Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Vancouver Forecast, March 2011

Strangely I find myself in Vancouver for the first time in 10, maybe closer to 15 years. Not that I've stayed away entirely, but I have never really explored Vancouver, and certainly going hand in hand with urban exploration, I have never made a concerted effort to see much of Vancouver's visual arts scene.

Not that I haven't been curious. The city's internationalism trumps any sense of nationalism in both scope and pursuit, and that spills over into its arts. From the outside, Vancouver artists seem to receive both commercial success with critical depth. There's an active critical discourse that really is the principal critical discourse happening in this country with an academic rigor emanating from both artists and critics alike.  In a city that is obsessed with itself, especially its own art history and legacies, this mode of understated yet finely tuned exhibition strategies has never caught my attention, that is, until now. Vancouver also appears quite fractured in terms of maintaining clusters of inclusivity between groups and between disciplines, and as funding continues to dwindle, I am becoming more curious to see how each discipline functions on its own and relative to each other.
So it begins with a first trip to CSA. Scott Massey's Topologies and Limits has been buzzing loud enough for me to hear, but because I didn't know anyone who had actually seen the show for themselves, I stopped in during the middle of a sunny day only to find the exhibition's main wall installation should be experienced from dusk and on. The two prints on either side form "Approaching Singularities", a bit of a one-liner concept that did visually balance out the room, but I was really only there to experience "33 Views of M33", an installation of 33 galaxy-engraved light bulbs, 32 of which are connected to a photocel/arduino/dimmer circuit that accordingly inverses daylight to artificial light. Playing with the concept of visibility and light pollution, I was curious to see how an increase in light energy actually lowers our field of perception. But as it was broad daylight, I saw nothing, but in fact I saw everything.

Image credit: Still from Dan Acostioaei, What Goes Around, 2011

On wards to Western Front, where there was a small survey of Romania's Vector Association on display. Offering a brief glimpse into Vector's role in the city of Iasi, the exhibition tells you that Vector "engages the city of Iasi itself as a participant in this process", which theoretically draws a parallel with Vancouver's own myth making. However, the works from Matei Bejenaru, Dan Acostioaei, and Florin Bobu appeared important not because of its content, but because of its production, which while cannot be wholly separated from its content, can certainly overshadow it. I wasn't sure if this part also parallels Vancouver, at least not until later the next evening. The most disappointing news of the day though came from upstairs, where I came upon the second last print issue of Front Magazine . . . printed onto newsprint. While some may say the format suits newsprint, I see a hierarchy of printing unfolding as production costs and circulation numbers are no longer bosom pals in this age. While moving content online will become standardized with only potential to flourish, it does hurt to see the fall of another print publication from an ever shrinking roster, as I do believe print still vehemently matters, especially to this field of discourse.

Image credit: Roy Arden, "Under The Sun" Installation view. 2011

The next day, I stopped in at The Contemporary Art Gallery where curator Jenifer Papararo treated me a tour of Under The Sun, a survey of and by Roy Arden. "Survey" may be the wrong word, as it's really a sampling, and not even of Arden's works, but of his archive. What results is a floor to ceiling melange of sculptural objects, collages, lithographs, fabrics, a bicycle, and many more mouth agape surprises. Coming from a well established artist known primarily for lens-based works, Under the Sun speaks to the splendor of image making and collecting, and through the lens of Arden, the show speaks to the transcendence of the archive as object(s).  Jenifer informed me that the project has roots in a video on Arden's blog (which I have yet to locate) made of his digital image archive, which was organized by alphabet and consequently called into question the function of the archive, its organization, execution, and the challenges to communicating meaning and value beyond a single subject point of reference. Under The Sun is truly everything under the sun, from magazine scraps, bottle caps, old shirts, book covers, either the original or reproduced, but presented in terms of a sentiment and nostalgia that is deeply intertwined with the city of Vancouver.  With his established reputation as a photographer, a reputation that sublimates this show, Arden is revisiting his personal recollections of a city and life through his practice; only it is a recollection without the use of a single original photograph in sight, which in this context, makes us reconsider the role of the artist (and not the photograph) in relation to what is remembered.

Image credit: Ken Lum, "House of Realization" 2007. Architectural installation

Next, Ken Lum at The VAG was a timely and worthwhile retrospective situating Lum's body of work as a practice deeply complicated in perception. Perhaps best known for his play with text and portraiture, often loaded with racial politics that refract the estrangement of everyday language and gestures, Lum has also worked over the years in performance and immersive installations, which here at the VAG shine and contextualize the artist's forays into public art. Showing a depth of engagement with spatial expectations and discordance, Lum not only twists language connotation, but also invites his viewers to take a closer look at themselves (and fellow viewers) through a gauntlet of mirror-based works that examine the self in the torrent of identity politicization.

