities and passages are built through generosity.

Although Janke is only beginning to expand the programming and open it up to reach his community, he wonders if it’s part of the mandate of the library. He knows that there is potential, but like all public institutions and services strapped for cash, the public investment of community programming remains underfunded like a distasteful public subsidy. From the sidewalks that don’t connect to the bus stops that don’t exist, there is at least some beacon of reason for people to come gather, and people simply need to connect, whether in the core or in the ‘burbs, in order for a city to function and sustain itself.

*First published in Vue Weekly, October 30 - November 5, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

MEDIATION, Edmonton Small Press Association's 10th Anniversary Retrospective, ArtsHab, REVIEWED BY MANDY ESPEZEL

The Mediation exhibition at ArtsHab is a pretty overwhelming thing to walk into. There are posters and letters and collages and art books plastered all over the walls throughout the entire space. Anyone who has ever been to ArtsHab knows how narrow those exhibition hallways are. The amount of displayed material on the narrow walls became a tunnel-like experience, where every available space had an image or slogan waiting to be explored.

This sheer amount of material is part of what I think is most impressive, and important, about the show. Mediation is giving us the chance to view the Edmonton Small Press Associations ‘best of’ work from their permanent collection acquired over the years. It is actually an incredibly encouraging thing to see displayed all in one place. This is work that individuals have made completely independently from any outside support or influence. The common thread through everything on exhibit is the emphasis placed on communication. This is not passive image making. All these works strive to contain some sort of message, whether it be the examination of political ideologies, criticism of current governments, or the mockery of systems of value or cultural norms. This active interest and involvement in the construction of our society remains the driving force behind the creation of materials that challenge others to do the same.

Some of the pieces that manage this task most successfully use humour to get their point across. Which includes most of the show. There is a children’s colouring book that explains the destruction of the environment, perfectly titled “Super Fun Air Pollutant Particles Colouring & Activity Book”. There’s posters of protesters asking for the right to free speech, and hundreds of 'zines and artists books that make you laugh out loud with their ridiculousness and good nature. Within all of this is a lot of run-of-the-mill anti George Bush sentiment. Which is only to be expected, along with political cartoons and fast food collages. Its just so important to know that there is a huge amount of critical thinking and constructive dissent going on, completely independently and peacefully, and with such creativity. This participation is absolutely essential, especially given that our country just experienced such a horrendously low voter turnout this past election. It is a hopeful thing to know that there is this level of engagement within our masses, even if as a majority, we don’t always actively appreciate our right to it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

All Power to the People, Graphics of the Black Panther Party, SNAP, October 23 - November 29, 2008

As the Western Canadian Premiere of All Power to the People, the exhibit brings in archival news prints and posters from the 1966 - 1974 period of the Black Panther Party and its community newspaper. Bold black, white, and red news prints on yellowing frayed news papers display the bold iconic graphics that were mass produced and distributed as an alternative source of news and information. From the quote pulled by exhibition organizers Heather Haynes and Izida Zorde, “The community (was) the museum for our artwork. Some people saw art for the first time when they saw my posters. Some joined the party, some got inspired to make art too.” (Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture, Black Panther Party).

Through the front page covers and center spreads that resemble a manifesto layout more than a standard newspaper layout, the focus of their community newspaper was to rally around the power of the people and to decry the injustice to their fellow marginalized men. Very few women appear besides Angela Davis and a few mother-figures, as the fight of the Black Panther party was to mobilize the black male in counter to the white male, and that leaves little room for much else. Expanded social and historical context of the prints are desired to launch them beyond the purely aesthetic and into their political domain and print’s variability for mass production, but if inclined, do your own research and see the show for all that it’s worth.

Image credit: Emory Douglas, "They Bled Your Mama" Black Panther Newspaper. Offset print, 1971, Oakland, California. 28436 / 28437

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Prairie Artsters - Getting M:STy Down South*

Photo credit: Erica Brisson, 2008

As a festival blogger for the fourth biennial Mountain Standard Time Performance Art Festival, I spent the last two weekends traveling the QE2 down to Lethbridge and Calgary, respectively. Living in a festival city where the peak of festivities has just finally come to a lull, I find myself in yet another festival, but one of an entirely different atmosphere.

