Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lost and Found, Marci Rhor, Portal Gallery August 12 - September 12, 2008, REVIEWED BY ERIN CARTER

The balance between losing and finding is so fine that I have hard time tallying up such situations. I remember always losing my Barbies' shoes, jewelery from my mother, one lone sock, favourite shirts, and music--sometimes just from forgetfulness, but more often times from break-ups. Missing the object more than the person was easier to deal with than those person’s feelings. As I think about loss, I can’t help but look over Marci Rhor’s interpretation of Lost and Found with a discerning eye. Has she lost as much as I have or more than me? What exactly has she found?

With her dreamscape backgrounds Rhor’s pictures take me back to a place of innocence, a place and time when seeing the first robin of the year was as exciting as seeing the first snowfall. The combination of colours and shapes seem child-like; even the animals in the paintings look as if painted by a child with a great skill for drawing and imagination. To accompany the paintings, Rhor has placed poetic ramblings made from scrap paper in envelopes beside certain pieces. I read every one of them and must admit I didn’t really get it. There are only a handful of poems that have blasted my thoughts out of the water and Rhor’s poetry seemed a little incoherent to me, but I appreciated the surprise of the envelopes that speaks to all of our child-like curiosities.

I found Rhor’s use of small colourful geometrical shapes filling in the shape of trees and landscapes quite intriguing. Every part of the canvas was full of bright colours that balanced each other out. I feel the message Rhor is trying to relate is the loss of innocence and a finding of the unknown--that great chasm of adulthood when you realize you were never the person you thought you were and neither are the people that surround you. Without the idea of Lost and Found behind her show, I think Rhors paintings could stand-alone based on composition and colour. In fact, the ideas of lost and found didn't really come across, but I wouldn’t mind having a couple hang on my wall.

Erin Carter is Prairie Artsters 2008 intern

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bureau de Change, Walter Phillips Gallery, July 12 - September 28, 2008

As a major centre of artistic research, practice and exchange in Southern Alberta and beyond, The Banff Centre looks back with this immense exhibition featuring highlights from past visiting artists spanning every form of discipline and tradition.

Image credit: Helen Chadwick Piss Flower (9), 1992 (2006) Bronze, cellulose lacquer + 3 APs. Collection of the New Art Centre, Wiltshire, U.K

From Rebecca Belmore’s Ayumee-aawach Oomama-mowan (Speaking to Their Mother) (1991) confronting viewers as they enter the gallery to gems from Dan Graham, Ed Poitras, Helen Chadwick and dozens more, the overarching statement pushes the significance of the works created during artist residencies into the realm and importance of the archive. As a mode of collecting and recording, the archive of a gallery lives in a present state of ideas moving in constant exchange.

Image credit: Micah Lexier, Touch Paper Once (Installation detail), 2008.

Accompanied by Touch Paper Once: Selected Documents from the Walter Phillps Gallery Archives 1976 - 2007, the archival nature of the exhibition is only reinforced by Micah Lexier’s extensive perusal of paper documents pertaining to the business and art of The Banff Centre’s visual art program. From fax cover sheets, inventory lists, photocopies and Polaroids, Touch Paper Once re-engages with the nature of archives as an ongoing paratextual record of institutional memory. As The Banff Centre turns 75, we are reminded of its past accomplishments as an inspiring hub of creation and its continuing presence as a place of connection.

Curated by Sylvie Gilbert and Helga Pakasaar

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Prairie Artsters - More Matter, Less Art in Fort McMurray*

Catching up with Erin Schwab this past week, the former U of A MFA graduate and current Assistant Professor at Fort McMurray Keyano College had lots to share about the current state of culture up in the Mac.

Keyano Art Gallery, the only gallery and exhibition space in town, has shut its doors for the summer and will not be reopening this fall. Studios remain out of the question in a city where thriving stores and cafés can’t even keep up with rent, and for the first time in their lives, professional artists will have to give up the idea of a studio space.

