Friday, February 29, 2008

Jennifer Pickering, “Unpacked,” Harcourt House Gallery, February 28 - April 5, 2008

Lighting and atmosphere have taken over Harcourt House Gallery. With Lynn Richardson’s “Business as Usual” overflowing Harcourt’s main space, the pairing of Richardson with Pickering has been one of the best complimentary showings in a long time.

Based in Kelowna, Pickering creates leaning towers of travel with column after column of original hardshell suitcases hollowed out through their centers. Looking down each column, you feel the urge to tumble down the tunnels, but it is unclear what remains at the end. Although they are all created from travel suitcases, there is the obvious lack of tags, stickers and other mementos found on packages-in-transition. What is obvious is their hollowness, the emptiness that connects each suitcase, and the nostalgia of an era when these clunky, heavy old suitcases equaled the uneasy preciousness of mass mobility.
Pickering’s comment on this one facet of globalism makes a solid entry point to Richardson’s multimedia sculpture installation about excavating oil from the north.

Image credit: Jennifer Pickering, 2008

C.W. Carson “Stories from the Inner City” Latitude 53 Gallery, February 22 to March 22, 2008

Perhaps more suitably titled as “Collecting for a Story About the Inner City,” C.W. Carson’s roaming collection of image transferred LP’s at once stretches out and contains itself in a gesture towards a bigger story. Rolling across the back walls of Latitude 53’s main gallery, the illusion that the discs are in motion, as well as each fragment of a story, are moving within a continual circuit that is exaggerated by the skewered figure horizontal eight that could easily double as a pair of watchful eyes. This duality of reaching out/containment reappears throughout Carson’s pieces, in his 3D collage works of abandoned buildings filled with jutting windows, as well as the found objects strewn about and marked by clear encasements, the life hidden within these objects remain static for observation as a specimen--and accomplishment in form as much as in content.
Most of the stories come from media clippings and snapshot photography, connoting a case study aesthetic of surveillance and observation. The faces range from happy smiling friendly neighbors to mug shots, and as an archive, the show presents a slice in a fluctuating time in Edmonton’s inner city. A coherent story, or narrative, however, remains undetectable.*
The collage works communicate the clearest idea, and it’s difficult to say whether these pieces begin the series or end it, but they are the most actively sympathetic and scathing and works as both an entry point and an exit point into/from the larger discussion of the inner city as a sustaining community.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Shelley Rothenburger, "The Melting Point of Ice" and "Eat Mine Raw"

Violence as motif carries Shelley Rothenburger’s works. Violence as implicit in “The Melting Point of Ice” series, or violence as subtext in the “Eat Mine Raw/Love is Simple ” show she currently shares with Kat Vedah.

Image credit: Shelley Rothenburger, Play-off Make-up (series), acrylic, oilstick and collage on canvas, 2007

In “The Melting Point of Ice,” the imagery of blood on ice, Canada’s national colours, extends itself into a series of tribal, energetic installments that reconfigure the idea of sportsmanship. Professional hockey players appear more like bulky street fighters, Wayne Gretzky becomes an evil bat-like monster, and Don Cherry, well, has never looked better.

The wall series “Abstract with Skates, Pucks, Sticks, and Broke Nose” collectively gathers our national heroes in grotesque stances that border on being a masochistic hockey card collection. Rotherburger pushes the idea that we still worship these players, bloody and beaten, who continue to engage in a violence that we as an audience cheer on and tolerate.

But the violence at play in Rothenburger’s works is not just the brute physical form; the psychological violence in “Eat Mine Raw” irrevocably does more harm in the long run. A faux portrait series of everyday males, very Albertan mustache and mullet beer bellied males, don crude t-shirts that include, “In a world full of battered women, I still have to eat mine raw.” Though admittedly this and some of the other portraits triggered a black laugh, the humour is followed by a serious darkness in knowing this is also a reality. Its existence amongst our society and our collective tolerance are forms of violence, and this form of damage is ultimately more dangerous and difficult to heal.

The Melting Point of Ice, Shelley Rothenburger, Nina Haggerty Centre, February 5 - 28th, 2008
Eat Mine Raw/Love is Simple, Shelley Rothenburger and Kat Vedah, ArtsHab Gallery, February 7 to March 13, 2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Prairie Artsters in Vue Weekly February 21 - 27, 2008

I unexpectedly (and very fortunately) whisked away last weekend to take in a tumultuous three days of open studios, informal and lively discussions, and the opening/panel discussion of “Anthem” at the Banff Arts Centre.

