Thursday, January 17, 2008

100th Prairie Artsters Post: small, Art Gallery of Alberta, January 19 - March 24, 2008

Photo credit: Allen Ball + Kimberly Mair, 2007

The looming block of concrete and glass stands undisturbed by what exists nearby. A comparatively small statue, barely noticeable, memorializing the 1967 police killing of student protester Benno Ohnesorg, sits solemnly on the edge of a photograph that is obviously dominated by The German Opera House. Taken on a rare sunny and deserted morning last summer in the district of Potsdamer Platz, the photograph at once contains and re-imagines the visible and invisible traces that remain from the events leading up to 1977’s period of state crisis in the former Federal Republic of Germany.

Allen Ball and Kimberly Mair’s project “The German Autumn in Minor Spaces,” part of curator Marcus Miller’s small exhibit, reconfigures public urban landscape in the postwar cities of Berlin, Kassel and Stuttgart, as ripe with paradoxically loaded yet unmarked sites of memory and monument. The photograph critiques the public art initiative on the site of the German Opera House of an event that is largely considered to be the watershed moment for the urban guerilla movement that pushed the state and its people into chaos. Their use of photography as document at once mummifies the forgotten and sealed historical issues into the everyday accessible, and in so doing opens up our interaction with public space as a site for multiple experiences based on the relations of knowledge and presence.

Mair has been researching the Red Army Faction and urban guerilla warfare as part of her Doctoral candidacy in Sociology at the U of A. Joined by visual artist Ball this past summer, the two traced out their photographic cartography as urban researchers documenting seemingly small and invisible landmarks.

“Being present within the spaces we photographed was alienating, because they seemed smaller than they were in our imaginations,” Mair shares.

“Nevertheless, sometimes we felt debilitated within them. Viewing the images in their exhibition-ready configuration has a starker alienating impact than that of being present. Vertigo might describe the experience of seeing the images now, because they confront us as familiar but haunting alibis. There is something threatening about their imposition on our memories of these spaces that have multiple existences for us, too.”
Reiterating that personal experiences are shaped by both biography and collective cultural memory, “The German Autumn in Minor Spaces” asks viewers to investigate, to get in close to the work and question the larger issues of culture in public spaces. While Mair and Ball have already been accepted into the Art in Public Spaces conference at NYU this May, their project will be part of The Art Gallery of Alberta’s “small” exhibition running Jan 18 - Mar 24.
Alberta-based artists Bonnie Fan, Shane Krepakevich, Craig Le Blanc and Harold Pearse round out their idea of scale in the inaugural exhibition in the newly minted RBC New Works Gallery. Curator Miller explains that the exhibit will be an obtuse understanding of small, playing with scale and notions of small rather than presenting nano-sized works of art.

Image credit: Craig Le Blanc, 2008

There are the statician’s drawings from Krepakevich, who traces out the romantic renderings of highly personal cartographic exactitudes with the cold precision of a scientist. (These works are completely separate from his window installation, which kicks off another new exhibition space in the AGA). Fan, who along with Krepakevich exhibited in last spring’s The Apartment Show, gives us a view into the lives of birds. Impressed by Fan’s miniscule works of fine art hidden in the deserted mailboxes during The Apartment Show, Miller wanted to see what the artist would do with this theme, resulting in a series of elaborate bird houses intensifying a scaled-down perspective. In contrast, Calgary’s Craig Le Blanc brings his trademark high sheen sculptures of scaled-down colossal buildings that are at once a specter of space and an overwhelming presence of liquified form. As the largest work by far in the room, the scale of small is evidently a relative term.

And expressing the concept that is at the heart of this exhibition are Pearse’s columns of personal sketchbooks. Containing the daily drawings of his past 20 years, the 30 to 40 sketchbooks are stacked as a measure of one man’s artistic life. As small as that may seem relative to the number of sketchbooks ever filled, the presence of accumulation remains one of the greatest gestures in scope.

First published in Vue Weekly, January 17 - 23, 2008


pissed and disappointed at AGA said...

I am uncertain what hold together the work in small - perhaps it is the small thoughts that created this work in the space that replaced the Kitchen from the EAG. Perhaps it is that their BIG Show (Generations) contains only one thinly connected Edmonton area artist (that has not lived here for years). Small is a place for crumbs for Edmonton artists and with most showing the banal, self-centered work that should be reserved for the spaces of hack commercial galleries on the west end of Jasper Avenue.

When will people of Edmonton wake up and smell the putrid pieces of crap that are afforded to regional artists. In face I would venture to put forth that there is greater and deeper discourse coming form the artist-run centres in Edmonton than the AGA. With all their budgets combined would still not be half of what is thrown towards the AGA.

AGA - populists and paltry.


Small was curated from an open call for submissions in which artists were asked to respond to the idea of "small," especially the lifestyle/technological aspects of it (as hinted at by the nanotube on a plinth).

Some of the works do a better job than others of dealing with that idea. I think the Ball/Mair piece, despite opaque conceptual complexity necessitating a didactic panel, has the most depth to it in terms of dealing with these ideas. Shane and Bonnie's works are good too, exploring the "small" idea in different directions, and the Pearse is cute, even though it doesn't seem to have much staying power. On the other hand, the Le Blanc sculpture feels like a waste of space.

I totally agree that the Generation show doesn't feel cohesive, though. I didn't have much hope for it given the atrocious description it has on the website and in the AGA's promotional materials. There are some solid works in it, I think, but they suffer from the fact that their presentation flattens them conceptually by making important some minor considerations, ie. the fact that they involve young people.

It is a show for old people, in the worst way.

Here it is: "Yet some would say that the idea of youth is merely a construction–an invention of advertising, a Hollywood ideal or a disturbing stereotype. Whatever it is, there is no denying that the experience of being young is equally full of wonder and fraught with terror."

It is funny how the writeup looks actually having a position in the eye and then abandons it. It would be OK if they wanted to let the work make the point, but because the work wasn't made by someone working from an invented picture of a teenager and aimed at old people who wish that they were young again, it doesn't provide it. Not that that should be considered a failing.

I would have been more than happy to look at lots of that work in a curatorial environment that played to its strengths.

amy said...

I am glad to have had the chance to see justine kurkland's work and jeremy shaw's projects. but at least they didn't call it the "New Generation" show. I think most of them are still under 40 and relatively fresh, unlike that "new" british show from some years ago.

but there is some act of revelry in those enlarged handwritten notes. I just can't tell if we're suppose to be worried or in awe.

Anonymous said...

The Small show, I feel, is being judged through a submission text unrelated to the curatorial endgame. Not all the works were made in response to the call, nor does the idea of nano and technology literally relate to this concept.

I feel the comments, especially Waldron-Blain's closed minded approach to be quite naive. The idea of scale is far too simple an idea, and must we have a didatic to justify and explain?

Maybe we should have a manhunt? Far more intellectually challenging.


I think you didn't understand what I was trying to say, anonymous, about small. I think small was pretty good (except for one piece). I liked that the idea of it was quite general and that the works related to it in very different ways.

That said, the ideas of the submission text were intended to carry forth into the show itself. Otherwise there wouldn't have been a nanotube on a plinth. But it was not over-literal nor did it restrict the abilities of the artworks to speak to one another.

I didn't like that the ideas of Generation seemed very specific and ended up playing to the worst elements of the some of the works. That's all. I feel that small was a much more memorable show, despite having arguably less ambitious work.

I'm not sure why you bring Manhunt into things. It's an almost entirely different kind of challenge.