Taking this past year to focus on collective issues rather than individual exhibits, I recently missed the opportunity to review three shows that really should have been talked about more. There’s recently been a lot of energy exhausted over arts writing and criticism, but wading through the incessant threads of sniveling self-privileging monologues, there doesn’t seem to be much development in the level of the writing itself. It’s one thing to keep up on grammar, but the depth and breadth of the writing also needs to be polished. Looking over just the past two weeks, three shows that should have received better and more detailed attention include Kim Sala’s “Soundscapes” at FAB, “The Office Show” curated by Tiffany Shaw-Collinge, and “Grandview Manor”, the collaboration between David Hoffos and Victoria Composite highschoolers.
Within a few day’s span, Edmonton opened an MFA exhibit that could have stood in any contemporary gallery and collection; an independent site specific mixed media installation that brought together an incredibly eclectic range and caliber of national artists; and one of Edmonton’s public schools premiered one of Canada’s forerunning media artists in a unique collaboration. Holding onto this perception that art is better in other cities carries over to the false belief that arts writing is better in other places too. It may be better covered, given more room to breathe, but we’re getting there. If we can just stop comparing ourselves to places like New York, which really is quite preposterous, and compare ourselves to similar cities like Winnipeg, Manitoba, Dallas, Texas, Adelaide, South Australia, then Edmonton actually appears rather interesting.
Take Sala’s show, which is without a doubt the most surprising painting exhibit (MFA or otherwise; Edmonton or otherwise) in recent memory. Sala knows how to paint, understands the texture and viscosity and dynamics of paint, but that is not her point. Destroying her completed works and reassembling them, intuitively following the synaesthestic qualities of form and line found in both sound and painting, Sala creates paintings by collapsing sensory parameters and spatial delineations.
Physically tuning into the space between home and studio for the past several years, Sala has interpreted her daily routines into an in-depth exploration. There is movement in each painting, not movement in the fluidity of the paint itself, but movement in compositional coordination, movement in thought provocation and arrestations in how we sense our environment. Some critics have given up on painting for its lack of movement on and off the canvas, but it takes someone like Sala, who follows her own lines of thought and movement, and does so convincingly, to push forward our perceptions beyond obvious art historical perspectives.
“Soundscapes” is also aesthetically gorgeous in shape and palette, which makes it difficult to not completely moon over, as formally the works elevate not just painting, but also collage, which has been growing in popularity again. I attended the opening of “Soundscapes” and found everyone was on their way to “The Office Show”, which had the allure of being a better party. Holding off to see the show until the weekend, this site specific installation is the second project by Shaw-Collinge, who created a sensation with her co-curation of “The Apartment Show” (2007). Moving from the idea of home to the idea of work, “The Office Show” drastically differed from its previous effort in one preconception: that everyone grasps the nuisances of office life. In the same vein as how “Dilbert” or “The Office” is completely not funny to anyone who’s never worked in an office environment, “The Office Show” waded between two very different sets of perceptions. Most artists may not like office work, as many of the works espoused, but office workers can certainly appreciate art. Not mutually inclusive of each other, the fundamental question that needed to be asked was how did the art works situate themselves into an office space, from the front waiting room to the water cooler to each individual cubicle? Some went too extreme in interpretation, which worked well for “The Apartment Show” where home is a space of individuality, but extremism does not exist in the conformity of the office. The most successful piece was then Kenneth Doren’s subtle installation, which could have passed for any forgotten corner stashing old fluorescent light covers and out of date speakers. Using site specific materials, Doren presented a moment of solace, drowning out the office hum with Bach and asking us to peer deeper into the mundane.
Hoffos had apparently quite enjoyed this piece at the opening, as I briefly caught up with him during the three hour viewing of “GrandView Manor”, which was situated under the bleachers at Vic Comp’s East Gym. A Hoffos-esque exhibit in every manner, the students created the projections that touched on issues of homelessness, domestic turmoil, laundry, and other personal stories. Viewed from inside of someone’s empty apartment, with hints of voyeurism, loneliness, and abandonment, looking out of the window you peered down onto a false walk up across a rendering of an Edmonton street, with detail down to the wind swept garbage and pencil thin trees.
Upon request, I did a semi-formal interview with two of the students about the overall process and final outcome. Everyone was visibly exhausted, but you could tell they were actually inspired by this first taste of media arts and interdisciplinary possibilities. At the end of our interview, one of the students was surprised how nice it was to actually talk about the work after you make it and see it, and I just really couldn’t agree more.
*First published in abridged form in Vue Weekly June 11 - 17, 2009