For most, the sleepy mountain town remains a destination for ex-ski bums and tour buses. Only up Tunnel Mountain Drive, with a multitude of international artists—senior artists Ed Poitras, Richard Bell and Alex Janvier working alongside emerging artists Chris Millar and Jen Rae, to name but a few—completing “New Works,” “Self-Directed” and “Aboriginal Fiction” residencies, does the importance of incubating cross-cultural/generational/media reveal itself in a richly condensed community that feeds all who are willing to participate.

There is the closeness that naturally appears between temporary transients sharing a common pursuit such as backpacking or holding an artist residency, but unlike fair-weather travelers passing amongst hostels, the underlying bond produced from ongoing dialogue transcends this one singular time and place. The individuals met here return once again in the shape of future collaborators, directors, curators and peers. Engaging within the ongoing and fractured nature of contemporary visual arts, the revolving door of Banff’s art community actively exchanges in an ongoing dialogue rather than any single scene.

What unfolded over the weekend in a series of meet and greets between artists, curators and directors from across Canada was simply this: that art—as a serious and integral practice—can only flourish through a broad and diverse community of open and frank discussions. This isn’t some great revelation, but it is a path that so easily gets turned around in an insular world such as Edmonton.

An open community benefits everyone from the interchange of multiple perspectives. There is also the collective push to challenge oneself and each other within the opportunity to witness the process and progress of works coming into fruition. A sample of new experimentations include recent ACAD graduate Mikhail Miller’s new application of resin, Aboriginal legend Janvier’s turn to acid-free paper and chinese ink, and transnational Cyrus Wai Kuen Tang’s experimentation with ceramic wall configurations. These latest trials and tribulations from the studio are fresh to the senses compared to seeing the work in a gallery three years later—like the taste difference between picking an orange fresh from the grove and the accepted staleness of sorting one out at the grocers. This rawness is open for first opinions and reactions and the excitement is infectious.

Surrounded by mostly international and national artists with a handful of Calgarians, I was pleasantly surprised to bump into a small pack of U of A MFA students who showed up with fellow residency artist and U of A Professor Lyndal Osborne. The students shared their opinions about the facilities being quite impressive and the non-elitism and interdisciplinary support incredibly welcoming. They were also equally surprised and humbled by the level of work being produced as something not too far from their own grasp. Through this exposure, it can only be hoped that they will apply for future residencies: to put it simply, more emerging Edmonton-based artists need to engage in the ongoing dialogue and live exchange happening beyond our city’s limits.

*First published in Vue Weekly, Feburary 21, 2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Anthem: Perspectives on Home and Native Land, Walter Phillips Gallery, February 16 - May 11, 2008

Image credit: KC Adams, Cyborg Hybrid Candice, from the Banff Series, 2005
Digital print, artist’s proof

Curated by independent curator Ryan Rice and organized and circulated by Carleton University Art Gallery, Anthem brings together eight Canadian artists to investigate our country’s fractured understanding of Canadian nationhood. Stemming from the colonial history that pervades our textbook understanding of Canadian identity, Anthem is a response to Canada’s multiplicity that transcends the standard English/French/Aboriginal construct of Canada’s history.

Of note there is Dana Inkster’s video work that investigates the nature of being an adopted African-Canadian queer woman now living in southern Alberta; Fastwürms’s declaration of Witchcraft as a means to individual freedom within the existing theological canon; and KC Adam’s stunning cyborg hybrid portraits of Aboriginal men and women with subtle branding across their chests that read everything from “Half-breed” to “I’m white too.”

Image credit: Alisdair MacRae, The African-American Spiritual (detail), 2007
Mixed-media installation Photo: David Barbour

During the panel discussion between Rice, Inkster, academic Marcia Crosby, and moderated by Ed Poitras, it became unclear as to whether Anthem could be considered a post-colonial project, as so much of its ideas were heavily rooted in direct reference to Canada’s present colonial construct. The narrative of Canada nationalism has been seeped in a politeness that does not recognize the survivalism of its own rippled culture, namely the survival of its Aboriginal culture.

It should be noted that within Canada, First Nation artists are still considered the Other, while to the rest of the world, First Nation artists represent Canada. Though the exhibit does not focus entirely on Aboriginal artists, it does group together artists that point to a far greater inclusive identity of what it means to be stand up for a collective home and Native land.