Image uncredited

There is really no place in the world quite like Fort McMurray. With a recorded population of 80 000 and growing (not including the temporary camp populations), the common ground for everyone is that they are not from there, and that they are here on a temporary basis. Set against an expanding small town backdrop, Fort McMurray has become one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. Visitors are always surprised by how beautiful and picturesque the city really is, shedding mental images of drainage and derricks for a pretty little town that’s increasingly busy, but with not much to do. There are long line ups everywhere to do everything from banking to grocery shopping, which sums up the majority of activities between work and sleep.

With the conflation of sports and culture into one civic focus, there are currently three multimillion dollar sports and leisure complexes underway; but even with long empty corridors and major funders from the oil and gas industry looking to retain citizens and employees with an enriched level of life, the artistic portion of community wellness slips through the cracks once again.

The college provides one access point to finding an artistic life. Keyano Theatre has grown into a popular local outing, with rising interest in dance and visual arts. There are pockets, not quite communities, of people trying to get things started, but when almost all of all of the daily conversations are about making money and moving back to wherever you came from, how do you build a community around that?

Not that there isn’t interest; an amateur photo club called an inaugural meeting and over 50 people showed up. But with shift work, a regular weekly or monthly meeting is impossible to keep.

Doubling as the Gallery Director of Keyano Art Gallery—the only art gallery in Fort McMurray and the most northern gallery in Alberta—last year, Schwab programmed local shows as well as exhibitions and lectures by visiting artists like Dana Claxton, Sky Glabush and the premiere exhibition of recent Allen Ball paintings. As one of three visual art faculty members, people who move to the boom town turn to them for suggestions and resources, from professionals who were established artists elsewhere to people who just want their kids to participate.

“People pick our brains on how to start up something, but we’re all running in circles,” shares Schwab, who originally hails from Morinville, just north of St Albert. “Everyone is focused on infrastructure and housing. We know culture should be happening for various reasons, like professional retention, but nobody knows how it’s started. There’s no resources, no space, no regularity in people’s day-to-day schedules. Nobody knows how to support it and sustain it.”

Seemingly bleak, Schwab notes it can be very inspiring. “The students are great. They would rather take an art class than make $40 an hour. They’re in an art program and they really enjoy it. They could be making their parents really happy, but instead they are in school for something that won’t guarantee them a job in one of the most employable cities. Now that’s very inspiring.”

With more cultural interest, or curiosity, coming in from outside of Fort McMurray than within, Schwab is among a small handful of people working towards creating something, anything beyond a giant hole in the ground. The gallery was a space devoted to more than exhibiting art: it was a place for artists to reach out to the community and a destination point for artists from beyond Fort McMurray. However, with the closure of Keyano, there is only so much momentum that can be created. The closure is certainly a blow, but the future of the space remains up in the air. Reticent and reserved, Schwab will just have to take her students out of town more often, but firmly believes that it’s easier to maintain a local space than to let go and start all over again.

*First published in Vue Weekly, August 21 - 27, 2008

jobs in Fort McMurray

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Oil, Science and Oil, Sherri Chaba & Lyndal Osborne, Capital Arts Building, Aug 14 - 28, 2008

Austere and still, the new exhibition by Lyndal Osborne and Sherri Chaba permeate a meticulousness unparalleled in sublime elegance. As mixed media artists with a close affinity to the land and its rhythms, their collaborative effort, Experimental Distinction, combines their distinction aesthetics together into a playful gesture with apocalyptic undertones. Five cocoon-like sacks from Chaba are filled with accumulated bundles of wonder courtesy of Osborne, from a horse’s spine to clusters of skin-like tumours, each hang listlessly over rubber oil puddles of taxidermied wildlife. The animals, most of them taxidermied by Chaba’s father, inject a dose of life and humour into the overall somber tone of the piece; but as they remain arrested in a state of displaced action within their little toxic islands, we are aware that their natural habitats face a looming threat, and that the simple rustic pulley system anchoring each cocoon can just as easily be released, crashing down to meet the inevitable fate with a destroyed environment.

