Saturday, September 26, 2009

Monumental Moving Project (David Hoffos' Scenes From a House Dream)*

Requiring 5000 square feet of open space and spanning 25 separate works consisting of 40-channel installation, audio and mixed-media dioramas, soundscapes, projections, mirrors, false walls, windows, lighting, surprise cut outs, and every other semblance of dreams brought to life, David Hoffos’ sprawling installation Scenes from a House Dream (2003 - 2008) challenges the viewer at every turn, and as it turns out, is an even greater challenge to tour.

Before its first opening at Lethbridge’s Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Hoffos and two full-time assistants spent 17 days turning two floors of the Gallery into a fully-immersive funhouse of strange and haunting scenes. This fall, Hoffos and crew will remount it the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. The logistics required to transport an exhibition of this scale require more effort and funds than the standard show, and Hoffos is sharply feeling the absence of the Department of Canadian Heritage Exhibition Transportation Service, which was cut from the Federal budget in April of 2008. As a direct result of the cutbacks, the original presenter for Scenes from a House Dream pulled out, and Hoffos and his supporters had to rethink almost the entire original tour.

Now, there are potentially three to six stops across the country after the National Gallery installation, but with an intricate and labour-intensive installation, every step of this show is proving to be a stretch of human limits and imagination. With 21 large crates, and the logistical expertise of laying out each discrete installation and its light sensitive construction into a navigable experience, the act of touring this show has become an art unto itself.

“In this last year of the project and first year of the tour, I have really needed my long-term Canada Council grant,” Hoffos says. “Just to free me up to focus properly on this one project. I have also had support from my commercial agents — they had committed to financing the crate-building, which is very generous considering that there is no immediate return for them.” Currently coordinated through Rodman Hall at Brock University — where director and curator Shirley Madill brought it from her previous post at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

Scenes from a House Dream opens in Ottawa on November 6.

*First published in Galleries West, Fall 2009

Inside The Works 2009*

Every summer for the past 24 years, The Works Art and Design Festival has taken over Edmonton’s downtown core with a spectrum of international art and design. Highlighting the work of fine artists at various stages of their careers in lobbies, basements, and hallways, The Works remains Northern Alberta’s biggest art festival. With the 2009 theme of "Heat", arts and crafts tents and a spacious beer garden cover most of the main area of Sir Winston Churchill Square in Edmonton. The art exhibitions can be found near the north end of the Square, tucked away to the side of the road.

Filtering through the rest of the year’s “Heat” line up, Allen Ball’s non-temperature-related Spectacle in a State of Exception was a pleasant surprise in the always-busy foyer of the Stanley Milner library. Known primarily as a painter, Ball continues on from his last work The German Autumn in Minor Spaces by focusing on photography as a medium to render the psychology and memory of space. The Works show, created during his volunteer post in the Canadian Forces Artist Program, samples a larger body of work that will tour across Canada.

Another highlight from the Festival came from emerging Edmonton artist Josée Aubin Ouellette’s Playground Architects. As one of the few artists who chose her own exhibition space, Ouellette independently approached the YMCA because of the real three-dimensional jungle gyms running alongside the hallway gallery. With five large canvases playfully flattening down the structures into rigid, rudimentary shapes and colours, Ouellette successfully demonstrated an astute awareness of how traditional art forms can engage with public space, an awareness that doesn’t apply to the Festival itself.

From its roots as an idea to revitalize Edmonton’s deserted downtown core by celebrating art in office lobbies and then-empty For Lease storefront windows, The Works hasn’t grown in tandem with the city’s changing dynamics. As architectural standards and public art procedures are finally being put into place, The Works carries on with art culled from non-site-specific open calls — and the Festival’s lack of curatorial vision is growing more obvious. Sprawling into 30 sites, many of which are programmed independently and function regardless of the Festival, The Works appears to be more about maintaining and securing annual partnerships than it is about inspiring art and public engagement. The Works has grown more akin to an overblown craft fair than an international-calibre art and design festival, moving further away from its original mandate to put public art in alternative spaces.