Meandering back over to Main, I gave CSA another go on this overcast afternoon, but no such luck as even on a grey day the power of the sun is still in full effect.

So on wards to Catriona Jeffries, where Arabella Campbell's exhibition just opened the night before. As a conceptual painter and past RBC painting winner (which still appears to be mutually inclusive terms), Campbell's latest body of work continues her meticulous devotion to the paring down of paint. Along with a few photographic prints, Campbell appears to be showing us the inside of her working studio, with a few amendments to intervene the working studio into the gallery. Many of these new "studies" are just that, contemplative ideas that have not been fully manifested in form. A piece of the artist's studio drywall appears inserted into the gallery wall, which is not a new idea, but paired with a print of a studio wall, a print of a study for an incomplete work, and a series of painted multiples that attempt to destabilize Dan Flavin's Untitled Marfa Project, the exhibition is a small, but mighty step towards a new direction for Campbell, and could have probably done with even less work to let certain pieces resonate clearly with each other.

A third and final stop to CSA  yielded the luminance of the Triangulum constellation, and the loss of visibility finally for galaxy M33, and as the room continued to only get brighter and warmer, the value of great lighting really hit home as the "Approaching Singularities" series started to look a whole lot better.

Heading back downtown for the screening of Weekend Leisure's Public Access as presented by Helen Pitt, I went in not knowing much about Weekend Leisure, and walking out not wanting to know much more. While they produce a public access television program, Weekend Leisure is upholding and appropriating an aesthetic that is well past its short lived glory days, and did not provoke or challenge or even integrate that aesthetic very well. Public Access came off as a half baked joke that was never really funny in the first place. More sketch comedy that was both safe and dated, it became near impossible to justify the intentions behind making contemporary work to mimic public access television of yesteryears through the utter lack of sincerity expressed. Lacking integrity, or worse, relevance in acknowledging the medium of public access television as a public forum for one and for all, Public Access was more like a private abscess.

The night didn't get much better with a very brief stop at Artbank for A Pretty Shitty City, a one night student show from Emily Carr's photography department that looked and smelled a lot more like their title than probably intended.

Image credit: Anetta Mona Chişa & Lucia Tkáčová, still from "The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex", 2010 color video with sound and English subtitles, 35:00 min. Courtesy Christine König Galerie, Vienna

 All's well that end's well, however, as I seabused it over to Presentation House for Models For Taking Part, a thoughtful and thought-provoking exhibition on the limits of language and democracy. Curated by Juan A. Gaitán, the exhibition assembles a roster of international artists including Anetta Mona Chişa & Lucia Tkáčová, Tobias Zielony, and Artur Żmijewski, with a special film screening by Renzo Martens that I missed, into a modern mediation on the incompatibilities of exercising democratic freedom in the public sphere. From the blase to the righteous, our basic human right to express our contents and discontents collide in a mass of mob mentalities in Zmijewski's "Democracies", an installation of eight videos of clashing protests and mobs, some documented, some re-enacted, brought together as if in a sharing triangle, but each loud and restless to each others' plights. The most outstanding work I saw this trip, however, was to be found in Chişa & Tkáčová's The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. They use the simple foundation of the telephone game, where within a group, one person shares a line of information to the person sitting next to him/her, and that person whispers what he/she hears to the person sitting on the other side, and so on, until the information reaches the end of the line and is then publicly shared and publicly translated.  Except here, Chişa & Tkáčová assemble a group of young blond girls, and the sentences are all predetermined from a sample of convoluted Charles Darwin quotations from his books of the same titles. The quotations are syntactically difficult to recall, but they are also espousing ideals and ideas of categorizing human nature by sex and by behavior, which filtered through a group of young girls, is filled with gleeful giggles and looks of confusion. Brilliantly exposing the language of social and moral idioms and its absurd realization in the sphere of social function and interaction, The Descent of Man is infectiously hilarious and deeply alarming.

Monday, March 21, 2011

REVIEW: Eleanor Bond, Mountain of Shame, Plug In ICA, 2010*

Bond in her studio

In light of Plug In ICA’s new, purpose-built facilities, the decision to premiere work by the Winnipeg-born artist Eleanor Bond seemed an all-too perfect fit. Over the last three decades, Bond has created a prolific body of work that takes up the notion of public space in our urban environment. Her highly celebrated paintings have consistently melded a fantastical imagination with hyperrealistic architectural perspectives, collapsing depth of field through claustrophobic potentials.