Image credit: "Experimental Extinction" Sherri Chaba and Lyndal Osborne, 2008. Courtesy of the artists.

Their message is not one of doom or idealism, but one that goes beyond the spectrum of opinions and just exists as a state of being. In hearing each artist speak about their work, which is inextricably linked to their lives, Osborne living out in an acreage just southwest of Edmonton, and Chaba still living on the family farmland near Redwater, you can hear that they are very aware of their environment, from the land’s natural rhythms to the development and legal implications. Surveying Osborne’s tremendous garden, and the wall of miniature cubicles and window sills lined with jars and cases of organic materials gathered, there remains an undeniable awe in a mixture of fascination and sympathy.

Image credit: Lyndal Osborne, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, 2006. Courtesy of the artist.

Osborne has been consumed with the affects of genetically modified foods, researching for her work and interest and accumulating a breadth of knowledge on the modern state of food production. Her individual contribution to the Capital Art Gallery exhibit is Endless Forms Most Beautiful, a two year old work that’s been traveling across the country and ends its tour here. As a majestic offering of ritual and presence, tens of thousands of organic and inorganic materials come together in an orchestrated cacophony of colours and textures. Only beauty is unable to resist Osborne’s grasp of decay and tragedy as under the soft halogen glow of an otherwise cold scientific lab setting, the individual pods of genetically modified seeds becomes one of the most arresting situations we as a modern society have to face. Osborne also lines up several oversized bell jars, filled with non treated shells and skins of organic material, from avocados and lemon gourds, pale and muted in colour in contrast to the hyperbolized seed pods that catch your eye with their estranged colours and excessive offerings.

Image credit: Sherri Chaba, Detail from The Remains of the Day, 2008. Courtesy of the artist.

Around the corner from Osborne is Chaba’s solo work, The Remains of the Day, a new work that develops further the nature of the human physiology with that of nature’s life and death cycles. Working with thin, dark wires that connote a hard strength with frail tenderness, the tenderlings hanging create volume, shadows, and density. You could be walking amongst the skeletal remains of a destroyed forest, burned down through chemicals, as you encounter the frays above you and the black silhouetted woodlanders below. There is a sense of mourning, but set along a path guided to take the viewer through an experience, the same experience Chaba feels as she continues to fight for her legal rights as a land owner in rural Alberta at the dawn of the 21st century, there are also hints of regrowth, but one that will be altered forever.

Paired with choice pieces from the AFA collection including two works by Walter May, a charred essay by Peter von Tiesenhausen, and some older works from Osborne, the overall affect is nothing short of an enlightening experience in the heart of a concrete city.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Richard Toscazk and Jacque Clement, Harcourt House Gallery, REVIEW BY KIRSTEN MCCREA

Two figurative shows, Richard Tosczak's Drawing into Sculpture and Jacque Clement's Luciole, grace the Harcourt House Gallery this month. The artists are well paired: above and beyond the obvious connection of gestural studies of the human form, both are committed to an exploration of the process behind their work.

Image credit: Richard Tosczak, 2008

Tosczak's exhibition pairs recent clay sculptures with accompanying figure drawings. The clay figures are loose and energetic, retaining all the spontaneity of the gestural studies on which they were based. Displaying the sculptures still wet and with supporting armature offers a rare chance to see the steps behind a finished bronze piece. I particularly enjoyed the figures laying casually on their stomachs, arms dangling nonchalantly over the edge of their pedestal, as if they had wandered over and flopped down for a rest.

Luciole is an exhibition of recent works on paper by Montreal artist Jacques Clement. Folded and hung accordion-style, his drawings pull you easily through the room, wondering what lays beyond each fold. The pieces start out small and gradually grow larger as the exhibition progresses, culminating in the massive 8-foot-tall, 24-foot-long namesake, Luciole.

