Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Three Day Tour of Winnipeg

Finally heading to the other edge of the prairies, I managed a short stay in Winnipeg to get a dose of the community. Although no studio visits were completed (but a partial studio move was endured), I did receive a gracious tour around Winnipeg's artist run centers and galleries courtesy of Shawna Dempsey.

First up was Platform Gallery, an artist run center that focuses on digital and photographic arts. Saskatoon-based Clark Ferguson's In Search of Desire was present on the walls inside the Artspace Building. First encountering Ferguson's short video "Farmer Jeans" last summer, the same glossy aesthetic remains present, but his brand of humour remains elusive.

(We would also run into visual artist Sarah Anne Johnson here and elsewhere that day. Johnson, whose works I first encountered during a Banff open studio visit, and where that work materialized into a show at the Illingworth Kerr, and whose reputation in the contemporary art world is steadily climbing with prestigious acquisitions and awards, would be an art star in any other scene, but in a city void of even hipsters, self-aggrandizing may be the only thing more socially awkward than the city itself.)

Next up was aceart, where Montreal-based Alexandre David's Over Here filled the space with a voluminous architectural sculpture made entirely of soft wood. At first appearing as an indoor skateboarding ramp, once on the ramp that ascends close to the ceiling in a gentle curve, the give under one's weight, the scent and almost flavour of the fresh cut wood, and naturally the reverberation of sound it causes within the space reveal themselves and reconfigure how we engage and organize space.

Speaking with artist and aceart administrator Liz Garlicki, I was also gladly informed about the center's series of critical publications, essays, and artist books that are an integral part to aceart's mandate to produce and disseminate dialogue from contemporary cultural producers.

In the same building, we stopped in on Urban Shaman, where Cliff Eyland had curated Manitoba-based artists Peter Prince and Jackie Traverse together for a mediocre painting show. While one or two mixed media canvases by Traverse shone with honest brutality, the show as a whole did not necessarily speak to each other, and certainly not to the viewer about why these works belonged with each other. As Manitoba's only Aboriginal artist run center, I was expecting more text and information from and about contemporary practitioners, but save for a darkened corner of books and a table over stacked with outdated postcards, there was no visible or accessible information about the center and its activities.

On to Plug In, where Pandora's Box was currently showing. Curated by Amanda Cachia, the show and tour was organized by the Dunlop Gallery in Regina, where I first saw it in its original presentation. Featuring ten international female artists from a multitude of backgrounds and disciplines, the show had far more room to breath in the gorgeous Plug In venue, but very notably missing was the Kara Walker short film (which was unfortunately replaced with editioned stills from her gallery in New York).

Brief stops were made at MAWA, a mentoring center for women artists where Dempsey and Lorri Millan have been working as co-Executive Directors for this past year. More of a resource space than a gallery space, MAWA seems to be an emblem of Winnipeg's cooperative spirit that espouses help and mentorship far more than competition and rivalry.

A stop was also made at Videopool, where a stack of Poolside publications, information about their various programming throughout the year, and a members' DVD catalogue later, completely affirmed its reputation as what a media arts center should be. As a meeting space for its members, Videopool is first and foremost a resource center that generates new avenues and accessibilities for distribution, technical facilities, archives, residencies, annual publications, funding possibilities, and programming initiatives. Attracting Andrew Harwood to step in from Toronto as the new Executive Director, he will follow a dynamic era led by Sandee Moore, who once again returns to her own artistic practice.

The final space visited was of course the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Sheltered entirely in tyndall stone since 1912, the WAG is just one more heritage building that continues to survive in downtown Winnipeg, though they continue to have their fair share of demolitions and renovations.

There primarily to find Allyson Mitchell's Ladies Sasquatch behind the silver antique selection, I was surprisingly taken a back by the Joe Fafard retrospective. Having seen his work countless times, the retrospective was the first time I have appreciated his work. With focus on his early works, which stand out in their curiosity, Fafard's impeccable note for the mundane detail is certainly on display as you walk by each pedestal. Placed outside of the market value context, Fafard's genuine compulsion with re-figuring ordinary folks and familiarities shine through, giving a face to the world he knows to a world that may otherwise forget.

- A.F. Edmonton

No comments: