Thursday, October 28, 2010

Neil McClelland, If You Can't Stop, Smile As You Go By, Harcourt House, until Nov 13

Presenting a new series of tensely nostalgic narrative paintings, Harcourt House's 2010 artist in residence, Neil McClelland, offers a most visible weight to the concept of reliving memories.

If You Can't Stop, Smile As You Go By goes beyond rendering old family vacation photos at the lake. Writing out semi-autobiographical stories during his residency and offering the texts on his blog and as recordings in the gallery to listen, there is a haunting presence behind each painting that draws you in with an inherent melancholy.

Image credit: Neil McClelland, The Passage, 2010
Interestingly, the melancholy imbued in each photograph does not manipulate the viewer, but rather ripples forth like a mystery waiting to be revealed. While each image has a story written with it, both outputs stand firmly on their own. The accompanying text is not entirely necessary to read or hear to gain any further insight into each piece, as although the production of the stories was integral to the artistic process, and are quite well-written in their rhythm and concise prose, the evidence of McClelland's self-searching reads loud and clear in his canvases.

The emotional weight of the paint, the light, the distance between boy and father, are undeniably visible, but it is almost what is not painted, what is not said and recorded, that haunts each image.

Prairie Artsters: Amnesiac City*

Last Friday, I attended a talk by Kirsten Murray, one of the principles of Seattle-based architectural firm Olson Kundig. Brought in by MADE's Edmonton Design Exposed Festival, Murray showed an hour's worth of images on projects that completely repeated and reiterated the value of history.

Describing Seattle as a brick and mortar kind of town, one that has gone through many booms in its civic history, Murray's main theme was on giving precedence to the craft, context and collaborative nature of any architectural design.

The most interesting part of the talk for me was the emphasis on giving value to the history of a building, from using timeless technology like steam-engine hydraulics and a pulley system and integrating them into the design and function of everyday spaces. Focusing on concepts of building both residential and commercial projects that are appropriate to their land size, or responsive to the site, and acknowledging a regional architectural aspect in relation to building for a year-round climate, Olson Kundig's design philosophy was somewhat ironic to hear in the lower level of the new AGA: while it's coming up to the gallery's first anniversary, we have now seen the much-contested design shine or fail through all four seasons.

Coming up the steps of the gallery entrance for the talk, the surface of the steps had been freshly torn up. While the reason for the latest facade construction wasn't announced, a flashback to last winter recalled sheets of ice that collected on the smooth cement, and one can only hope and surmise that the landing and stairs are now being winterized.

Shortly after the gallery opened, I had a special guest post on Prairie Artsters by Kristine Nutting, whose main lament was how we always tear down our history and replace it with buildings not suited for the prairies. This boils down to the issue of belonging, what belongs here and what we want to belong here. While pictures of the old library still break my heart and the only sense of history is down in a soon-to-be-animatronized Fort Edmonton Park, the gallery and the probable soon-to-be downtown arena will come to represent a new era of urban design in our amnesiac city. Love it or hate it, these buildings belong to us, and our history.

1905 Alberta Hotel Source: Edmonton Public Library
On the way to the talk, I passed by the Gene Dub-led Alberta Hotel reconstruction on Jasper Avenue, which was news to me that this project existed at all. As one of a multitude of turn-of-the-20th-century buildings that came down in the last 30 years as glass towers shot up, The Alberta Hotel was built in 1901 and carefully dismantled brick by brick in 1984 with the promise of a resurrection.

In one of his always-fascinating articles, Lawrence Herzog in the Edmonton Real Estate Weekly goes into detail about the history of the hotel, about how it had the city's first running elevator and how Edmund Grierson, who co-commissioned the hotel, rode the publicity of the project into a political life and a civic legacy. The concept that we will have a historical building resurrected in downtown Edmonton is bittersweet to me, as while I am elated to witness such a tremendous undertaking of civic pride, there is a hollowness in me when I wonder why we couldn't have just maintained the Alberta Hotel, or the Selkirk or the Tegler, with all this land around us, that we had to destroy and build over top of what came before us. It's hard to understand what and who belongs here, when we have so few reminders still left around us.

*First published in Vue Weekly

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Audio Interview with Andrew Buszchak*

Since The News Room is no longer, Prairie Artsters on CJSR has been in limbo. But starting this week, the fine folks at The Eclectic Co. will begin airing the semi-regular arts segment airing most Thursdays on CJSR at 2 p.m. (MTN) 

Prairie Artsters on CJSR will be hosted by Amy Fung, and will feature unscripted live on location interviews with artists currently presenting their work in the city.