Image credit: Jacque Clement, 2008

Each piece is comprised of a varying number of 5" x 11" figure studies. Clement's use of layers and mixed media to add depth and texture to what is admittedly well-trodden imagery is impressive. Smaller pieces like 2008's Zemas are so richly developed that it becomes hard to imagine how the thin sheets of paper can hold so much material. His skillful use of bold colours and gestural line-work, combined with repeating frames that reference film strips, creates imagery that instantly draws you in and begins to construct a narrative.

I think that his strength lies in turning a simple gestural figure study into a complex portrait. Sadly, it's a skill that seems to become lost in the larger pieces. Luciole is the largest piece in the show, but also the simplest; gone is the sophisticated and rich palette of his smaller works, replaced with the dominating colours of orange, red, and black. There is still motion and movement to the piece, but the drawings are for the most part far more simple, and empty frames filled with spray-painted colour don't add anything to the piece.

While the smaller works drew me in and made me marvel at his skill, Luciole overwhelms with size and simplicity.

Review of Caitlin Wells MFA exhibition: Waiting Room REVIEW BY MANDY ESPEZEL

Caitlin Wells’ MFA exhibition from the University of Alberta’s printmaking department is a collection of seven mixed media wall mounted images, and three video pieces; two of which are projections, the other a horizontal series of four small screens. In the first seven works, Wells builds up images using a combination of grids, intersecting lines and fluctuating ink stains. The videos are time elapsed documentation of ink tablets dissolving and absorbing into paper, streaming in forward and reverse sequence. The show as a whole operates as an implied conversation between structure and chaos.

Both mediums serve as visual representations for the larger ideas that Wells mentions in her statement for the show. She talks about how the transient nature of life informs the work. Visual art is used as a tool for understanding and communication. In Wells’ lexicon, graphs become symbolic of the ordered world, where we document change in order to decipher the events around us. Time can be represented in a consistent and unified manner; broken down into an easily recognizable format. The ink stains function as signifier for the un-ordered and individual, an abstract and unpredictable component that cannot be totally controlled. By combining these elements, Wells works to reconcile the incongruent.

The physical wall pieces make use of some very fundamental and well controlled visual essentials. There is the structural base of the grid representing a system of measurement and control. On top of this float the intricate ink forms, shifting in tone and density. In some of the pieces, interweaving lines bind around the ink-figures, connecting them to one another, exchanging information. Wells complicates these images by varying the surface qualities. One element may be extremely glossy, one matte, co-existing in the same atmosphere. There are also some surprising components of physicality, where pieces of clear or black material protrude off the canvas one or two inches thick. The graph paper is used to depict an environment that both balances and contrasts with the ambiguous shapes of the ink stains. The components are structurally minimalistic, but Wells assembles her chosen forms of mark making into complete and challenging images.

She uses the same basic visual elements in the videos, but the process of ink staining and drying becomes the central focus. One projection shows a tablet of white substance dissolving into a stream of liquid that creeps over a black surface, and then is shown being sucked back into the tablet in reverse. The second projection is similar, but features a black tablet on white paper. Instead of a stream, the black ink feathers out all around the central source. When played in reverse, the stain peels back over the paper fibres with reluctance. The four smaller screens document this wetting and spreading process as well. Instead of being projected onto the wall however, you look down on these screens, as though observing some ongoing experiment. The graph paper re-appears in these videos, adding to that quality of investigation.

At the start of Wells’ artist statement, she has a quote from Alan Lightman’s novel Einstein’s Dreams. Lightman spoke at the Arts and Science Symposium back in November of 07 as a part of the Cultural Capital of Canada programming, and his ideas about how we interact, and about the relationship between Art and Science have clearly influenced Wells’ practice. There is a visual emphasis on balance in these drawings, and the repetition/reversal of the videos encourages concentrated observation. There is also an intensity that exists within this subtlety. The embracement of specific visual cues allows for absolute dedication to there signified meaning. The reason the graph paper is successful as both a formal element and as conceptual representation, is that Wells believes totally in the power of that representation. Her ink stains provide contrast and tonal complexity, but they also function figuratively, evoking loneliness, or frustration, or humour. The opportunity to read into these pictures is endless because of the place they strive to inhabit: between the literal and the representational.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Artists' Books from the Home Museum, FAB Gallery, August 5 - 30, 2008

Curated by Megan Bertagnolli and based on the collection of Francis Brown and the gorgeous findings within the U of A Bruce Peel Special Collection, Artists' Books gathers some of the finest specimens of artist books made in the last fifty years in their original fragility.

