Saturday, May 1, 2010

ACAD All Faculty Exhibition, Illingworth Kerr Gallery, April 15-24, 2010

The ‘ACAD All Faculty Exhibition’, which showed at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery for a brief ten days, was an adequate survey of recent work from ACAD’s current instructors. The Illingworth Kerr’s two larger gallery spaces were dominated by 2-D works, with appearances from glass, jewelry, ceramics, sculpture, installation, and various digital and video pieces displayed on flat-screen monitors. While there were several surprises among more traditional pieces, the inclusion of so many artists in this kind of exhibition rarely allows adequate room for works to speak to each other. The pieces that stood out were those of inventive takes on well-known styles and strategies.

Fine Arts pieces hung alongside Design, revealing a wide range of painting techniques and skills. Appearances by Richard Edwards, Chris Cran, Jane Kidd, Blake Senini, Aurora Landin, Jeff De Boer, Don Kottmann and Jim Ulrich, to name just a few of the most familiar names, provided many beautiful and stalwart pieces. In contrast were quieter works such as Barbara Milne’s painting ‘Nightshade – Iceland, July’, which focused on deft paint handling and nubby texture, suggesting a closely-cropped mountain in muddy tones and stained brown dots in a powdery stripe of sky. ‘Shun’, a photo etching by Sondra Meszaros, seethed within its figurative confines, eerily combining viewing angles so that it wasn’t clear whether the heavy-set female figure faced outward or turned her back. The liminal textures and tones of the etching held time and place suspended despite a mid-seam which cut the piece bluntly in two.

('Shun', Sondra Meszaros)

Next to the piece by Meszaros was an inkjet print by Justin Waddell, strangely prefaced by a corny fountain complete with oracle ball spinning in changing colors like a dollar store ‘Lord of the Rings’ garden ornament. The inkjet print, hovering like a desktop screensaver behind the fountain, was of seamlessly blended pinks into peach. The title of the piece, ‘Young Hearts Be Free Tonight, Time Is On Your Side’, words instantly linkable to Rod Stewart’s 1982 radio-ready hit ‘Young Turks’, associates the song’s music video with its choreographed teens running towards a nighttime snog. The flat, insta-sunset colors of the inkjet seemed like a milky sign for mass-packaged nostalgia, while the ugly fountain as front man seemed plunked down as a funny response to anyone looking for a more conventional or personal response from Waddell, who instead provided the stale end-product of such a romantic longing.

(‘Young Hearts Be Free Tonight, Time Is On Your Side’, Justin Waddell)

Tanya Rusnak's three mixed media pieces, ‘Untitled Drawings No. I, II, III (From Series Crystallization and Drift)', appeared as vintage prints and patterns from another age, as they seemed to know intimately the textural and tonal language of antique inks and surfaces. Snowflake patterns in ceramic-white glowed within the deepest of printed blacks. Rubbed corners, edges, and rough lines cut into the sleekness, reminiscent of Bruce Conner's Rorschach works from the 70s and 80s.

(detail of ‘Untitled Drawings No. I, II, III (From Series Crystallization and Drift)', Tanya Rusnak)

Mireille Perron's 'Incubator for Conniving Polarities', a vintage doll's refrigerator turned into a diorama, was introduced by the artist's self-proclaimed curatorial premise of 'The Laboratory of Feminist Pataphysics', which Perron describes in a statement as “the reinvention of gendered science through fictive narrative”, often through “social experiments that masquerade as works of art”. The 'Incubator', a diorama seemingly devoted to the art school, features the tiniest of plastic figures who reminisce amongst, for example, a rooftop garden (which Perron calls the 'Garden of Blooming Abnormalities & Anarchic Proliferation'), or an odd glassed-in experiment booth to the left of a cafe (Perron calls this floor the 'Laboratory for Drifting Pollination and Cafe du Jardin'). Precious drawings cover the tiny walls, giving an otherwise heavy use of model-making materials a generous and personal appeal. In the midst of the third floor is a single circular mirror which shrinks and centers the viewer as part of the piece; an inclusion which invites meaning outside of the diorama’s self-contained world. While both the diorama form and the use of dryly funny descriptors for each floor of the ‘Incubator’ add just as many layers of control as inclusion, Perron seems to poke fun at this inevitability in the title of the basement: the 'Bureau of Punctual Self-Administration'.

(detail of 'Incubator for Conniving Polarities', Mireille Perron)

In the center gallery devoted to video and digital works, amidst classic plays on pixilation and ambient sound-works was a piece by Greg Pace which shifted the artist's well-known optical illusions into an unfamiliar digital space. The piece, titled 'Europa', did not give away its construction in quickly digested novelty as was common of many of the surrounding pieces, nor did it fall into the trap of merely resembling a slick website design. At any point in the piece, six vase shapes slid over top of each other in an inventively digital version of a classic reversible image game; the vase shapes lost their definition as fore- and frontal grounds appeared to be projected both atop and behind them. Images of ceramic, tile, paintings and textiles from art history both decorated and took up residence in the vases' facial profiles.

('Europa', Greg Pace; image source:

Other pieces surprised despite deceptively simple construction, such as Robert Geyer's pink-to-peach glass installation 'Pink Murmur' of tall glass rods in a thick bundle with tops bluntly snapped off in curves, resembling the heads of snakes. Another was Chris Willard's acrylic and polyester latex painting, which, in its stringently gridded circles and lines, responded sarcastically to any easily bored viewer through its title: 'Poppin Fresh, Doh!' When spun, the five steel floor pieces in Katie Ohe’s ‘TYPHOON’ created shapes so strange, their wriggling forms managed to show another side to Ohe’s well-known kinetic work.

(detail of 'Pink Murmur', Robert Geyer)

Hidden on the end of an extra wall in the second gallery was fastened Chris Frey's text, ‘Victory’, a letter of encouragement and reverie to fellow scholars. In the midst of his writing, Frey says "This Canadian mud. It goes on compelling us. So let us get on with the fly-squirm. The delicate balancing of time in/on/and place." I found this line and its visceral images of hatchlings upon the refuse to be an apt piece of advice to end my visit to this exhibition.

*Review by Kim Neudorf

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