Down in Lethbridge, where the new media reputation precedes its windy coulee corridors, the festival included in its programming the world premiere of local artist David Hoffos’ Scenes From a House Dream. Taking up both floors of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and maximizing a full three weeks of install after five years in the making, the exhibition drew out the close-knit arts community and plenty of visiting onlookers wanting a sneak peak before its national tour kicks off at the National Art Gallery of Canada.

Nothing seen during the day on a dead walk through the town would prepare for the night. While walking around looking for the elusive Trap\door artist-run centre, I eventually stumbled upon it in the basement of the Trianon Gallery, where emerging Canadian artist Andrew Taggart opened his latest exhibition. Taggart, who is currently completing a unique joint MFA in Norway with his wife (who as it turns out I knew from a stint during an arts festival in Edmonton), was surrounded by friends and family who drove down from Calgary. Although not part of M:ST programming, but just serendipitous timing, they shared similar minded audiences who would otherwise remain alien to one another.

The other two performances that night included Calgary-based Angela Silver, who punched the carbon-paper-lined entrance corridor with red Everlast boxing gloves customed with an electric typewriter set across its knuckles. The corporeal execution of imprinting text has been an ongoing investigation for Silver, especially in terms of text and its function in society and the evolution of tools used in the creation of text. Although the performance itself was quite nonplus, the marks left by the carbon paper created a hieroglyphic chart in the liminal space between the gallery and the street.

The other performance took place in the Parlour Window space, the front window display/gallery of Hoffos’ studio space that sits on top of an original opium den just a few blocks off the main street. Performed and arranged by Calgary-based Wednesday Lupypciw, whose family tree traces itself back to Lethbridge, she pays homage to her mother in the form of a living tableau as she plays out a teenage scenario filled with Ouija board spooks and mimed telephone conversations that echo back on a video loop.

I would next run into Lupypciw during the Adrian Stimson performance in Calgary and again at the Glenbow, where she was volunteering for the Movement Movement’s “Run the Glenbow Museum.” I also ran into Cindy Baker, Renato Vitic and others, as the festival rolled on over a course of two weeks and two cities. Artists and administrators turned volunteers and spectators, as expected, but the audience throughout both weekends grew beyond the same handful of consistent faces, with many new individuals trailing in and out for each event and performance regardless of the overall umbrella festival mentality.

Part of my personal burnout for festivals is the excuse it has to show weaker works alongside one or two headliners, simply spanning both time and space as encouraged by the recent increases to festival funding that privileges the idea of presenting culture rather than its creation. Each M:ST event, unique on its own and strong enough to draw a respectable audience—which may have been happenstance, with several other arts conferences on the go—nevertheless pulled audiences from across the board. The festival did not boast itself before the work or its artists, but emphasized each work in its own rightful merit and critical context that can and should proudly stand on its own and be discussed within a consciously programmed festive atmosphere.

*First published in Vue Weekly, October 16 - 22, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Maria Madacky, Here and Beyond, FAB Gallery, October 7 - November 1, 2008

The simplicity of the line, the fundamental mark in drawing, extends beyond the material presence in Maria Madacky's much anticipated MFA exhibition, Here and Beyond.

Beginning from the back of the gallery, where her "Hush" (I, II, III) series of white on white on white strings sit in a tense state of silence and suspension. This work first drew me in over two years ago in a MFA exhibition in the basement of the former AGA as an exploration of the logical and the sublime. The potential for melody sits enclosed within the shadow box frame, contained but open to intrusion and retinal exhaustion.

The two new larger works have been the latest focus for Madacky, one of them being "Reverie," a walk-in installation of vertical lines made out of rope hanging all around an undulating. The interior of the space is lined with wall to floor mirrors, and the only light comes through the dozens of round holes that appear to be the root of all things. Meant as a meditate space, applying the potential for melody and harmony from the 2D plane into that of a three dimensional sphere of space and movement, the only clearance is if you turn back, and in looking out you only see yourself surrounded in this reverie of light and line.

And dominating the large sloped wall is a 32 panel series of rust imprinted into acrylic gel entitled "Recollections." A variation of this appeared in another AGA show earlier this year, but together amassed into one piece, the overall affect is the awe of time, not just of its passing, but of its rhythm in capturing decay and remembering through the layering of presence.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Run the Glenbow Museum, Sunday, October 12, 2008*

The Movement Movement, aka Jenn Goodwin and Jessica Rose, in their power lycra onesies led a swarm of collaborators through four laps of the four floors in the Glenbow Museum.