This week, Prairie Artsters talks with Andrew Buszchak, whose show, "To Main Street" is showing at Latitude 53. As a series of wall mosaics generated entirely out of text and images randomly collected from the internet, "To Main Street" welds together ideas of individualistic voices, DIY postering, and standardization in our current times.

Artist talk on Saturday, Oct 23, 2 p.m. at Latitude 53 Gallery

*First aired on CJSR Listen Live

Interview with Andrew Buszchak, To Main Street, Latitude 53, until November 13*

Since moving to Edmonton on the first day of this year, Andrew Buszchak has undergone training to become an apprentice in welding, assumed the volunteer responsibilities for Instant Coffee's Alberta list serve and recently opened his solo exhibition, To Main Street, in the Projex space at Latitude 53. As a series of large wall mosaics using text and images generated from random Internet searches, To Main Street mediates the tension between individuality, DIY practices and standardization in our daily lives. Here is an excerpt of our conversation held in the Latitude gallery space.

Image credit: Andrew Buszchak, Detail from "Hope, Air, Words, Wind" 2009

VUE WEEKLY: What were you doing before you came to Edmonton?

ANDREW BUSZCHAK: I was in Halifax attending the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and before that, in London, Ontario attending Fanshawe College. In London, I was new to studying art and being interested in contemporary art. I guess I was more enthusiastic about going out and seeing any types of shows, whether I knew the artist or not or whether I'd be interested in the type of work. And at NSCAD, my background is technically in printmaking, but I see my degree as interdisciplinary. I don't want to be stuck in any one medium. If I get an idea of how to make something, I don't want to be stuck if it makes sense to use one material over another. I also don't have a studio space, so being versatile is also about working within limitations.

VW: Let's talk about the work. How did you choose the stock images and blog text to make these three large and distinct digitally manipulated mosaics?

AB: The source of the text is any kind of blog on the Internet, selected more or less randomly, and one criteria I was looking for was that it was not written by a corporation, so that it's somebody making use of the Internet, some individual, to express their opinion. Using hundreds of blogs, the choice of colour is a result of the process, an interest in standarization, in the paper size of 8x11, standards and defaults on the programs, like Adobe Illustrator. I just used whatever font and size were set as default, because I was interested in what comes standard.

And the photographs aren't stock images necessarily. They come from a range of Internet sources. For example, "Hope, Air, Words, Wind" is a professional photograph of David Cook, one of the past winner's of American Idol, and the other two images are from amateur photographers. I don't know their names or anything about them, but they are distinct because I don't have any intention to make any story or narrative between the three of them. They can be looked at in any order, and there's no order they should be seen in, but they may be representations of something allegorical.

VW: Can you explain?

AB: I'm reading a bit by Craig Owens, and he wrote a lot about appropriated images and how allegory comes back into postmodern art, but I liked what he said because these images don't read straight across and my use of the images has taken some of their original meaning out and put in new meaning by using random text to make up the images. I guess what I'm saying is that I want to raise an awareness of people using the Internet to express their voices and concerns and opinions and how that all sort of mingles with what's up on the walls.

VW: You've mentioned the idea of "repeatability." What is that to you?

AB: Our society in general is occupied with mass production. The way people live their lives [focused] on how or what to consume. I'm always looking for something ubiquitous and from there I think something interesting can grow.
Artist talk on Sat, October 23, (2 pm) at Latitude 53 (10248 106 St)

*First published in Vue Weekly

Ben Williamson, "Still" FAB Gallery until October 30*

Image credit: Ben Williamson "Diver Down" 2010
As most thesis exhibitions go, the artist at hand attempts to achieve an overarching sense of identity through the show, while trying to demonstrate their range of technical and creative skills. In the first MFA show of the year, Ben Williamson's painting exhibition gets the ball rolling with Still, a show very much about the resonance, and not the content, of moments captured.

Painting in a style that is so highly calibrated it falls back between realism and fantasy, Williamson's technical application of oil is notable in detail orientated works such as "Cockpit," but there seems to be some derision between what the artist wants to paint and what he thinks he has to paint.

