With such a declarative title as We Don't Talk About the Weather, one could only assume the current ArtsHab One exhibition would address everything but the trivial and the mundane. But be forewarned: the title and works have very little to do with each other. According to the show's organizer, Robert Harpin, the title is suppose to be tongue-in-cheek, but I can only gather that being tongue-in-cheek rests on a fine line between being humorous and being nonsensical.
"Most of my works are more funny than serious, or at least hopefully they are," Harpin says, who is a current tenant of ArtsHab One and gathered his peers for this group exhibition. "And when you name your show We Don't Talk About The Weather, people are going to come to the show and talk about the weather. It's kinda funny that it's a way to introduce things or start a conversation, and I feel art starts conversations as well."
From the conventional to the silly, the works range from more established artists like Gloria Mok to new last-minute experiments by Eric Burton. Conversation starters or not, the offering of work hinges on the idea of collage, but with little insight into the variety of collages offered, the show is a mish-mash of concepts that are held very loosely together.
Calgary-based artist Michael Welchman offered the most engaging work, filling out an aged portrait of a British Commander-in-Chief in South Africa with drawings that seem to haunt the old Field-Marshall. While I am told there is a video component to the work, it was not present on the day I visited, but the portrait alone showed the most coherent artistic concept bridging the realm of existing images with the imagined narrative possibilities of collage.
The other strongest works belonged to Mok, who stands out from the rest of the group quite immediately in form and execution. Harpin, who knew all of the artists except for Mok, feels that she actually tempers the exhibition.
"I'll probably get into trouble for saying this, but Gloria situates the show. She makes it seem more artistic," Harpin says, before adding, "The rest of the show is silly, but she remains very true to the original sense of the word collage, giving a place of where the rest of the work is coming from."
Mok, who then assumes the anchor point for the show, plays between the real and the imagined of the natural world with watercolour collages she already had in the studio.
"I have a background in science and medicine," shares Mok, who is a practicing doctor by day. "So these concepts are quite familiar to me, but they are all imagined forms, inspired from the mind."
Facing most of Mok's collages are Harpin's own works. Predominantly occupied with the notion of hyper masculinity in pop culture, his boyish collages carry through a camp theme that is certainly more '50s retro in aesthetic. Working with sparkles and one-liner texts like "Dentists are nice" and "We Have No Agenda," Harpin's works engage the viewers to read into his juxtapositions, but falling just short of absurdity, his contrasts lack their suggested depth and process for this reviewer.
Soon to be the first tenants of ArtsHab Two, Harpin with wife and artist Aspen Zettel, hopes to continue organizing shows in the new building on 118 Avenue, and it is with hope that the next show will ignite a conversation that goes beyond the surface scope of not talking about the weather.
*First published in Vue Weekly