With her exhibition “Mountain of Shame,” however, Bond presents a surprise twist. The show—a touring exhibition featuring 20 new works and three slightly older pieces—represents a sharp departure from her two-dimensional renderings of urban territories. Many of the new works take the form of abstract sculptures and figures, a first for Bond. The most telling sign is, perhaps, the titles of the works, as they too project a vulnerable sincerity rather than the air of absurdity that marked the titles of earlier works . . .

*Read the full review in the Spring 2011 issue of Canadian Art Magazine

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Akimbo: Prairies Update March 2011

Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years in Winnipeg

Wonderment & Variations at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon 

Brian Jungen at the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton


Image credit: Jimmie Durham, Pole to Mark the Centre of the World (at Winnipeg), 2010
The largest assembly of international Indigenous art to exhibit anywhere in the world, Close Encounters, now on in various locations throughout Winnipeg, makes it clear that in this country there is very little differentiation between Indigenous and contemporary art. Paralleling works between Canada, the U.S., Australia, Finland, Brazil, and New Zealand, this massive undertaking attempts to reframe the encounter narrative that has dominated so much of Indigenous history through the filter of Western art history. The question is, “Do they succeed?”. . .

Read the article in full at Akimblog

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Reframing Her Nation: an interview with Maria Hupfield*

Image credit: Maria Hupfield From Pigment to Pantone and Back Again. 10ft x 20ft, Photo mural with latex paint,  2010

Interdisciplinary artist Maria Hupfield was commissioned by the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) to respond to the landscape exhibition titled "Reframing a Nation" (2010) curated from the AGA collection by Ruth Burns. Hupfield produced a wall sized monochromatic photo-mural, titled From Pigment to Pantone and Back, depicting her and her double in an artificial wilderness, caught in a moment of tension. She painted four stripes of colour directly onto the photo that reached across onto the gallery walls. Acknowledging traditions and history of both Western and Indigenous modes of landscape and identity representation, Hupfield creates a space for herself by moving freely between mediums such as photography and performance and working through the materiality of her artistic process.

On leave from her teaching position at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, Hupfield is currently working and living in New York City on a series of new projects.

Amy Fung: I first saw your work in the "Face the Nation" (2008) exhibitionat the AGA,  curated by Catherine Crowston, and this piece, From Pigment to Pantone and Back is a continuation from the exhibition? I am thinking of Trees from The Counterpoint Series.  Can you talk about your thoughts for the commission of From Pigment?

Maria Hupfield: Originally when this project came up, the work that was referenced did come from "Face the Nation", but it wasn’t the photo works. It was the mural East Wind Brings a New Day that references Tom Thomson’s West Wind.  I painted directly onto the walls and I was looking at the idea of landscapes and how that was connected to nationhood. So when the AGA was looking at their collection for "Reframing a Nation", Ruth thought of me and invited me to respond to the collection as a First Nations Person and set a context to frame how the works could be viewed. 
In the end I did this piece, From Pigment to Pantone and Back, where I combined both the photo-mural with a painting component from "Face the Nation."

AF:  The majority of works in “Reframing a Nation” are straight forward oil landscapes and they  present a view of the “Canadian wilderness” but your landscape is that of an urban wilderness. Can you talk about that?

MH: When I was invited to respond to the works, I wanted to complicate the issue of landscapes a little bit more. I found it ironic to be in an urban setting with all of these typically romanticized landscapes of the Canadian prairies on the walls. I knew I wanted to use an image that had an urban context. I drew upon the photo series in which I had documented public places where natural environments had been manipulated or controlled to affect how we engage with the natural world. The image that was used was taken from a front area of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Vancouver. I wanted it to look like a manicured artificial space that referenced the urban and then situated the two figures within it  . . .

*Read the full interview in the Winter 2011 Issue of BlackFlash.

Some Post-Ism Thoughts on Art and Feminism in the 21st Century*

Speaking plainly, I ask you: What exactly is feminism? For somebody in my generation (those born after 1977 or there about), Feminism ranges from being a human rights issue to being a dirty word. For many of my peers, post-feminism is easier to relate to, but no two minds can agree on what post-feminism actually means. So in looking at feminism in a post-ism age, how does this infinite fracture within feminism(s) reflect into our artistic practices?

There is certainly need for further inquiry when artists as wholly different as British sensationalist Tracey Emin and Australian post-colonialist Tracey Moffat can be lumped together simply because of anatomy. This was the case in a confusing guest lecture I attended some years ago at the University of Alberta. As an impressionable young student, I did not see any similarities between the works, but the discussion only wildly speculated on artistic intentions (oh, academia!).