Throughout the show there is a semblance of relationship between the paintings, in how they hang spatially to one another, and to the viewer. The all too-cutesy idea of hanging a painting of a fly on the upper wall is a one-liner, and while the gag does not take away from the show proper, it adds nothing either to a show that already struggles to communicate anything coherent.

Trying to find a deeper relationship between the works, or at least something at all that threads together the show, I feel I am left leafing through a disjointed scrapbook of old photographs pulled from news magazines mixed-in with experiments from personal amateur photographers. There is no one common flavour from photo to photo, and I am left uncertain about what connects this portrait of a cat to a moment in the West Bank to paintings of an abstraction of a swimming pool.

If it is to reveal the artist, I get no sense of who the artist is and what he is interested in. Falling back on the artist statement, which is always hard to write, let alone read, I remain unconvinced as to the self-explained interest that the painter is invested in the concentrated moments of beauty, violence and the sublime. That's a pretty broad and subjective spectrum of topics, and only explains half of the show. Williamson also tries to apply Roland Barthes' sentiment of the "punctum" (that is, the resonance, the accident within a photograph in Barthes' own words that pricks and bruises him) as what motivates his paintings, but then here is a jump, as we are suddenly talking about photographs, while the subject at hand is painting. While a photograph of a light socket may stir certain unsaid emotions, a painting of that same photograph will illicit a different, layered meaning.

I don't mean to dismiss this show entirely, as Williamson is a very good technical painter, and a few of the works stand up on their own, including the promo image that is unfortunately reproduced in black and white, but as the first MFA show of the year, following an incline of some very strong student exhibitions in the past few years, I expected more introspection than this.

Upstairs, The Wind from the East features contemporary Chinese prints from The Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Shenzhen University. As a result of a cultural exchange organized between a group of Chinese print artists and artists from across Canada, the works by the Chinese artists are being exhibited in Canada and works by the Canadian artists are being shown in China. The Chinese portion of this exchange was shown first in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, centre for the internationally recognized exhibition Biennale Internationale d'Estampe Contemporaine, before travelling to Edmonton.

*First published in Vue Weekly

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Instant Coffee Needed Our Help*

Last week, members of the Toronto/Vancouver arts collective Instant Coffee were in town holding an open afghan call out. The reason: Instant Coffee will be completing an upcoming Public Art commission to be installed in the new Commonwealth Stadium Community Centre opening in 2012, and like with most of its projects, the public is implicit.

Known for creating events-based projects through forms of public participation in projects such as "Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?" and a series of explorations on the power of light, the collective comprised of Cecilia Berkovic, Jinhan Ko, Khan Lee, Kelly Lycan, Kate Monro and Jenifer Papararo have been collaborating for close to 10 years under the guise that exhibition strategies are not necessarily separate from studio-based ones.

For example, the event held last Wednesday was an integral part to the final "show" piece, which will be a three-part interactive indoor billboard that will feature selected afghans shared from Edmonton's community. The participation of the public is crucial to the piece, and there's a blind faith in relying on a certain level of critical mass for social response.

Lycan and Papararo, who both originally hail from Alberta via the Rocky Mountain House and Calgary areas respectively, were on hand for this leg of the project. Noting that they have a history of taking over venues through events using colours and light (and sometimes afghans), their works have always been based in the potential of an event.

"Afghans seem to adapt to our esthetic," says Lycan, who is now a Vancouver-based artist mostly working in installation and photography that are occupied with value systems and consumer culture. "They are also very do-it-yourself, inexpensive, and their graphic esthetic is something we respond to."

Papararo, who programmed Mercer Union in Toronto before taking the helm as curator of Vancouver's Contemporary Art Gallery, continues the train of thought by pointing to the multi-patterned, multicolored afghan on display.

"It's so complicated—who would put those colours together? It's amazing, and it's a quick way to take over a space by using bright colours."

"It also involves other artists," Lycan adds, "We often use bright pinks and oranges, that sort of op art from the '70s that's acidic and garish. We find it fascinating."

It was unclear as to how participatory Edmontonians got, and perhaps that's just a sign of our general malaise to engage with art beyond a spectacle, but here's to another public art project injecting a much needed dose of contemporary attitude into our city's arts community.

Visit for more information and join their Alberta listserv to receive and post arts related events free of charge. 

