Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Intimacy of Being Liminal, Culturehall Issue 59

Image credit: Alana Riley from 
The Pressure Between You and Me is Enough To 
Take A Picture 

To be liminal is to be elusive. In literary theory, critical theory, psychology, neurology, and simply, in states of being, to be liminal is to exist within the frays of perception. In looking at the field of contemporary photography, the concept of thresholds finds its way back to the genre of portraiture, where the self depicted is neither here nor there, past nor present, but a moment rendered that suspends and challenges our perceptions of who we are, and who we may be . . .

Continue reading on Culturehall

Artists featured: Sarah Fuller, Alana Riley, Meera Margaret Singh, and Lewis & Taggart.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Prairie Artsters: Year End Distillations*

As the top-10 lists start piling in on the best albums, films, books, etc of the year, I too have been compiling my own top-10 art-related residues of the year. Boiling them down to moments rather than any specific shows, here is what I will remember as an art critic from 2010:

• The opening weekend of the new AGA. There was excitement in the air, no matter what you thought of the new building. Everyone on the dance floor was from Calgary, and at the end of the night I found myself sitting with David Janzen and Peter von Tiesenhausen, two established Alberta-based artists I respect. At one point, we all looked up from the belly of the building, and I suddenly felt a wave of wariness over the future of homegrown artists in this space, and I wonder if there had been a collective sigh in that moment.

• My first Winnipeg studio visit was with Aganetha Dyck, possibly the nicest and loveliest human being in all of Central Canada.

• Snide attitudes in artist-run centres. Lots of examples to choose from, but the last time I was at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver, I asked the front-desk attendant which artist was responsible for a particular work. He told me it was "so-and-so," and that it was "all pretty clear" if I look to the panel I had been pacing back and forth from for over 20 minutes. Then the only other person in the gallery piped up and said, "Sorry to interrupt, but actually, that work is mine. I'm some-other-name." And while we all shyly smiled and went our separate ways, I realized that this was not such an uncommon experience in artist-run culture and totally acceptable behavior. Strange.

Image credit: Josh Holinaty and Luke Ramsey
• Driving with a friend westbound on 100 Avenue, crossing 105 Street, we both exclaimed at the same time, "Did you see that?" The giant illustrated mural by Josh Holinaty and Luke Ramsey on the East side of the John Howard Society building was a new public art project that, frankly, didn't suck. Hopefully it's just the beginning for Edmonton's Public Art Council, which has a mighty task ahead of it to change one's expectations.

• My first visit to The Mendel in Saskatoon. For years all I heard was "The Mendel's the best! It's what a public art gallery should be." I didn't fully realize what that meant until I got there, and realized that it was a beautiful little building with an adjoining planetarium nestled along the riverbank and that it was free all the time, and therefore accessible and welcoming to everyone. Seeing a congregation of individuals and families from all sorts of backgrounds, I was surprised by my own surprise at this observation, realizing then that intimidation and exclusivity are so deeply rooted in art institutions that in lieu of such behavior I was confused as to where I actually was.

• And the number one art memory of this year: getting to hear Lucy R Lippard speak about her relationship as a critic and curator to artist Eva Hesse. The entire talk was invigorating, but what lingers still is knowing that, with time, writing does not get easier, but that language itself will expand and contract to distill thoughts and instincts into coherent expressions. That night, I heard phrases of thought that up until then were words I would never have put together on ideas that I barely had a grasp on. It was an important moment for myself personally to hear the possibility for such clarity of thought through language spoken from the mouth of someone who has been doing what I want and try to do for over 40 years.

*First published in Vue Weekly

Canadian Art: Top 3 Prairie Prescience*

Ryan Park Variations of incomplete fists 2008 and Elizabeth Milton The Actor Cries 2005/10 Installation views at “Cabin Fever” Courtesy Platform Centre for Photographic + Digital Arts / photo Larry Glawson

1. Cabin Fever at Platform Centre for Photographic + Digital Arts

Chalk it up to synchronicity, but on the brink of an impending snowstorm, I ducked inside Artspace on my final day in Winnipeg and literally caught “Cabin Fever.” This exhibition at Platform posed a question: Is it feasible to satiate such undulating hunger derived from being nowhere by creating your own somewhere? . . .