*First published in Galleries West, Fall 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Prospectus Group Show, SNAP Gallery, Sept 10 - Oct 17, 2009

As a dedicated members-run printmaking center for 27 years, SNAP's member shows have consistently demonstrated a caliber on par with the city's University printmaking program. Sharing many of the same alumni due to plain geography and community building, Prospectus brings together a range of artists beyond their relationships as mentors and students and into the realm of professional peers.

Symbolically, the show stands in for Edmonton's printmaking community as it travels to Montreal and Belfast in 2010 with the possibility of bringing their printmaking communities here. Featuring many of Edmonton's esteemed printmakers like SNAP co-founder Marc Siegner and Akiko Taniguchi and Sean Caufield, the show has a healthy range of printmakers at various stages in their careers, and their range of techniques serves to compliment each other on the intimacy of mark making. But on the flip side, the inclusion of aesthetics is palpable.

Already been criticized for looking too inwardly, I am reminded about the last time I was genuinely excited about printmaking. During last year's Edmonton Print International where the works showcased moved beyond the framed 2D work of technical labour, I as a viewer, had my perception and possibilities of printmaking exponentially expanded. Having mostly experienced printmaking in the context of Edmonton's legacy, the EPI show demonstrated one clear notion: that internationally, printmaking has no disciplinary boundaries tied to its infinite technical possibilities.

SNAP continues as a closely knit community within an already closely knit printmaking scene, but this members show makes me wonder if there opportunities to exist on the fringes of this collective core? A year after having my mind blown from EPI, while scanning across a solid show by local artists, I couldn't help but reminisce about those works that pushed past their templates of what printmaking should be, and in turn caused me, as a viewer, to do the same.

- A.F. Edmonton

Prairie Artsters: Elaborate On Collaborate*

What Does It Mean When Someone Wants To Collaborate?

Collaborating, as both word and action, gets tossed around a lot these days. Everyone seems to be collaborating with someone, and if for some untimely reason they are not, then there's definitely talk of collaborating on a future project.

I will offer the opinion up front: collaborating is extremely difficult. Or more precisely: good collaborations are extremely difficult. A juggling act of vision, skills, egos, personal growth and straight up logistics, to collaborate means to trust and release total control by all parties in favour of a unified and comprised vision—and unfortunately not many people can pull this off.

Recently experiencing three very different types of collaborations in the form of contemporary dancer/choreography Paul André Fortier with musician Robert Racine, drawing between Tim Rechner and Caitlin Sian Richards, and a mixed media visual installation by Sarah Alford, Jennifer Bowes, and Shirley Weibe, I'm left wondering about the limitless processes behind such a common yet diverse practice.

In their artist talk prior to their opening performance, Fortier and Racine made it clear that collaborating needs a single vision. Fortier, who turned 60 last year and who cites visual artist Betty Goodwin as a past collaborator (in an era when nobody gets to collaborate with Betty Goodwin), referenced the art happenings and collaborations between now-prominent artists like John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Robert Rauschenberg as how dance, music and visual arts have always influenced each other. Wishing to distinguish the differences between influences and collaborations, I am unconvinced that Fortier's production of Cabane moved beyond mutual inspiration and into the realm of collaboration.

The wonder of Racine was certainly on display, and as a presence, Racine as a performer certainly triggered much of the movement; but the production was without a doubt a Fortier Danse creation first and foremost. Racine's skills have most likely inspired and benefited Fortier as an artist, and Fortier has injected new blood into the melancholic Racine, but the work created was not a collaboration of visions, but a performance of Fortier's concept of how Racine could contribute to Fortier's meticulously choreographed work.

As Edgar Degas was greatly influenced by sitting in on ballet classes, producing a series that would shape the era of Impressionism to Richard Serra's formative and vested interest in contemporary dance, channeling this perception of movement and space into post-war sculpture, these too are not collaborations, but points of research and one-sided inspiration. The question then is: does actively involving your inspiration in the process equal a collaboration?