Artists: KC Adams, Fastwürms, Cynthia Girard, Dana Inkster, Alisdair MacRae, Shirley Moorhouse, Eric Robertson, Miles Turner

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Lynn Richardson, "Business as Usual" Feb 28 to April 5, Harcourt House Gallery*

Our great Canadian north, a place as elusive as it is majestic, has suffered from serious ecological and industrial upheavals. The trials of technological affects on the northern landscape often remain silent in the media, but installation artist and sculptor Lynn Richardson has playfully re-imagined the northern landscape in Business as Usual.

Richardson imagines an industrial life lived on icebergs for a contextualized sculpture installation that questions the presence of corporate and government influences on the land. Motors and small engines, industrial symbols of labour and manufacturing, align themselves along the pristine lines of colonized icebergs. Coming off a series of works that recently exhibited during the Open Spaces project at the Toronto International Art Fair last year, Richardson continues this light-hearted investigation into northern themes.

Known for creating product-friendly survival kits for an impending ice-age, and abstract sculptures on both vast and minimal scales, this current body of work re-veals Richardson’s trademark aesthetic hovering between the bleak and the cheeky. Elegant three-dimensional decorative patterns conjuring colonial autocracy con-trast stark looming towers of abstract hydro electric stations. Infusing symbols of both product and process, the capitalistic corporatization of the landscape is projected as a manufacturing (and not manufactured in the vein of Edward Burtynsky) landscape.

As an Assistant Professor at Keene State College in New Hampshire, the former Winnipeg-based artist has been accumulating this body of work since 2005. Con-tinuing to search for resolution in the work, her liminal residency between Canada and the U.S. has provided much of the serious and contextual inspiration behind her pieces.

During three years of traveling back and forth over the border, she thought about the lingering effects of the attack on the World Trade Centre, Canada’s involve-ment with the Kyoto Protocol agreements and the ongoing softwood lumber arguments running through the loopholes of NAFTA. Richardson started merging all of these concerns into a body of work that looked specifically at consumerism and resources, and their irrevocable effects on the Canadian landscape.

Since moving to New Hampshire, a state that has historically predicted the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections, political rivalry over the Arctic and its re-sources has loomed large in her work. She received a Canada Council grant to explore Canada’s north, and took in the visceral effect of the ecotourism boom on the region. The result is Business as Usual.

“It’s interesting to look at the survival aspects in a future that looks both grim and humorous,” says Vince Gasparri, executive director of Harcourt House Gallery. “I’m especially interested in (Richardson’s) perspective on man’s impact on the environment. It has humorous qualities at first, but upon deeper reflection, you see some serious investigation that will inspire dialogue.”

Image credit: Lynn Richardson, 2007

*First published in Galleries West, Spring 2008.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Intangible Skin, Jen Rae, U of A, HL-3, Talk and Banff Studio Vist, Tuesday, February 12 and Wednesday, February 13, 2008,

Artist as researcher Jen Rae presented her ongoing research on tattooing as a means of human communication. Each tattoo reveals a personal narrative or story, from the intricate semiotics of Russian prison tattoos to the ethnographic symbologies that pervade nearly all cultures and historical civilizations.

The project includes the progressively encompassing markings on her own body, but the majority of the project has so far been focused on photographing and recording each tattooed storyteller. Mediating the narrative between the teller and the camera, Rae induces uniquely personal narratives that are then edited into a multiplicity of voices. The tellers remain anonymous, and their life size representations on backlit transmedia capture a moment of revelation. Both tattoo and teller are memorialized into a common dialogue, contributing to a rich and vast history of ritual and identity that transcends race, religion, gender, and class.

The prints will be eventually lit up to enhance the tactility of its skin, and from that there is a pale comparison to contemporary photographer Pascal Grandmaison’s portraits in their shared vulnerability. However, as the project grows, Intangible Skin differentiates itself in its mass appeal that could only strengthen its own artistic research into a broad and relevant affinity that touches beyond aesthetics and into the delicate human intricacies transcending sex, race, and age.