*First published in Vue

Prairie Artsters: From Toronto, With Love*

I saw a lot and I learned a lot from my most recent art-related excursion. Spending just over a week in Toronto and seeing as much as I could, here is a brief summary of thoughts that made me think of Edmonton:

First, the Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario. The project, which cost more than four times as much as our (Gehry disciple) Randall Stout-designed AGA, was relatively four times more impressive. Sure, the ick factor is higher when they have an entire floor devoted to special event rentals and you have to walk through its posh restaurant to get to the community gallery, and almost unforgivably the entire top floor is dedicated to the art world wankings of Julian Schnabel ... but the gallery also has a massive and rather impressive permanent collection on constant display and has an army of curators to successfully integrate contemporary works from Ontario-based artists alongside international artists. I went specifically to see At Work, the show on Eva Hesse, Agnes Martin and Betty Goodwin, but I left completely floored by Toronto-based Shary Boyle, who created an intervention in the main floor European galleries with her works that explode the concepts of feminine sexuality, especially in relation to art history. But eclectic programming is expected. What wasn't expected: the in-depth knowledge and coherency of the security guards who were everywhere, and seemed to know everything. I've encountered staff members of commercial galleries and artist-run centres, let alone of institutions, that didn't have a clue about the works around them, and it's these minor but integral interactions that build a returning, art appreciative audience.

Nuit Blanche. It's no secret I detest the plethora of festivals in our city that dilute their programming to satisfy an "art for all" mandate. I believe in the necessity of family programming and social outreach, but I also believe in critically engaging works that push form and content to expand and engage our interests. In its fifth year, Nuit Blanche has fallen in between the cracks in serving art for no one in particular. From more seasoned critics, the biggest complaint was not even the drunks, but the lack of family programming or projects and events that engaged with the public beyond a photo op. Edmonton's arts festivals are overflowing with family friendly programming, but there's little to entice the rest of the population, and hardly a trifle to satisfy an art-centric audience. I'm not entirely sure if any one festival could or should satisfy all these audiences, as time and time again it's proven that in trying to satisfy everyone, we all get left out in the cold. That said, call a spade a spade and stop overriding "art" for funding's sake.

Options and Fluctuations. It's a real treat to have no shortage of commercial galleries and artist-run centres, as the positive outcome within that mix is a real diversity of roles and audiences served. If you're feeling more critical, head to Mercer Union. YYZ, Red Head Gallery, WARC and Gallery 44 all have very different mandates yet coexist in the same building. And it seems that all latest artists have gone down to the converted garages along Tecumseth Street.

After one particular day of wandering through over a dozen galleries, some good, some bad, but all pretty different, I thought again about an article from this past year that tried to square off the AGA with Latitude 53. I remember at the time the article was not worth discussing, but now, it made me sad to realize that not just the writer, but the editor, and an entire base of the population really do believe galleries are just walls with art, and the only difference between them is location and size.

Simply put: being an "art" gallery or festival could mean anything from opening up a frame shop to an excuse for gelato in the streets. Regardless of how it may be funded, art is not a catch-all concept to entertain the masses. While Edmonton's numbers may not be mighty enough to make obvious the different purposes of community art and high art, its small cluster of commercial galleries, artist-run centres, public art galleries and institutions could also take a step to educate the public by distinguishing themselves from their neighbors, because at the root of each space, each started with its own purpose that should still make it relevant and special.

*First published in Vue Weekly

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Audio Interview with Instant Coffee in Alberta

After cutting the afghan inspired cake between sips of coffee from a box, Instant Coffee members Kelly Lycan and Jenifer Papararo take a quick smoke break to discuss their public art project for the Commonwealth Community Centre opening in North-Central Edmonton in 2012. 

Join their free and useful AB mailing list by sending a message to or visit to find out more about their projects, events, and services.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

12 Point Buck and Jenny Keith, Harcourt House, until Oct 9, 2010*

Anthropocentric and anthropomorphic, the animals currently on display in both exhibitions at Harcourt House run wild through imagination.

In the main gallery, 12 Point Buck tempers our narrative of an idyllic wilderness with a heavy dose of kitsch and irony in Wild, Wild Life. Comprised of Lethbridge artists Leila Armstrong and Chai Duncan, 12 Point Buck have been collaboratively, if not argumentatively, processing how our human relationship with nature has been heavily mediated. Working off the idea that all interactions with nature must be mediated by the very nature that we are human, 12 Point Buck pushes this concept further to examine how we continue to uphold representations of nature, and consequently, how we continue to engage with nature through a superiority complex.