As a far more transient and adaptable mode of creation and expression, the artist book is at best a raw snapshot of the artist's mind at work through both image and text. Wit, scrawls, personality, and presence permeates each and every single piece, presented in the usual glass cases as well as flattened out along the walls, a laudable move in making the words far more readable and each work less object-orientated by stressing its potential for engagement.

Scanning piece to piece, it's evident that most conceptual artists have at one point or another made an artist book: Joseph Kosuth, Yoko Ono, Bruce Nauman, Joseph Beuys, Sol Lewitt; but my personal favorites were from Brown himself and Lucy Lippard, where the banality of formal text, in forms of bureaucratic compositions and regulations, becomes a play of visual poetics. With the same playful dissidence as poet Ted Berrigan's faux interview with John Cage or the paratextual play of Ring Lardner, Francis Brown over throws the authority of the written word and wrestles it down to the level of absurdity, crashing down with it meaning, language, and structure.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Prairie Artsters - Sister Cities*

Edmonton to Winnipeg. The horror of last week’s Greyhound incident came days after I met Shawna Dempsey, Winnipeg-based artist, curator and performer. Over the course of a week, we shared extended discussions about our respective cities, especially in reference to our “murder city” reputations. Having traded the number one ranking for homicide in Canada back and forth for the last number of years, Edmonton and Winnipeg must share some sort of social affinity, we thought, and this horrific act of randomness only deepens the ongoing inquiry into the relation between a place and its people.

In town for Visualeyez, Dempsey agreed to meet up and talk about the pros and cons of living and creating in a relatively isolated city, and the mentality it takes to prosper—or even just survive.

Originally hailing from Scarborough, Dempsey is of course one half of the infamous Lorri Millan and Shawna Dempsey duo, who have created works ranging from their seminal collaboration “We’re Talking Vulva” (1990) to their terrorist organization, Consideration Liberation Army, and a lengthy list of projects that cross-pollinate media and aesthetics. They have curated three major Winnipeg-based group shows at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, taking a critical look at how contemporary artists are responding to the city they call home (Subconscious City, 2008) and what the upcoming generation of local artists are doing (Supernova, 2006).

Touring extensively, collected nationally and representing Canada on the international scale, Dempsey relates that although Winnipeg may not be for everyone with their curiously high levels of eccentricities, the city has been a solid base from which to create and cultivate. Straddling between the realms of “serious art” and entertainment, Dempsey and Millan’s works are charged with political sentiments masked in wry humour, with costumes to match. Performing on the street and in malls, galleries, recreation centres, comedy clubs and even churches, Dempsey thinks that the redneck honesty of Winnipeg has helped in the long run.

“It allows me to engage with the city and the people instead of always just talking to fellow artists,” she explains. “It’s nice sometimes, but when I was in Toronto, everyone I hung out was a lesbian socialist feminist! In Winnipeg, the crowds are different; I’m talking to cops, plumbers, bakers. It’s more real and it connects to your community.”

Like Edmonton, Winnipeg is a blue collar city filled with citizens who love talking about the city for better or for worse, internally marvelling over its own constant stream of complexities and simplicities. With Calgary as the next closest major Canadian city for both Winnipeg and Edmonton, disconnection broods a mentality to give things a try and make things happen on your own, that anyone can do anything over a “who do you think you are” attitude. One major difference is that, while it is also a developer-driven city, Winnipeg has one of the best municipal and provincial funding bodies in Canada, second only to Québec. There is also less of a transient mentality there than there is here, lending heart to long-term investments and building out connections through stability.