Somewhere between a marathon with cheering supporters in tow and the act of herding sheep through the moraines, running the Glenbow over the course of 45 minutes situated itself as a live work of art amongst the walls and rooms of contemporary and historic objects on display.

As the swarm stretched itself out in the lobby, mostly dressed in full running gear, rules were established to follow the lead of the person in front as the route was carefully pre-planned with respect to the exhibitions. With first aid standing by, the group of close to 100, twisted and turned through the museum and ran up and down the flights of stairs with passersby often trapped against the walls waiting for the train of smiling joggers to roll by. The circular flow of the Glenbow lent itself to a vortex of sorts, as turning each corner you once again saw and heard the troop come stomping by in a consistent pace that was probably more akin to a brisk walk than a run.

Creating temporary public art works, or sculptural formations as they call it, Goodwin and Rose have led packs of public participants through the Royal Ontario Museum and the Toronto Alternative Art Fair as exercises in social change. (A film will be made about the ROM run). Their impetus is not just a double entendre on "running" a major art institution, but public empowerment through socialization: mobilizing a collective of ordinary citizens to be both the subject and the concept--if even temporarily--of our cultural institutions.

The question they consistently pose is: if we can run a museum together what else can we run as a social body? The general public is discouraged from running in public spaces such as museums, or libraries, or other formal, but inherently social spaces meant for use by and for the public. As we are socialized to "behave" in public spaces, do these spaces still remain as public domains and what is to be public versus private? Although this was carefully planned and executed with the Glenbow's full cooperation, The Movement Movement idea can certainly grow to intervene itself into various spaces that equally need the presence and participation of a conscious and active social body.

All photo credits: Noel Begin, 2008.

*First appeared on M:ST 4

Sunday, October 12, 2008

ARENA, Art Gallery of Alberta, October 4 - January 4, 2009 REVIEWED BY Brenna Knapman

Curator Ray Cronin pools a variety of artists, inspirations and mediums to bring together ARENA: The Art of Hockey. Given the cultural division that has ostensibly separated arts and sports, it’s surprising how many notable artists have delved into the realm of hockey on their own initiative to find meaning, share inspiration or perhaps heal old wounds and fallen heroes. The more rooms one tours, the more the story comes out, weaving hockey fans into a very Canadian tapestry of dreams, politics, anticipation and cruel wilderness. ARENA successfully pulls together a meaningful dialogue about the lives of many Canadians and sheds light on the reasons we’re so obsessed with pucks, players and replays.

Image credit: Diana Thorneycroft, Group of Seven Awkward Moments (Winter on the Don), 2007. Chromira photograph, 2/20, 73.7 x 55.2 cm. Collection of the artist. Courtesy of the gallery

Hockey is an emotional sport rife with broken hearts and loyalties: the Toronto Maple Leafs have a 2,400 person waiting list for season tickets and they haven’t won a Stanley Cup in over forty years. ARENA reflects the fanaticism behind the fan, with pieces ranging from Craig Willms’ Hull in the Crease, a miniature, movable set-up of a disallowed goal available for public replays, to Ken Danby’s six versions of Gretzky, all completed between 1999 and 2001, each with a creepy smile and most which show famed hockey star Wayne Gretzky waving at the viewer (yes, he retired. Obsess much?). Roderick Buchanan’s self-portrait, The Origins of Hockey, features the artist naked, covered in temporary tattoos and holding a shinny (practice) stick, and is an apparent statement of Gaelic influence on the sport, but also reminds us of the years of hockey’s influence on our culture and the ensuing intensity of emotion we have toward or against it.

Wanda Koop’s Hockey Heads 1,3,5 and 6 evoke a chilling atmosphere that dominates one of the rooms, with larger-than-life goalie eyes peering out from behind masks, expressions suggested by the manipulation of background colours. In another room, the river of hockey players against a quintessential ‘wilds of Canada’ background and equipment buried in beeswax bring a rural setting, while the crucified hockey player as animal bait adds some terror to the wilderness. This is most evident in Jim Logan’s National Pastimes, a series of paintings centered around a game of hockey on a small-town rink within an indigenous community. The time period is determined by the heavy church imagery, and the activities show many instances of abuse and violence; out in the open yet ignored. It’s also the only piece in the whole show that features hockey players of colour.

