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.

No comments: