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Akimbo is a Toronto-based company that promotes contemporary visual art, video, new media and film locally, nationally and internationally via the internet. Established in November, 1999, Akimbo has built a readership of more than 6,800 Canadian and international media and visual arts professionals and a client base of some of the country's most important galleries, museums, art institutions and film and video festivals.

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    For a guy who aligned himself with Samuel Beckett early in his career, Stan Douglas avoids the modernist celebration of delay in his first foray into theatre – Helen Lawrence at Canadian Stage– and sets his narrative on full throttle from the first scene to the final (which happens to happen on a speeding train). Any distance between audience and actors that works around and against the artifice of a bunch of people standing twenty feet in front of you yet pretending to be in a completely different world is left behind with the introduction of a thin scrim on which the action is projected with all the necessary close-ups, dramatic angles, and quick cuts of the film noir cinema that the play so relentlessly pays tribute to. And while the story – scripted by veteran TV drama screenwriter Chris Haddock– is intricate and compelling, sharp and snappy, smart and entertaining, and the assembled product on the screen is a seamless homage, the lingering question – aside from what becomes of Percy the Bookie – is why didn’t Douglas just make it a film in the first place.

    Stan Douglas, Helen Lawrence

    Douglas has distinguished himself as an artist of note for his complex interweaving of form and content in video and film installations, as well as being a photographer who captures historical shifts through large-scale landscapes that are either unpopulated or carefully choreographed recreations of past events. The historical elements is clearly in place here with post-war Vancouver serving as a setting for a selection of transitioning souls – recovering veterans, displaced Americans, temporary residents, everyone, as Douglas points out in playbill, in the process of forging their future. How this links to the multimedia rendition that makes use of a blue-screen set to place the live actors in computer generated settings before our very eyes is less intriguing than in earlier works by the artist – such as his dual film projector works Der Sandmann and Inconsolable Memories– where the slight tear in the medium’s fabric becomes equivalent to the literal tear in the historical discourse being presented. Those gallery installations function like puzzles where one only catches fleeting glimpses of resolution while the machine, the representational apparatus, stays endlessly in motion (looping or sometimes even generating variations that stretch over days). The technical conceit of this play that constantly draws one back to the artifice of the play as well as serving as a metaphor for the characters’ projection of themselves into the world is too easily forgotten in the forward thrust of the plot and ends up merely a gimmick to make the theatrical experience more cinematic. It’s a move I’m guessing Beckett would disapprove.

    Aleesa Cohene, That’s Why We End, 2014

    The slippery slide of narrative and self-identity is also in full effect at Oakville Galleries where Aleesa Cohene's multipart video installation takes the trope of therapist and client to dramatize in an elliptical fashion the subtle wrestling match slash slow dance of performative reflection (tied in this instance to a dreamlike succession of female actors from cinema’s past who populate our unconscious) we go through when preparing to plumb our depths. Each viewing station has one set of headphones and one specially selected chair, which delays the gallery visit if there happens to be more than a couple people present but also serves to invite the viewer into the equation and imply that something of the passive-aggressive back-and-forth in the psychoanalytic session also plays out between artist or artwork and no-longer-detached observer. In fact, all Cohene's works in this exhibition are the products of collaboration; the most dramatic of which must be the dance performances by Mairi Grieg that take place occasionally in the gallery (the next two are on November 16 and December 13).

    Oakville's other exhibition space features the results of another collaboration. This one is a decade-long correspondence between Emily Vey Duke and Shary Boyle wherein the former has supplied words in the form of an epic poem detailing the conflicts between nature and culture, youth and adulthood, male and female, morality and freedom, etc. played out in a twisted fantasy starring a pair of lost souls named Bloodie and Peg-Leg, and the latter has replied with a suitably evocative series of illustrations that serve to reinforce the storybook-like appearance of the project while also highlighting the psychosexual dynamics at work vis-à-vis naked wild boys and rainbow menstruating girls. The extent of the artists' vision is fully formed and enveloping (reminiscent at times of Henry Darger's equally lurid myths) and I hope they eventually assemble this into hard-bound book with full colour prints that I can curl up with on my couch and read to the neighbourhood children when they drop by for a visit (on second thought, scratch that last point).

    Canadian Stage:
    Stan Douglas: Helen Lawrence continues until November 2.

    Oakville Galleries:
    Aleesa Cohene: I Know You Know continues until January 4.
    Shary Boyle & Emily Vey Duke: The Illuminations Project continues until January 4.

    Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

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    The usual order of things has it that painting occupies the apex of the visual arts, and every other medium fights it out for a spot on one of the lower levels. I’m not quite sure where drawing fits in, though I would think it, at best, occupies a tertiary place. Which is, of course, just stupid as all hell. Drawing too often seems to be regarded as little more than a springboard for painting, not something aesthetically significant in and of itself. And that just burns me up. There are remarkable draw-ers out there. I would proffer Susan Wood in Halifax for one, and, of relevance here, Ron Shuebrook.

    Ron Shuebrook

    Currently showing at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, Drawings is an exhibition of Shuebrook’s work on paper from the mid-1990s up until last year (with a work from 1984 from the collection of the RMG – one of the five galleries organizing and circulating this exhibition – thrown in for good measure). Full disclosure: I’ve been a huge fan of his drawings since I first saw them in the early 1990s. (His paintings: not so much.) I love the enormous narrative thrust evident in their very structure. These abstract pieces of charcoal on rag paper are deeply historical, with “pre-histories” beneath their final pitch-black lines and shapes, alternative lines, shapes, and pathways that have been all-but erased away.