ARENA manages to have a little something for everyone. It easily connects with popular culture (Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg’s giant pastel Zamboni reaches out to the ridiculous, while multi-media instillations like Jean-Pierre Gauthier’s Flirting with the Puck bring the sounds of the game and the appeal of interaction). A decidedly memorabilia feel to the show probably appeals to die-hard hockey fans. The show offers big name appeal, but doesn’t limit itself to the status quo of the art world. For those who crave the artistic discourse, opportunities exist to discuss loss and love, fear and desire, what intrigues us and what controls us.

Such a large show attracting more than its usual crowd makes sense when one considers the plethora of influence hockey has on us. From the heart-thumping feeling of anticipation and the heart-wrenching moment of a goal to the political influence of sponsors and war and the sociological implications of an often-violent sport, ARENA hits the nail on the head in terms of addressing the artistic interests of the ‘average Canadian’.

The show does great things for hockey, broadening its place in our cultural history. What does it do for art? It offers an artistic discussion capable of attracting those outside its normal realm. Thus, it grows.

Through the Looking Glass, Glenbow Museum, September 26 - November 16, 2008

Glenbow CEO Jeffrey Spalding curates this exhibition that does not hold up to its thematic title, Through the Looking Glass, but is nevertheless an impressive list of artists gathered. Beyond slipping in and out of time and space, which art through sheer existence cannot escape, the exhibit is a solid presentation of contemporary Canadian artists (many of them from Calgary) paired shoulder to shoulder with international artists--all who are currently hot on the art market circuit.

Calgary based painter Chris Cran appears next to German video artist Julian Rosefeldt, whose inverted mirror narrative slips deeper into an alternative reality of prefabricated living. Canadian Mark Lewis' ongoing investigation of movement in relation to stillness, in an evocative projection of a misty landscape that could easily double as a haunted 19th century Romantic painting. Around the corner from a distorted photographic print by Calgary sculptor Evan Penny is a video by William Kentridge. Save for the photographs of Calgary's Stampede next to Vikky Alexander's wonderment in West Edmonton Mall, the thematically disjunctive "world class" presentation of the exhibit rolls on in a seamless flow that consistently reinforced the rising stature of Calgary's cultural capital. Whether this actually breeds an appreciation of culture is beyond immediate judgement, but as I stood watching Rosefeldt's dizzying labyrinth, a nearby parent scolds his small son for saying "I don't get this," getting angry at his child's honesty, and just hoping that like his other small son, he can at least pretend to be enthused because it's important, and like his other son, try and act anxious to see and "get" the next room of art.

Buffalo Boy, The Battle of Little Big Horny, Boris Roubakine Recital Hall, U of C, October 11, 2008*

As the alter ego of Saskatoon-based performance artist Adrian Stimson, Buffalo Boy has played up the postcolonial identity of Aboriginal culture by sending up an over the top sexual parody of Buffalo Bill (Cody)'s Wild West show.

Dressed from head to toe in a crude mixture of flamboyant Western wear from a silver sequined cowboy hat to heavy rouge, fishnet stockings and traditional hides, Buffalo Boy subverts his sexuality as the one desiring. The comparison to Kent Monkman's Princess Eagle Testickle is inevitable in concept, but their respective executions are entirely different.

Photo credit: Erica Brisson, 2008

Meant as an end to the character of Buffalo Boy (2004 - 2008), The Battle of Little Big Horny begins with a Procession, with six pallbearers bringing in Buffalo Boy's coffin. An Irish Wake follows with shared shots of Bushmills along with an abridged version of James Joyce's "The Dead" printed on the back of the funeral programme. The clustering of cultures and aesthetics does not end or explain itself as Civil war songs, disco, world techno, and June Carter play out over a video montage of suspects who may have led to the death of Buffalo Bill. From a headmistress with nipple tassles to Belle Savage (collaborator Lori Blondeau) to other characters that Buffalo Boy speaks back to in an exchange of stage to screen, the performance as a whole lacked an affect for the death of Buffalo Boy. There was neither awe or sadness as Buffalo Boy played out his part and transgressed his prairie earth. The body moved in a stiffness that did not appear as either ironic or intentional. Whether indifference was actually intended, right up to the ceremonial hammering in the nail of the coffin, the piece can only be best described as a transitional work that was neither here nor there in the life and death of Buffalo Boy.