Photographs of plastic animals arranged in a staged nature lead you through most of the gallery space. Humorous in their subversion of wildlife photography tropes, the photographs are composed very similarly to the found landscapes in the back corner.

Laid out like a yard sale, ceramic and plastic figurines of Canadian wildlife are here gathered in all of their kitschy glory. From animal-moulded salt-and-pepper shakers to a bobble-headed moose, the implicit feeling here is hoarded nostalgia. This goes one step further on the walls, where the reaction towards the simplicity of the wood-framed landscapes recalls for many the artwork hanging over their grandmothers' sofa. Amongst the gems are Artex paintings, which were a '70s popular hobby art that Armstrong's mother participated in and can be summarized as a type of paint-by-numbers done through fabric painting onto white or black velvet canvases.

There are also a couple of genuine Flexhaugs in the mix, which according to legend, are treasures in the prairies. As the story goes, Flexhaug was a traveling salesmen and a raging alcoholic, and to pay off his drinking tabs, he would paint these idealized and picturesque landscapes. Often containing a moon, a deer and sometimes a cabin, there are supposedly hundreds of Flexhaugs out there, many owned with pride, and even some within the collection of the University of Saskatchewan that will see 12 Point Buck playing off them next fall.

In the front room, Edmontonian Jenny Keith-Hughes marks a two-year solo exhibition absence with new works in, You, Me and Everyone We Know. Spending the last two years showing and selling heavily in New York City through the Prince George Gallery, that experience has led to opportunities such as her first show in Chicago this fall and getting a print picked up by the North American clothing/lifestyle chain Urban Outfitters.

Keith-Hughes' style of blending the whimsical with social observation has continued to blossom since graduating from the U of A in 2003. Showing a new level of maturity without losing the inherently fun personality, this new body of work also reveals a new direction, one that is informed by a bold confidence in her skills in painting and in drawing where both the hand and imagination are working in sync to explore new experiences.

*First published in Vue Weekly

Working Under Pressure, SNAP, until Oct 16, 2010*

Haunted by the late great Betty Goodwin, Working Under Pressure is the result of a laboratory-like residency at Montréal's Atelier Graff. Six artists working through printmaking, painting, and photography were asked by participant and curator Thomas Corriveau to reconsider the act of printmaking through the physical process of transferring an image through pressure.

Taking its cue from Montréal legend Goodwin's seminal "Vests" series where the act of pressure became an act of remembering, mourning and creation, the artists here on view at SNAP reflect on the possible directions of where print media can go.

Making its first showing outside of Montréal, the exhibition features a different style of printmaking that artist Paul Bourgault couldn't put his finger on.

As the only artist onsite for the installation and opening, he says through a thick Quebecois accent, "It's a different feeling, I don't know enough to say exactly what, but I know in Montréal, this work, especially my work, is not looked at as mainstream."

Referring to the minimalist style of high production and higher conceptual works that have come out of Montréal, the print works in this show are more visceral, yet do not slack in terms of a professional presentation.

"Tom [Corriveau] asked us to think of printing in terms of, 'What if?' We were giving this theme of pressure as an undercurrent, that was it," Bourgault continues.

Creating a work that is part painting, part mixed-media collage, Bourgault appears to be building human tension through the tactile compression of fragmented limbs and layers directly onto the canvas. Each work is distinctly different from the next, with Lucie Robert's "Pression" series most obviously paying homage to Goodwin and yet finds its own message in its delicate treatment of stitches across the frailness of thin Japanese paper.

Photographer Yann Pocreau strays the farthest from any stylist connection to Goodwin, and yet conjures the most emotion in summoning the absent presence that has been character of the late printmaker's work. Painter Angèle Verret also delves into the emotional with a pair of paintings that at first appear to be lush textural monochromes, but upon closer viewing reveal themselves to be impressions, embedded with a backwards and indecipherable hand-written text that gives them an absent presence.

For the most part, the show is just interesting as it allows visitors to see what print artists are doing on the other side of the country, as often here in Edmonton our print artists are seemingly more engaged with international practices or already renowned Canadian printmakers. As the legacy of highly technical printmaking runs deep through the impact of the U of A and byway through SNAP, it was a breath of fresh air to see a different flavour of contemporary printmaking that focused less on technique and more on concept.