Continue reading on Canadian Art Online

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Laura St. Pierre, Urban Vernaculars, AGA until February 13, 2011*

In Laura St Pierre's Urban Vernacular, large-scale photo landscapes fill each given wall of the AGA's RBC New Works Gallery. As ever-so slightly digitally manipulated stretches of urban landscapes, they are the end results of guerilla art tactics in and around the town of Grande Prairie, where St Pierre has been living and teaching for the past several years. In one image from the series, the mounds of silty snow gathered at the edge of a mega parking lot are undeniably familiar to any resident of an urbanized winter city. In looking closer, nestled within the mounds are temporary shelters made out of garbage, and even these are not so unfamiliar sights.

Image credit: Laura St. Pierre

The mounds of snow recall a direct first-hand experience of suburbia, especially to those who have become accustomed to navigating our cities from the point of view of automobiles or attempted the impossible walks through sidewalkless streets and mounds of dirt and snow. In short, the photographs elicit an intimate experience of urban landscape, but a particular type of urban landscape that has not yet lived up to its own expectations.

St Pierre's latest series is photo-based, but it is photo-based documentation of an action, one that is both immortalized and trapped in its own preservation. As an artist who has been known to create sculptural installations that take over galleries, St Pierre shifts into presenting only the photographs of her installations, and while the installations are site-specific and not transportable, I wonder if the medium of photography is enough to translate the initial concept.

Image credit: Laura St. Pierre
In "5.10," the most striking image of the series, the open facade of an isolated building sits like a proverbial Narcissus, sitting before its own reflection with pride and glory. Congregated street lights appear off in the distance signaling civilization. Above, the prairie sky is vast and open, and the upturned and exposed earth suggest both development and death. The possibilities are open for interpretation, and intervention, and yet, the photographs elevate these gritty and ephemeral installations into something that is enchanted and permanent. The immortality of the photographs are seemingly in opposition to the inspiration of their subject matters.

Last seen in Edmonton with her Autopark installation on Churchill Square as part of The Works Festival, St Pierre converted a handful of beat-up old cars into self-sustaining green houses. The presence of the cars, the smell of condensation and dirt, those factors played into the overall work.
Conducting a series of interventions, St Pierre sought out locations that potentially relay a survivalist instinct, seeking locations that could be transformed into temporary shelters. From abandoned school portables to the back of an appliance store, St Pierre built makeshift shelters using disposable materials like styrofoam and plastic packaging. Lighting them simply from the interior, and giving them a semblance of being inhabited, they were photographed in the twilight hours, further adding a cinematic quality to the implied narrative.

The photographs themselves are desirable objects, pristine panoramas of controlled chaos that push viewers past the point of reality. Like her series of landscape interventions and subsequent photographs along the St Lawrence River during a 2007 residency in Quebec, the photography of Urban Vernacular are captivating photographs.

However, photographs are not the installations, even though that is how most of us will ever get a glimpse of ephemeral art. Photographing works in order to share and archive them, that strategy has proliferated, and the issue remains debatable as to what is preserved in photography and what is lost.

*First published in Vue Weekly

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Prairie Artsters: Another Era Ends*

Edmonton is a transient city. From its history as a fort city, the landlocked equivalent of a port city, Edmonton always has been a place of comings and goings. The migratory syndrome of this place dates farther back to the First Nations, whose traces show that tribes mostly summered in this area now known as Edmonton.

Anyone who's stayed beyond a year has no doubt noticed the fluctuation of people coming and going from this place, be they coworkers, neighbors, friends or family. Its transience is somewhere between a gold-rush mentality of "get rich and get out" and the stubbornness of prairie homesteaders.

So as a recession levels out, the flight from Edmonton is once again on the rise. Certain downtown developments are on hold as tear-down buildings have extended their lease on life for a few more years, and while a time of recession is often the best time for the arts, that simply doesn't appear to be the case this time around.

Empty spaces and somewhat affordable housing are once again available, but who is left to fill them?