*First appeared for M:ST Festival 4

Walking Tour of Downtown Calgary, M:ST Festival, Saturday, October 11, 2008*

As I walked over to the Grand Theatre from the hotel just after 5 o'clock on a Saturday early evening in downtown Calgary, I could not find one single coffee shop open. Less a gripe than it is an indicator of the street life in the city, the walk over echoed the advice from the desk clerk that shared, "Oh, that's too far to walk. It could take half an hour. You should drive." Walking is a void mentality in Calgary as it is in many other centres, but time and time again, I find that a city without pedestrians is simply not a city at all, but a spectre of activity with little heart or heed. And so to walk, especially in such a city, becomes a constant intervention.

A small troupe of individuals gathered before artists Renato Vitic and Kay Burns as the tour got underway. Looking like he fell out of the Looking Glass, Vitic and a traffic vested Burns led us around downtown Calgary--which was not so ironically deserted save for the participants of a Zombie Walk, where one of them shouted, "That's great of you guys!" and in doing so confirmed the fact that ordinary walking is actually odder practice than pretending to be a walking zombie.

Walking in a procession, whether we were tied together (as we were at several points) or as individuals traversing the city grid, shocked stares from faces inside of cars and restaurants gawked at the spectacle of people actually walking along the city streets. Save for Vitic and Burns who were visibly different in attire, I believe it was the sheer number (which was maybe 20 - 30) that caused the perplexed faces that made me feel like an alien. With walkable streets, even Stephen Avenue where the street is shut down from traffic on the weekends, almost barely anyone walked with or against us through the core of Calgary. As discussions of walking unfolded over public spaces, enforced structures, and exercises in socializing the act of urban walking, what I feel was lost was the premise that walking in any urban centre is by its very nature a solitary act. It is hard to decipher in a deserted downtown that urban walking's greatest pleasure is to lose one's self in the anonymity of the city, and that strung together with a bunch of strangers, we are still very much alone in the guise as a spectacle. But highlights from the walk included:

- a run-in up in the plus 15's with dance choreographer Melanie Kloetzel's troupe of dancers that cleaned and alienated our interactions with liminal spaces

- Citizen Justice (aka Morgan Sea) sling shooting gummi bears at us from above Milestone's restaurant

Photo credit: Erica Brisson, 2008

- And standing in the far side of the bowl in Millenial Park as Vitic and his spray painted gold bullhorn read aloud Cindy Baker's essay/manifesto about the isolation of regional contemporary art practices to our diminishing group of shivering walkers, often drowned out by the rolling slide and heavy landing of a few skateboarders in the otherwise empty park.

Walk on!

*First appeared for M:ST Festival 4

Latitude 53, September 20 - October 18, 2008, REVIEWS BY ERIN CARTER

Design for a Dialogue Flutura and Besnik Haxhillari Latitude 53

What does it mean to be in “permanent migration”? After reading the
artist statement for Design for a Dialogue by Flutura and Besnik Haxhillari
I knew that I would be walking into Latitude 53 with a feeling that this
particular exhibit would be a bit over my head. The first visual I came
into contact with is a six-foot photograph of a naked man standing and
holding a stiff naked woman across his chest. The next photo is that of
the same naked woman sitting in the chair coddling the same naked man to
her bosom as if he were a child. All right. So the Haxhillari’s want to
“embody the legendary figure of travel: Gulliver. So they’ve decided to
go by the name of the two Gullivers and take video footage of their
transparent plastic suitcase in airports.

As I stand in the shadowy L of Latitude 53 and watch a video display of
two people painting a heart shape in reds and blacks on a canvas, I
listen to the orchestral music playing in the background. All right
they want to create a dialogue. At this point in the show if I had a
companion I would have looked to them and asked “What is this saying to
you?” Only all that I could turn to was the artist statement that
replied, “The heart is the metaphorical centre for all that is human and
watching these two people violently attack the canvas with paint while
violins rupture the silence of concentration means?” What exactly? So we
have a heart created in front of us, then we have photographs of the
opposite sex holding each other. The man is more powerful so he can
stand and hold the woman’s body weight. Why is she all stretched out in
his arms and he coddled into her arms? To me this says something about
the male/female relationship i.e. men protect with the physical strength
and woman protect with their emotional strength. The concept of looking
at something deeply and then understanding the conversation the artist
has created on canvas, video or photo is very important to me. At this
point I am completely confused and feel like I’m pulling boulders
through needle holes.