While everyone continues to try and grapple with the sensational and devastating news that is circulating world wide, its aftershocks are slowly rippling through our city streets. Individuals are a little more conscious of the strangers around them on the bus, eye contact is diminishing; small, subtle changes in how we interact with each other collectively are taking shape. As an arts community, it is our responsibility to react and to respond. We are the interpreters; we may not have answers, we should not have answers, but we must investigate and express, because this is our home.

*First published in Vue Weekly, August 7 - 13, 2008

Saturday, August 2, 2008

David Poolman, The Nauvoo Suite & Slawomir Grabowy, Self-Portrait 60 and 35, SNAP, July 24 - Sept 6, 2008, REVIEWED BY MANDY ESPEZEL

The show currently up in SNAP’s main gallery space is a combined exhibition which features the images of printmakers David Poolman and Slawomir Grabowy. The artists work with a similar aesthetic, but the bodies of work were created and remain completely separate. Poolman is exhibiting a series of prints based on themes of youthful rebellion and violence in the form of arson. Grabowy’s work is much less concrete in its source, but has a definite connection to the act of repetition in mark making, and how pictures are formed through material means. It was at first challenging to see a connection between these two series that was not obvious (both artists use black ink on white paper and have quite graphic styles, hard edged with little tonal variation). Considering their work separately helps to illuminate why they are shown together.

David Poolman 'deader' 6 archival inkjet prints on stonehenge, 22 x 40 cm, 2006

Poolman has on display what feels like two bodies of work. A vertical wall displays the series Deader, which consists of six Inkjet prints that each show a head of hair at a slightly larger-than-life scale, minus the heads. We see the intricate patterns of hair in shapes free floating on white paper, which weaves between existing as positive and negative space. It becomes the face, the mouth, a neck. They look like abandoned wigs that have been discarded for being out of date. Next to this is The Burning of the Nauvoo Temple, a series of woodcut prints that are much more abstracted and generalized. They have a gritty feel, like really old pixilation.

David Poolman, 'the burning of the nauvoo temple', 9 woodcuts in stonehenge, 22 x 30 cm, 2006

In the summary for the show, Poolman explains how he interprets arson as a symbol of unrest and dissent. The black and white forms in these prints are vaguely descriptive, reading as dramatically simplified landscapes, or buildings. The lack of detail creates an unsettling sense of visual destruction, as if the formally clear picture has been degraded to this point of obscurity. The connection between Poolman’s ‘hair’ pieces and the Nauvoo Temple work is unexplained, but they do seem to have some sort of relationship; perhaps it’s referring to the importance youth place on hair styles, contrasted with the desire to rebel against such shallow expression in violent and destructive ways.

Where Poolman works within a destruction-becomes-image context, Grabowy uses mark making as a kind of personal record. Self-portrait 60 and 35 is the title of his show, which consists of mostly geometric and organically shaped forms, carved from linocuts.

Slawomir Grabowy 'My 3rd Kopiec' linocut, 49 x 73 cm, 2008

There is a strong coloration between Grabowy’s prints and the infamous ‘Op-Art’ of earlier generations. Patterns of stripes and diagonal lines with shifting line weights create an optical effect of movement and volume. To Grabowy, the act of cutting into a surface becomes a record of time. No attempt is made to refer to anything explicitly figurative or representational, other than geometrical shapes. Lines of flat black ink vibrate on the surface, with the white paper serving as both ground and form, activating the space between each individual mark. This work is extremely formal in execution, and maintains a conceptual emphasis on personal expression through the use of material. Which is perhaps the connection between the work of these artists. Both use very simple shapes, consisting of black marks, to formulate pictures that balance between describing an image, and allowing the image to remain un-defined. This ambiguity is pursued in the actual physical creation of the print, and in their individual motivations of why they make images. The two exhibitions could be easily simplified based on their visual similarities, but the contrasts between the bodies of work provide for some multifaceted interpretations.