Local figurative painter Caitlin Sian Richards premiered her new series of drawing exercises made with abstract painter Tim Rechner in FAVA's Ortona Gallery as a more democratic collaboration. With pieces created in tandem in Rechner's studio, along with pieces traded between the two over a span of four months, it is visually clear that Richards' formal techniques are heading into a new direction through the influence of Rechner's more emotional and immediate approaches. Rechner, whose work continues to be based in a harnessed intuition, contributes his aesthetic and energy to the show, but like Racine, he too serves more as a trigger and influence in the overall work.

On the same night of Richards and Rechner's opening, Alford/Bowes/Weibe's Spaces Within | Within Spaces premiered at Harcourt House. Also calling this a collaboration, the artists showcase three distinct sections reflective of each artist's practice. Since meeting three years ago in Grande Prairie, and living and working respectively between areas in Northern Alberta/Chicago/Vancouver, the three have kept in touch through periodic updates on what each is working on, and even sending in samples of materials at times. The individual works alone are indicative of each artist's heavily processed aesthetics and practices, sharing similarities in transformative labor techniques and subtractive aesthetics. With undetectable compromises engaging in quiet conversations amongst the works, the unification of the pieces solidifies their process into a collaborative exhibit. As each piece can stand on its own, it is their inclusion of each other's growth that creates the potential to mutually inform and expand each other.

*First published in Vue Weekly, Sept 17 - 23, 2009

- A.F. Edmonton

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Prairie Artsters: Art Criticism*

Looking for an honest rejection: Criticism isn't so bad, so long as you know who's doing it

When it comes to feedback, be it on an art show or a new haircut, there is always an overwhelming pull to only hear the negative. Falling back on that tired cliché that it's just easier to believe the bad things in the world, those who want to make art simply need to grow a thicker skin. Art is meant to be shared in the public arena, and that means it will be scrutinized, speculated, celebrated and judged no matter what.

Moving in-between fine lines of honesty and brutality, criticism and whining, and previews and nepotism, when there is a hint (or a smack) of rejection or negativity, what should be professional quickly slides into something personal. As artists, often in the case of emerging artists unsure of their own path, one diss often turns into all that was needed to second guess yourself, your capabilities and quit your art for something safe from the barbs of outside perception.

But the context changes if rejection of your work is coming down from an anonymous source, a faceless voice, one that doesn't even offer any context or background from which constructive criticism could be gleamed.

All of this comes from a recent sit down with local industrial designer and artist Adriean Koleric, who wanted to talk about criticism. Starting from his own investigation into looking for honesty in reviews of his own work, Koleric was interested in talking about how I have handled criticism, in both dishing it, but mostly taking it.

Referring to the anonymous/moniker shielded remarks found on the Prairie Artsters blog, Koleric's interest in how I deal with rejection is a fair one. As artists and writers, you put yourself out there, often seeking feedback, and in the realm of internet anonymity, can only brace yourself for anything—so why keep doing it at all?

A recent article by the New York Sunday Times's Randy Cohen addresses this exact issue. Arguing anonymous posting on the Internet has proved to be more toxic for than encouraging of free speech, the article was prompted by the recent court order put onto Google to divulge the identity of one of its users who was anonymously defaming public personas for further legal redress. Cohen outlines legitimate forums for anonymity (like political dissent), while pinpointing that a major problem of Internet anonymity is that the crude keeps everyone else at bay. With no boundaries whatsoever, trying to maintain a healthy discourse with anonymous Internet users is akin to growing a garden in a patch of noxious weeds. The bad chokes out the good, and that simply cannot be ignored.

That said, I personally don't believe any real feedback should ever be dismissed, but we should note that no feedback exists without attachments to major self-esteem or entitlement issues, which when mixed with the distanciated communication of the Internet, is almost always poisonous.

A thousand "That's greats" are no equal for just one "That sucks." But as a believer in calling-it-like-it-is, I am an advocate for a difference of opinions so long as those opinions are legitimately backed up by a name, or research, and if we're all lucky, a bit of social etiquette.

*First published in Vue Weekly, September 3 - 9, 2009