The two Gullivers (as they like to be called) like to work with
transparent objects. Reading through the statement again I understand
slightly that the media is the transparent mask that blocks us from
reality. I watch the video of the performance piece of a large number
of people holding transparent masks in front of there face and look for
any clues that could possibly lead me to the conclusion of media versus
reality. The text explained everything. The art did not. It turns out
I’m just a prairie girl with a love for the arts. I know that people are
smarter and more educated than me, but I feel this show benefits people
working on their PhD in the fine arts as well as studying the two
Gullivers as their thesis project. It’s way over my head and even though
it hurts to say this, I know I’m ignorant to their method of
communicating important messages.

Building My House Rebekah Miller

Next door to Design for a Dialogue in the ProjEX Room I greet wispy
hand printed panels of a prairie house. Hanging from the ceiling of
Latitude 53 Rebekah Miller has created her exhibition Building My House
and a sigh of relief in me. Recently graduating from the printmaking
department of the Alberta College of Art and Design, Miller has used her
printmaking education to handcraft walls, doors and windows of a shack
belonging to the floating, airy conscious and subconscious of the
prairie psyche.

The door gracefully dances with the air exchange in Latitude 53 as I
think about all the doors I’ve physically and mentally slammed and
opened in my life. A conscious built by walls of family learnt
tendencies and heritage passed down from each generation while offering
windows of escape and rebellion. This house holds all the hidden
crevices of personality and has the ability to keep our best secrets
boxed in the dusty attic. A building that keeps us safe, but also has
the power to lock us in. Caught up in a moment of repose I remember that
Miller will be coming in and adding to the house during the next couple
of weeks and wonder what new addition will capture my imagination.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

David Hoffos, Scenes from the House Dream, SAAG until November 30, 2008*

David Hoffos is a wizard. After walking through the darkened corridors containing the completed Scenes from the House Dream (a series spanning five years of dreams and construction), after becoming implicit in the master illusionist’s reflective theatrics, I can only surmise that Hoffos is nothing short of a man in touch with a wholly other realm of being and consciousness.

In the perpetual night time of Hoffos’ world, in the recesses of dream time, abbreviated narratives unfold and repeat in estranged landscapes and familiar actions. A young man wheels his bicycle down a deserted suburban street, away from the distant fireworks that loom and dissipate over this sleepy hamlet of a town.

Framed within tiny enclosures, the narrative within the scene are the boy and the fireworks, which both are projected onto the elaborate 3D infinite diorama from monitors just behind the viewing audience. The projection of light, or arguably the carefully measured refraction of light, creates a ghostly holographic effect. Only the strangest and most confounding illusion is the containment of light within the double-sided mirrors within most of the dioramas. In the ship dock scene, where a handful of docks turn into an endless mirage, a single yacht appears floating in an endless lap of water, while a man (coming from another screen) appears restless on the deck of the vessel. The overall affect creates a terrible soothing rhythm of awe and speculation -- a tumble down the rabbit hole of optical logic and finding yourself beyond the comfort of anything you know.

Revealing nothing by revealing all, there is one frame that lets you see the man behind the curtain, so to speak. The back of all the dioramas are revealed with each of their specific sound and light set ups. That in itself is already a stellar peek into the workings of the illusion, but down on the ground directly opposite of the space, there lies a subtle hologram cutout of a white cat. Resting on all fours with a slight turning of its head and swish of its tail, it can only be presumed that the cat is Hoffos' own, a fixture behind all of illusions and a constant mate in the studio. Cutouts of a woman also appear throughout the show, often in corners, appearing as a life size shadow with sporadic movements that perpetually startle the passing viewer.

Turning the concept of a voyeur inside out, the highlight for me personally was the live feed at work in one of the last scenes. Peering into a decadent house, with a slightly ajar bedroom door that makes you crane your neck to see more (and what you find is a another door with a mysterious stair case leading elsewhere), you look through this highly decorative room only to see moving figures milling about outside its large French window. They are standing in a small group, huddled to see into something, and suddenly you recognize one of their jackets as something you recently saw within this very space. Is it one of the artist’s friends who wore the same jacket and came for the opening night? Only being there with a friend, who turned around to look, I could see her face behind the French window. I ask her to wave away from the scene, and she is suddenly waving at me through the window. In this Lynchian moment of time collapsing space, or space collapsing time, there is only a horror-fueled glee running through my veins in this darkness.

Revolving around the intimate dream-filled nooks of a house, a Bachelardian concept of the poetics of space, particularly of the house and home, this presentation is a feat of decentering both the viewer and the work of art until they are fully realized as one participatory interaction of being.