*First published in Vue Weekly

Monday, October 4, 2010

Nuit Blanche 2010: First Impressions

Let me preface this by saying that when all is said and done, Nuit Blanche was the worst part of my Toronto art experience this week. I otherwise had a great time visiting dozens upon dozens of galleries and spaces throughout the city, even taking in a theatre show at Buddies in Bad Times, seeing Trigger at the gorgeous new Light Box, and of course the highlight of seeing and hearing live the one and only Lucy Lippard. I certainly don't regret doing Nuit Blanche, but I probably won't do it again.

In its 5th year, Toronto’s version of its outdoor all night art festival has been accumulating this “must-see-art” mentality that completely takes over the city’s downtown streets, public transit, and public landmarks with this fervour and rigor that one would think a war had just been won. Naturally, I wanted to check it out.

While the festival proper officially begins three minutes to seven p.m., most of the satellite and  independent projects were open, and so beginning with the galleries on Queen Street West (which weren't all formally part of N.B., but were certainly bracing for it), I began at 4 p.m. with Eliza Griffiths' vernissage at Katharine Mulherin.

As a new series of figurative sketches based on fictional characters for a yet-to-be determined theatrical narrative, Griffiths continues her study of contemporary young women that rebel and confront, this time with an apparent focus on drawing and androgyny. Having a light conversation with the artist in attendance, this would be the most art-centric conversation I would hold for the next 12 hours.

A few hours later and many forgettable stops later, I found myself standing in line to enter Campbell House Museum. Drawn by the glow of the fire (which, of course, was also art), I queued up not knowing what to expect as the front lawn of the historic house was covered in steel pine cone sculptures (including the source of the fire). Wandering through the house, there was absolutely nothing of interest to see. The planted works on the wall upstairs did nothing to engage with the history of the house, which I can only surmise is a relic from the city's early days now preserved for school children and tourists alike. You would think a show held there would be somehow connected to civic history, but instead there were pine cones and I stood in line to see them.

Miss Chief Eagle Testickle
Right across the street, canned music was being blasted and enough temporary white towers were set up in Nathan Phillips Square that one would think there was a concert, but it was in fact the Daniel Lanois Later That Night At The Drive-In that projected original video works by Canadian icons like Neil Young onto different surfaces throughout the square. Along the pool surfaces, lying on makeshift platforms, and staring up into the sky, the idea is to expand a collective experience--which admittedly, sounds great, but the average flow of passerbyers didn't last past a single song. There was something innately disappointing about watching and listening to prerecorded musicians echoing through a fairly transient space. Nothing can stand in for the presence and energy of live performance, especially since this festival really calls on viewers to physically wander through the city. A big part of my excitement was to see the city through the lens of Nuit Blanche, but the dearth of reciprocating engagement by artists with the public and public architecture this year was really surprising.

There were a few that tried to engage the public, and even fewer who succeeded. I'll applaud the effort of Kent Monkman and Gisèle Gordon's attempt to engage the crowd with a pulsating performance as the ever glamorous Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. In the performance I caught, the sizable crowd did not want to feel the rhythms of Iskootāo, which according to the free programme means "fire" and "woman's heart" in Cree. The mob was far more interested in snapping photographs of a man in thigh high boots, making loud obnoxious comments about it, and wanting, if not needing to be entertained by it.

I'm skipping over a lot of mediocre and pathetic projects as my protestations with unengaging efforts and disrespectful artists/audiences were threads throughout the night. At some point, I had to go see the re-enactment of Marina Abramovic and Ulay's Imponderabilia, but didn't make it onto campus until well after midnight. By then, the drunks downstairs and outside were fully in their element, and the aggression inside to "see" naked people was almost laughable. The aggression was not just from the audience, but also from the security and handlers, who moved people through the live art experience like an airport security check. While the original performance was shut down by the police after 45 minutes, the performance today (and recently at MoMA) required the presence of active security, which not only completely changes the energy between the performers and the audience, but really could be understood as a whole new work about the police state and our seeming need to be policed. Needless to say, it was heavily controlled provocation, and I walked away feeling awful about the whole thing.

Another notable live piece, The Endless Pace, by Davide Balula and choreographed by Biba Bell, saw 60 dancers sit in a circle in Commerce Court and mimic the mechanical workings of a clock through movement based on the second, minute, and hour hands. While the work itself is interesting for one hour tops, the endurance through the bitter cold wind made the work almost sadistic to watch, as an overhead live feed could be viewed from inside of the adjacent office building while through the windows below the projection you could watch the dance and theatre students viciously shivering and eagerly waiting for the second hand to come around again.

