Monday, December 22, 2008

Jennifer Stillwell, Plug In ICA, December 13 - January 31, 2009 REVIEWED By Noni Brynjolson

Walking into Jennifer Stillwell’s exhibition at Plug In ICA is like entering a construction zone gone haywire: slices of tofu spew out of ventilation slits and cracker crumbs cover black logs of asphalt-like material. Everyday objects have been de-familiarized from their identities and functions and estranged into new assemblages that call into question their signification. Curated by Steven Matijcio, the new exhibition includes installations created over the past several years and shown in Toronto and New York, as well as two new pieces created specifically for Plug In’s gallery space.

Image credit: Grate, Jennifer Stillwell, 2006. Medium: tofu, vent, drywall. Photo: Jennifer Stillwell

Wandering around the mostly floor-based works, Marcel Duchamp’s readymades came to mind, especially with Stillwell’s newest pieces involving slurpee cups and beer bottles: two beloved prairie staples that account for a fair amount of Winnipeg street litter. Once drained of their sugary liquids, these appropriated products have been altered to create something recognizable, yet entirely new. In Brainfreeze, a grouping of three differently coloured net-like arrangements have been applied to the wall. Like magnified models of molecules, they also give off a vibe of Christmas ornament-like festivity. They provide virtually the only colour in the show; aside from an orange extension cord coiled up beside a row of fans.

Across the gallery, a piece called Range features 97 bottles of beer on the wall. The labels have been covered over with white so that only picturesque snow-capped Kokanee mountains remain. Placed upon a shelf of differently leveled vertical 2 X 4s, the rugged landscape humorously depicts several Canadian icons at once: mountains, lumber, snow, and beer.

Image credit: Dock and Propeller (detail), Jennifer Stillwell, 2004. Medium: fans, power cord. Photo: Jennifer Stillwell

One of the main attractions of the exhibition is the opportunity to puzzle over the processes that went into each installation. Stillwell’s work can be usefully viewed within the context of minimalist artists whose artwork explored repetitive processes. German-born Eva Hesse used materials new to sculpture in the 1950s, like fiberglass, latex and plastic, and created pieces that were labour-intensive and meticulously made. Stillwell’s approach to sculpture also involves a consideration of time and work. This can be viewed in many of the pieces, from the hours she must have spent peeling and pasting slurpee cup decals, to the boards that have been dipped in several different shades of grey and are exhibited in front of the fans, suggesting that they are still being dried.

I was slightly disappointed that nothing from Stillwell’s exhibition Bale (a 2004 solo exhibition at YYZ Artists’ Outlet in Toronto) was on display at Plug In, since the bales so cleverly demonstrate her laborious working process and her Prairie-tinged sense of humour. Setting up a complete living room, Stillwell then dismantled every piece of furniture, rolling up the contents in a carpet to create a hay-bale of domesticity and thereby punning on methods of theoretical deconstruction.

Even without the bales, there remains plenty of opportunities to ponder processes of production, recognition, and identification in the making of Stillwell's work. The video Wall Plow is included, and features another reference to the prairies as the artist slowly pushes a white wall-divider over a trail of rubble, plowing until it reaches the front of the screen where it becomes indistinguishable from the gallery wall on which it is projected. Repeating itself over and over, the video demonstrates the labour that Stillwell puts into her creations, raising questions of purpose and futility in art making.

By some strange coincidence, an orange construction sign is very appropriately positioned just outside the gallery on the street and can be seen through the large windows in between Propeller, the fan and painted-board piece, and Collisions, in which small clay rectangles have been shaped by the grill of a Chevy truck. The sign serendipitously reminds viewers of the thoughtful construction, both in terms of materials and ideas, that Stillwell has made visible in this exhibition, and the technique of deconstruction visible throughout the different states of incompleteness we witness. Laborious processes are on display, and yet an element of play remains in the perplexing, unexpected, and provocative transformations of once familiar materials.

- N.B. Winnipeg

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Passages,Lynn Malin and Elizabeth Beauchamp, Harcourt House, November 27 - December 20, 2008 REVIEWED by Erin Carter

Sometimes having the ability to fly, swoop and swoon over the flatlands of the Edmonton area on a nice summers day would be amazing. Watching the square patches of ripe canola surround the green fields of wheat. The lines drawn by farmers meet up with the fine line of perfectly placed patches of spruce trees. Man vs. Nature is a heavy theme played out in Passages, a collaberation of works by Lynn Malin and Elizabeth Beauchamp.

Quoting from Malin’s artist statement, “Why is it so seductive…to change something that doesn’t need changing?” Malin started this exhibit with an exacto knife and a point: we as people attempt to control nature with fences and crops. This time Lynn decided to rip apart previously painted works, once imbued in sunlit prairie scenes and now blended together as a bird’s eye patchwork of natural contours and man-made fences. Each painting is also held in a box that lights up when you walk past, illuminating and capturing the raw imagery of the Edmonton potpourri prairies.

At the back of the room the projected shadow of a plastic tree swaying softly in the wind stands tall. To the left a text to Tom Thomson explains how all trees are now plastic. "Texting Tom" articulates Beauchamp’s view of natures' battle against the elements with the reference of Jack Pine (which struggled against rock and wind to find it’s perch) by Tom Thomson by using the shadow of a plastic tree to inform us of what our future may be. The text is written in a very naïve tone and creates a total acceptance to the fact that nature has been replaced by plastic.

Working together Malin mocks the boundaries of human control over nature and Beauchamp warns us of what’s to come if we don’t let up our grip. Malin’s zig zag maps of cultivated land unfolds the truth that the natural setting of what Edmonton looked like before the settlers arrived no longer exists. With each new development and each new passage, we are moving closer to living in plastic land.