As a practicing artist for over 17 years and a graduate of the University of Lethbridge’s BFA program, Hoffos’ world premiere in his home town marks a significant moment in his career. Scenes from a House Dream will begin a national tour starting next fall at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa.

All images from David Hoffos Scenes From a House Dream, 2008

*First appeared for M:ST 4. See all of Amy Fung's blog posts on M:ST in Lethbridge and Calgary

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Prairie Artsters - A Masterful (Public Art) Plan*

Public art in its most effective (and affective) incarnations reach the very ordinary. As a permanent piece, a fleeting transitory work, or an art piece created with a community’s vision in mind, the art of public art reveals itself through the long-term impact of its presence to the general assembly of passerbyers.

For a working-class city locked in a perpetual greyscale where art and aesthetics have rarely surfaced as civic concern, Edmonton’s new public art plan takes our very worst attributes and makes them great. Developed by the indomitable Kristy Trinier over the course of a year and half of research and outreach, the new plan has been unanimously approved by city council and takes its cue from a few foundational stepping stones, including integrated funding for public art in all new construction projects.

Last September, city council approved much-needed revisions to our existing Percent for Art policy, including the removal of a $100 000 cap and the development of a public art archive and maintenance program. Municipal Percent for Art programs have spread across North America as mid-sized urban cities look to fulfill their demand for cultured urban living and sophisticated urban identities. If done right, public art creates a unique space for its citizens and draws visitors; if done wrong, the works alienate and offend those who have to live with it and mystify outsiders. Keeping that in mind, with the amount of space we have as a city, our sprawl and vastness has the potential to be both our downfall and our glory.

The language of the plan reinforces a mentality that, as a blank canvas, Edmonton has the potential to be a national and international leader in setting standards for public art programming. With specific recommendations—such as a Public ArtPark System, which opens up our river valley as sites for programmed events—as well as focusing on opening up Edmonton to the world through a biennial international commission, public artist-in-residency and a curated transitory public art exhibition, the new vision of public art in Edmonton will be at least a decade in the making as the immediate needs of updating and conserving are already a major task at hand. As a city in transition, somewhere between an unrenewable-resource-based economy to a hopefully multi-tiered economy, Edmonton’s identity to be culturally significant resonates on a level that aspires to be more than a boom-and-bust pit stop.

A policy within the revised Percent for Art looks to develop a public art archive and maintenance program, which in its essence is the keystone to developing future public art in Edmonton. As our current collection and archive are far below second rate when compared to almost every city similar in size and stature, and one survey at the dilapidating state of many of our current permanent pieces, the realm of public art becomes far more than simply placing artwork in the great outdoors: it’s about creating a system to address and meet the ever-changing identity of Edmonton, to participate in the ever expanding realm of contemporary art practices, to break open our isolation and stop settling for mediocrity and find exception within our own ordinary.

*First published in Vue Weekly, October 2 - 8, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Edmonton Print International Preview, September 26 - October 17, Various locations*

More than 80 artists from close to 30 countries will have work in the first-ever Edmonton Print International September 26 to October 17 in the city’s Capital Art Gallery and at satellite locations such as SNAP Gallery and the University of Alberta. Selected through a combined curatorial process and open juried competition — the jury included Tetsuya Noda from Japan, Belgium’s Maurice Pasternak, and Canadian print artist Davida Kidd, more than 1,200 works were submitted.

The point is to present both the art and the technique behind printmaking. Artist Walter Jule, general secretary for the EPI, says that traditional printmaking will be shown alongside contemporary digital techniques, and print-based sculptures, installations, and video projections, book plate miniatures, digital murals, and fabric.

Born from the remnants of 2002’s TrueNorth Biennial, EPI 2008 has been growing in momentum, in large part because of Jule. Edmonton, and particularly alumni and faculty of the Fine Arts program at the University of Alberta, have done particularly well in international competitions and awards during the past 30 years. The city’s print community has participated in international exchanges for decades, but this show will bring together the breadth of contemporary international printmaking into one setting. The EPI jury will award $30,000 in prizes during the show.

There are at least 50 print biennials around the world, most of them in Europe, and EPI hopes to fill a gap in North America. “I compare the development of printmaking to weather patterns,” says Jule. “A new movement starts in one place and it flows around the world, partly because of these kinds of shows.”

*First published in Galleries West, Vol. 7, Issue 3, Fall/Winter 2008.