2010 saw a lot of people depart the city. This year felt far more draining than usual as a mass exodus seemingly affected my direct community of peers. While many emerging artists not-so-surprisingly leave, there is a deep mourning for the mid-level artists who have no other choice but to leave.

There is a school of thought that doesn't think it really matters who leaves and who stays, just as long as there's somebody to fill the post. And while I believe that to be true in one sense, there are moments in any history that are perhaps more special.

Even within these pages of this paper, this past week alone saw two significant endings: Ted Kerr's last Queermonton column ran with no note bidding farewell, but one that was written from his current home in New York City. Ted had helped found the much-needed column and gave a mature and localized perspective on living queer. In short, he filled a void, and the double edged sword of filling a void is that you will have no peers.

Also gone from this city is former Arts Editor and staff writer, David Berry, who left to work for a national paper in Toronto. David was actually the proactive agent behind getting Prairie Artsters to appear as a regular column in Vue Weekly, and his support and knowledge of the city made the paper a far more interesting contemplation.

As great as syndicates may be, local voices provide an immediate feedback system that any city or community needs in order to grow. And while theoretically this all makes sense for readers to support and demand local content, I am wondering what keeps a local voice going?

Nostalgia and sentiment are one thing, but critical mass is wholly another matter.

There are certainly people who remain and who are talented and capable, and the apocalypse is yet to be upon us, but there is something profoundly deflating about seeing a community's momentum continually rise and fall, and being awash in its amnesiac tide.

*First published in Vue Weekly

(Sir)rogates, Julian Forrest, Harcourt House, until Dec 18, 2010*

Image credit: Julian Forest, 2010
As a thematic painter who holds a deep fascination for the masculine in all its anxiety and glory, Julian Forrest's latest series, (Sir)rogates, deviates from his past works by beginning to displace the masculine into the realm of Other.

Through both critical theory and normalized social understanding, the Other is almost always atypical to the dominant male, literally being the other in relation to the heteronormative white (and often dead) male figure over the course of Western history. So as a painter fascinated by the male species as a culturally produced figure, Forrest has begun to study and tell the story of the male figure through one of allegory.

Citing the narrative strategies of novelist Yann Martel, Forrest also works best when he is seemingly saying one thing while a whole other world is at play beneath the surface.

In the large black-and-white illustrative portrait of the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz standing back to back with a King Kong-esque gorilla, Forrest presents his viewers with an deceivingly lighthearted play of notions of bravery and brute strength. The classic choice of black-and-white also evokes a timelessness in the tension between the two portraits, both of whom are surrogates of unwitting heroes in popular culture. The Lion, who only wanted courage, is shown here looking shyly over his shoulder at the resilient ape, playing on our memories of the character. Delving deeper, the Lion is unmistakably a man dressed up as a lion who, cradling his own tail in his hands, is unsure of himself in relation to the beast and to himself as beast.

While descriptively the works bounce from portraits to landscapes to studies, they cohere visually through Forrest's lush palette of soft pastels and loose strokes, returning to earlier works where drawing and painting melded into one. What's most interesting is the blankness of the background for almost all of the portraits, all except for "Emerald City" where the subjects are women. The blankness here could be interpreted as a form of isolation or alienation to a tangible surrounding, as many of the figures from The Dukes of Hazard to cowboys and boxers are relics that have seemingly lost their place in the modern reality.

Also playing with art history with one direct reference to Jeff Wall, and naming another work after a new Arcade Fire song that evokes the imagery that Forrest is constantly after ("I was lost standing in the wilderness downtown"), the show as a whole is both nostalgic and critical of the modern and urbanized male.

In the Front Room, Ian Forbes' Foldy Books of Death are just that: foldy books spanning 24 pages of copper-etched illustrations, depicting a world of randomness. From an ongoing play on cold dripping toast to creatures from land and sea, the world unfolded by Forbes is one of referential imagination, fitting right along the spectrum of graphic novels, and one whose presence in the gallery may have been opened by last year's artist-in-residence Spyder Yardley-Jones's graphic takeover of the main space.

*First published in Vue Weekly