Image credit: Lynn Malin, 2008

- E.C. Edmonton

Softly Softly Images of Femininity, Andrea Magnuson, Harcourt House, November 27 - December 20, REVIEWED by Erin Carter

Andrea Magnuson wants to seam rip the mythical threads of perceived femininity using collage as her tool. Applying found objects to create a backdrop of communication, Magnuson received her B.A. in Woman Studies in 2007. Living in Vancouver she now scopes the city streets looking for lost or tossed objects to create new forms out of old topics. Softly Softly Images of Femininity opens with a discarded pattern framed in a shadow box against a red backdrop.

Using thread and other such methods to frame found objects such as book covers and cut-outs of a fifties cowgirl, Magnuson tries to discuss our pre-conceptions of what it means to be a girl in the year 2008. A woman careening through life on a horse with the word "modern" printed underneath didn’t quite say “we’re breaking down the wall of feminine image” to me. Other found items used were a butterfly and cutouts of birds, which lacked strength and seemed out of place in the exhibit.

I found that the concept of breaking down preconceived notions of femininity was a strong conviction supported on a weak canvas. The use of found objects was an interesting technique--- that has been done time and again. The work seems a little more like a craft exercise than a piece with a message.

Image credit: Andrea Magnuson, 2008

- E.C. Edmonton

History of Monsters, Group Show, ArtsHab, November 20 - December 18, REVIEWED by Erin Carter

History of Monsters is a collection of works by the habitants and guests of the Arts Habitat building on 106 st. and 102 ave. When I walked through the doors I felt like I was walking into the secret of the lonely and the repressed. The title of the show is based on a manuscript by Ulisse Androvandi that was published posthumously in 1642. As an exhibition platform, artists were invited to express their own battle with both internal and external monsters, and collectively they have placed their personal demons on public display.

Bill Richards' "Music" established a spooky audio atmosphere and a series of photographs by Christopher Payne set the visual tone. Greeted with what looks like ventricles of a heart shot at high resolution, Christopher Payne gets to the point that “A Little Flesh” can stir up a gruesome tale. Going deeper, bacteria and disease are the monsters that haunt the framed photos by Jody Tychkowsky. An obsessive compulsive nightmare, a “Monstrous Production” creates a dialogue in my mind about the internal struggle to keep things orderly and germ free and how it is demolished with a magnified depiction of the infectious pests.

Then we get to the occult. A series of paintings by Tristan McClelland portrays Celtic symbols, hypnotic lines and schizophrenic outbursts. McClleland’s ritualistic method roots itself into the shadow world of crosses and blood stains, nightmares and back alley mayhem. Similarly, Devon Beggs' depiction of “Heroine” with a broken down shadow of a skeleton not only worked with the outer shell of the word monster, but also turned the symbol inward showing the daily monster that some people have to deal with.

Throughout the display, Bill Richards' soundtrack of shadow music complimented the visual underworld creations. All in all the artists worked with their own caricatures’ of fear making the show a bit unbalanced. Each set made sense, even though some were shouting much louder than the other. It is strange to see such monstrosity after Halloween and so close before the Christmas season, but I’ve seen those demon shoppers and maybe the Christmas spirit needs a little mirror slapped in its face.

Artists: Caitlin Sian Richards, Devon Beggs, Jody Tychowsky, Christopher Payne and Tristan McClleland. Featuring music by Bill Richards.

- E.C. Edmonton

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Frank Grisdale Photography Show at the Peter Robertson Gallery REVIEWED by Erin Carter

The battle between slush and cowboy boot was beat by the welcome mat at
the Peter Robertson Gallery where Frank Grisdale is showing his prairie
landscapes and water scenes until December 20. A self- taught city born
photographer, Grisdale has created colorful photographic “watercolor”
scenes using the exacting lens of the camera. In his bio Grisdale
states, “My aim is to peak artistically at around the age 90.” It’s
refreshing to come across someone who’s not in a rush to please.

Image credit: Frank Grisdale "Two Tone Field" 2008. Photography.

The walls of the gallery were awash with vibrant colors juxtaposing
Mother Nature and her apparent love of Edmonton's seven months of winter
grey. Portraits of the summer sun peaking through fields of hazy gold
and refracting the endless reflections from still and shaky waters were
planned out evenly throughout the well-lit gallery. Grisdale’s use of
lens and color make most of the landscape photos dreamlike--as if a
person was walking through a secret path in the forest with a centaur
having a telepathic conversation while admiring the out of focus trees
that fade in and out of reality.

Image credit: Frank Grisdale, "Cowboy Trail Looking West" 2008. Photography.

Focus is usually the key element of photography 101. If anything is out
of focus the photo is ruined and there is no choice to go out and
reshoot; but Grisdale plays with the art of focus. The landscapes are so
sharp in color that you know immediately you are witnessing a field of
wheat under a topaz stormy sky. Upon closer inspection you can see the
wind blowing through the fabric of the wheat playing with the clear
image of the golden fields. Even the paper the photos are printed on
work with the images--making them seem more like a hazy yet crisp
watercolor. Grisdale has surpassed photography 101.

Winter is still here and yet I can’t wait to dip my toes in whatever
lake Grisdale shot from or feel the warm breathe of sunrays heating up
my vitamin D deficiency. Everything Grisdale has created leaves me with
the distinct feeling that those “lazy, hazy days of summer” are just
around the corner. A prairie whisper of hope is all I need to get me
through the next six months.

Peter Robertson Gallery on 123rd and Jasper Avenue

- E.C. Edmonton