By three in the morning, after wandering through endless blocked off streets filled with restless drunks stumbling aimlessly from one glowing project to another, pausing to take photographs of anything and everything that could barely be categorized as art, I came upon An Te Liu’s Ennui Blanc again and no longer minded the irony of people pausing to take photographs of it. Seeing it in the day time, it was just a simple white neon sign sitting atop the storefronts on Queen St W. But by night, the sign read more like a beacon of enlightenment against the black sky, a truism that serves as a warning and, lo and behold, as an actual art intervention.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Prairie Artsters: Profile on Jonathan Kaiser

At the very back of the darkened RBC New Works Gallery, a modern suburban bedroom appears on a small stage. Lit through the adjoining closet that glows through a pair of thermal wear, there is an indecipherable light that suggests neither day nor night, but the removed and constructed lighting found in any quiet suburban neighborhood.

Image courtesy of the artist

Crawling onto the staged bedroom floor where two crinkled blankets double as beds, books are scattered throughout the room, suggesting a space inhabited primarily for the solitary behaviour of reading and dreaming. The latter is true as you turn your head and see a two-headed creature, adorned with flowers and small ornaments, peering back at you from the darkness.

It is a creature undeniably fantastical, and yet purely domesticated, at home in this bedroom that is neither a child's nor a man's.

It is in this liminal space that artist Jonathan Kaiser creates, and while the room is modeled after his childhood home in Winnipeg, it is not necessarily an adolescent sentiment.

"When I was young, I wanted to be 50. I wanted to skip to being an adult," shares Kaiser, who currently lives in Ottawa where his partner is attending school. "But now that's changing. I remember my home, and I remember these memories because they're usually tender and fond. This was a space I could sit and think when I was a kid."

Kaiser, who's been slowly recreating elements of absence, especially in suburbia, began as a design and printmaking student at the U of A. Graduating just five years ago and technically apt, his content opened up after being invited to participate in a drawing show at the AGA by curator Marna Bunnel.

"I was excited about the objects," says Kaiser. "I didn't plan on doing an installation, but I ended up making an installation of wall drawings. It was a really positive experience. From that, I started meeting people."

Quiet and humble are understatements in describing Kaiser. From that first out of school experience, his work caught the attention of the curators for the 2007 Alberta Biennial, and from that, his name was put forward and accepted into the Glenfiddich artist residency that opened up yet a further world of opportunities.

"I've only done one residency, but I know I should do more," he continues, echoing many artists transitioning from emerging to mid level. "When I have a project, I totally focus on it full time, then when I have downtime, I do nothing. I have little odd jobs, but I'm afraid of taking on a real job or career as my art practice may cease to be."

As his first solo exhibition, Kaiser recognizes that this will be a higher profile show for himself, and that he's had to manage his time differently. "I like to have as much freedom as possible, and change things a week before if I wanted to. This couldn't be the case this time, which is good for me."

Building through Edmonton-based connections in projects such as The Apartment Show and recently in The National Portrait Gallery, Kaiser doesn't hold down a regular studio practice, but his works reveal a maturity that is consistently surprising, guided by a strong intuition that is calm and thoughtful.

He asserts knowingly in a soft spoken way, "I don't have much of a plan for my career. I plan to keep making art no matter what. I've been producing smaller works, which is a good scale for where I am right now."

*First published in Vue Weekly

Celestial Bodies runs in the RBC New Works Gallery, AGA until October 10

Interview with National Portrait Gallery, FUSE Magazine

With an initial goal to host a multidisciplinary show of nationally diverse, Canadian-focused portraits in Edmonton on Canada Day, the organizers of the very unofficial National Portrait Gallery speak with art critic Amy Fung on Canada Day 2010 at Latitude 53 Gallery.

To read the interview in full, pick up the Fall 2010 issue of FUSE Magazine

REVIEW: Timeland, Border Crossings Fall 2010

Speaking to each other through the central sentiment of time past and passing, the majority of works in the 7th edition of the Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art holds a certain resonance of primordial romanticism and technological intrusions. Beginning with . . . 

Read the rest in Border Crossings Magazine, Issue 115