Feminism is certainly a complicated animal. It has always been rooted in the personal, in the various realized experiences of the female body, unleashing the female self as a preface to social change. As a movement for rights and equality, feminism as we know it today has roots in the Victorian Era, which squarely places the foundation of feminism in the hands of an upper class sect, i.e. Christian and European. In the 20th century, feminism materialized as a global human rights issue and, like most human rights issues, there is still a long journey ahead. Feminism has grown and split into localized, nationalized, and racialized feminisms that speak to the multifaceted refractions of being a woman depending not only on ideological specificities, but also the colour of your skin and which area of the world you live in.

So how has any of this been reflected in the art world? Feminist art recently received a reprieve in the retrospective of WACK! curated by MoMA’s Connie Butler. The touring show traced feminist art through a predominantly historical lens and featured important, but mostly Caucasian artists that experimented with their bodies and sexualities. The show appeared as a time capsule of radical female artists, leaving me to wonder whether feminist art could still exist or whether it was a history lesson. Another exhibition, while lesser known but far more contemporary, was The Dunlop Gallery’s Pandora’s Box curated by Amanda Cachia. The international line up included the likes of Ghada Amer, Laylah Ali, Wangechi Mutu, and Kara Walker exploring issues of femininity without ever outwardly calling the show a feminist exhibition. In looking at the legacy of feminism in contemporary art history, there is no one certain style or philosophy, or even agreement as to who was and is a feminist, and that has certainly translated into diverse exhibitions and curatorial strategies too.

The one consistency is the under representation of women in galleries and museums. For decades, The Guerrilla Girls have been throwing up stats for years that show how drastically disparate the numbers are when it comes to women vs. men in the art world, and through it all the percentages have not improved. Sure, The Whitney Biennial for the first time in its 78-year history featured more women than men. As gender was not a defining issue in curatorial selection, was it then just mere coincidence? I’d love to say yes, but I know it to be untrue. Enrollment by women in art school have been steadily climbing, but where do all these young artists go after they graduate when women still make up less than 30% of most exhibition line ups? My generation who lives and operates in a post-ism world still can’t help but recognize this disparity, which leads to the bigger question of how we can be post-feminists when feminism itself has not exactly been resolved.

I don’t believe there to be a single answer, but acknowledging our experience and our history will only help inform us. My own turning point in rethinking feminism was through recently attending a lecture by Lucy R. Lippard on Eva Hesse entitled “Something Old, Something New: Eva Hesse Forty Years Later”. It’s been forty years since the New York Women’s Movement was founded and the key feminist exhibitions were first curated but as things were then as they are now: the definition of and identification with feminism is still not agreed upon and feminism in the art world still has a long way to go.

Lippard’s talk revealed that the ideas and influence of feminism are long from being mummified as footnotes. It was intriguing to hear her speak of Hesse’s works in terms such as the “female malaise” and “sensuous abstraction”, phrases that situate the work within a scope larger than any single artistic intention. Hesse herself never identified with feminism, though the burgeoning of must-read texts such as The Second Sex were certainly nearby; self-identification is only one piece of the much larger puzzle. Even if not named as feminist by the artist, can we not reclaim it as such?

Lippard then told an anecdote about speaking with her friend’s daughter. Lippard asked the independent young woman if she identified as a feminist, which for many these days is an awkward question at best. The younger woman said yes she did, that she stood up for herself and what she believed. Lippard corrected her by sharing that feminism is not about standing up for yourself, but standing up for other women.

To stand up for ourselves as well as for others has become a lost artform in a post-ism landscape, where individualism outshines us all. We may be beyond labels but, like Hesse or any artist who may or may not identify as a feminist, it is the reach of the work, and the pushing of limits and boundaries of one’s efforts, that makes art have an impact that rocks us to our undeniable cores.

At the end of her talk, Lippard shared a quote from Hesse that drifted along the lines of “life doesn’t last, art doesn’t last . . . ” but while we are here participating in both of these ephemeral states of expression, we may as well try to make it count for the better and for the next crop of post-individualists.

*First published and commissioned through

Review: 12 Point Buck, Harcourt House Arts Centre*

Negotiating intricate relationships with nature, and citing the British cultural theorist Raymond Williams's description of 'nature' as "perhaps the most complext word in the language," the Lethbridge-based artists Leila Armstrong and Chai Duncan revel in the nostalgia of Canada's iconic wilderness.
Image credit: Leila Armstrong Ursus arctos horribilis 2008

Working under the name 12 Point Buck (a reference to the hunting term for shooting a prized male deer with a 12-point rack of antlers), Armstrong and Duncan engage in a dialogue that simultaneously criticizes how we mediate our relationships with nature and sentimentalizes how wilderness tropes are cherished in our culture . . .

*To read the review in full, pick up the Winter 2010/11 issue of Canadian Art