Image credit: Jen Rae, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Prairie Artsters in Vue Weeky Feb 7 - 13, 2008

Last week Alberta’s Conservative government at last thawed out their provincial arts funding. Frozen since the 1980s with no adjustment to price inflation, Alberta’s arts funding has since consistently ranked as one of the lowest in the country. Riding on our latest boom, the Conservatives plan on investing $12 million over the next year into Alberta culture, which under their new policy will also include arts and heritage along with sport and recreation. Most of that investment will be absorbed and dispersed by the Alberta Foundation of the Arts, but it is unclear as to how the government will be implementing its newfound appreciation for the arts.

A coordinating team will be created to ensure the new “Spirit of Alberta” policy is met, and there’s some positive statistics released about the interconnectedness of economic prosperity and social well-being, but it remains to be seen how a province so starved of proper arts infrastructure and appreciation will adjust to digesting the sudden importance of culture.

From the professional point of view, increasing funding is always welcome, but the mood at the Jubilee last week was undeniably affected with a hardened cynicism at being tossed a bone after years of neglect. Premier Stelmach’s acknowledgment that culture is essential to the legacy and future of Alberta has drawn nonplussed responses. The cold response may be due to the “we don’t need you” attitude that most organizations have assumed in order to survive, but reading through the cultural policy booklet, there are more reasons to be discerning.

For one, there is an emphasis on bringing the diversity of culture to Albertans to increase the quality of life throughout Alberta—which is a fine thing—but there is no plan to ensure or aid artists and creators just trying to live and work in an ever costly Alberta. That may be funneled through AFA funding, but the government should not have to wean the entire artistic population. Professional artists are still not recognized as professionals, even though their overall contribution is finally receiving due merit. This sentiment is reinforced with the simple lack of photo credits in the policy program, where the work of photographers, dancers and sculptors promote the idea of culture, but the creators themselves go unacknowledged (and in some cases, were not even consulted for use in the publication.)

With an election set to go for Mar 3, the Liberal caucus revealed their own arts policy shortly before the Conservatives big announcement. Although most of Kevin Taft’s speech only reinforced the Liberal’s consistent support for the arts with grand (but frivolous) plans like creating a provincial arts festival and conflating arts into tourism, there was at least mention of exploring the status of implementing an artist legislation to provide rights and benefits to full-time artists and cultural workers.

Both announcements came just days after UK-based cultural critic John Holden was in town lecturing on the matter of “Art & Politics.” Based in the cultural think tank, Demos, Holden identified there are three values to culture: the intrinsic, the unabashed art-for-art’s-sake quality; instrumental, the benefit to society and culture’s regenerative effect on economy and well being; and institutional, the covering the interaction and implementation of culture into communities. Like the principles of public, private and state-run corporations, no single value is greater than another; all three must work together to create a balanced and healthy cultural sector.

In the wake of a new cultural attitude, artists need to start generating viable sources of revenue with their work, because art is also a business, and ideally a government will be informed enough to create the network and support to make this happen.

*First Published in Vue Weekly, February 7 - 13, 2008

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Brenda Kim Christiansen, "Resonant Landscape" FAB Gallery, February 5 - 23, 2008

The residues of copper oxide and other industrial waste on Alberta’s landscape emerge into the forefront of Brenda Kim Christiansen’s MFA show. Somewhere between the sublime voids of Edward Burtynsky and the passionate imagination of John Hartman, Christiansen is grappling with the destruction of landscape through experience and through memory.

With an urban eye surveying the intrusions upon subdued vastness, the works flow through soft strokes of pale greens and dusky oranges--confusing your perception of natural light with the distortions of chemicals seeping through the earth’s surface. There is a pattern of reflecting ponds surrounded by diminished groves of barren trees and these isolated spots act as a sort of oasis within the blackened landscape. On the larger scale this perspective works best as the eye struggles with the entry into such an unnatural pictorial. However, the smaller works appear to be exercises in remembering through colour.

In context of the exhibition, they reveal spots of initial interest (excavation sites, fluorescent fencing), but they do not necessarily strengthen the larger completed body of work. As well, the revelation of looking through walking (as mentioned through the reference to Rebecca Solnit) does not reach its full potential. The works contain a perspective of having walked; but to fully realize the act of looking (i.e. absorbing the land through walking) there needs to be a gesture towards movement--be it through or across a compendium of space and time. Otherwise, there remains an isolation of the landscape into objects, still trapped in personal memory rather than living in present reality. Undeniably, there is a gentle beauty to the works, and it is this beauty that sits at odds with itself.

Image credit courtesy of the artist: Brenda Kim Christiansen, "Slough" 2007