    “All-but”. That’s critically important, for the echoes of other directions visually resound in the work, giving them enormous aesthetic depth. Untitled, a piece from 2012, comprises in large part a big, solid rectangle of black punctuated with small white rectangles offering some visual relief. But beyond the light-absorbing chunk of blackness, the work shimmers with ghosts, with the presence of absence, with erasures of alternative histories – lines and forms all-but gone.

    Ron Shuebrook

    There’s a powerfully cartographic, even architectural, bent to much of Shuebrook’s work; some loosely resemble floor plans for buildings that the draftsperson has revised, erasing the old plan and superimposing a new one over top rather than drawing out an entirely new plan on fresh, unmarked paper. And so of course there’s this powerful narrative presence, a story, an evident history to the new with the ghost of the past still tenaciously present, still influencing the course of aesthetic events. Untitled could easily be a part of such an analogy. But another untitled work, from 1993, pushes the analogy to the breaking point: a foundational image of right-angle lines and pillar-like elements straight out of an architectural plan, all aesthetically foiled by an equally foundational series of sweeping curved lines – a pointed reminder that these drawings indeed are not to be locked up within the convenience of analogy.

    The Robert McLaughlin Gallery:
    Ron Shuebrook: Drawings continues until January 25.

    Gil McElroy is a poet, artist, independent curator, and freelance art critic. He is the author of Gravity & Grace: Selected Writing on Contemporary Canadian Art, four books of poetry, and Cold Comfort: Growing Up Cold War. He is Akimblog's roving Ontario correspondent and can be followed @GilMcElroy on Twitter.

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    Everywhere Ghostly is Nowhere Bodily, a collection of works by Jason de Haan currently on view at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, relies on the portentous weight of material or “stored energy” encountered not only in the relic, but in the longevity of a cultivated mythos. The artist’s crystal-bearded heads, having appeared in other contexts, materialize here as more detached and unearthed than their previously exalted personages upon scaffold-like stilts. The larger of the heads appears marooned and laid bare as in a mausoleum, suggesting such solemn reverence be adopted in relation to other works with more levity, such as a stack of posters depicting the photonegative of a comic, mannequin-stiff, bearded figure of vaguely hermit/prophet status.

    Jason de Haan, Chorus (detail), embossing on paper, 2014

    A series of embossed details from gravestones spell out “petrify me” in letters made almost invisible by the wrinkled and creased paper. Indicating other zones of frozen life as temporary, symbolic resting spots, tiny dark fingers carved out of meteors are almost swallowed by a white expanse of wall. The exhibition’s premise suggests a willingness to be suspended by “unknowingness”, which de Haan partly likens to a simultaneously forming and evaporating state temporarily anchored by materiality (a process illustrated by a nearby piece in which fossils, affected by the emissions of a humidifier, portend to breathe). The buried or barely discernible histories of the found or made qualities of his work ground these more vaporous conceptual associations.

    Unfortunately, de Haan ends up performing a battle of wills with the gallery itself. The simultaneously cramped and hulking nature of the space (the smaller of the KWAG’s exhibition spaces) does its best to both oppress and dominate the presence of his installation. The work, which relies on both brief engagement and prolonged consideration, retreats even further into itself in this atmosphere of conflict. Rather than nourish a space to engage with de Haan’s “remains of the body and of ideas”, the exhibition’s careful iteration of gestures becomes awkward and drained of life.

    Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery:
    Jason de Haan: Everywhere Ghostly is Nowhere Bodily continues to January 4.

    Kim Neudorf is an artist and writer currently living in London, Ontario. Her paintings have shown widely in Alberta and at Susan Hobbs Gallery in Toronto. She has contributed writing most recently to Susan Hobbs Gallery, Cooper Cole Gallery, Forest City Gallery, and Evans Contemporary Gallery. She is Akimbo's London correspondent and can be followed @KimNeudorf on Twitter.

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    The Canadian Biennial is a showcase for the National Gallery’s recent acquisitions of contemporary Canadian art. Every two years it offers the opportunity for visitors to get a close look at what some of the best Canadian artists are doing across the country and around the world. If the main purpose of a curator is to build a collection, as Contemporary Art Curator Josée Drouin-Brisebois said at the media preview for the show, then the biennial is an opportunity for the public to see how well our national curators are doing that job. The exhibition title Shine a Light refers to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and suggests that the artists in the show are modern day philosophers who reveal things that might have otherwise remained hidden. It also handily refers to the function of the exhibition itself, which is to shine a light on the diversity of contemporary Canadian artists and their innovative work taken from a collection aiming to be as representative as possible.

    Geoffrey Farmer, Leaves of Grass (detail), 2012 (National Gallery of Canada; courtesy: the artist, Catriona Jeffries Gallery & Casey Kaplan; photo: Anders Sune Berg)

    The third edition of the biennial, Shine a Light is more focused than previous editions and alternatively gives more attention to individual artists or gathers several artists’ works together in thematic displays. A few galleries focus on environmental concerns in recent photography. One gallery is given over to current abstraction in painting and sculpture. In another gallery, a fine assembly of drawings brings together fantasy and figuration with cartoonish bravura and bright colour, while confronting viewers with difficult subject matter. For example, Howie Tsui’s The Unfortunates of D’Arcy Island depicts a 19th Century Chinese-Canadian leper colony off the coast of Vancouver Island. The exhibition is also very strong in its presentation of contemporary Indigenous art, from both emerging artists like Luke Parnell to established artists like Rita Letendre, who at the age of 86 is the most senior contemporary artist in the show and is represented by a revelatory work from last year. The exhibition also puts the spotlight on a significant gift that greatly increases the gallery’s holdings of works by Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun.

    Shine a Light also celebrates acquisitions that bring to Canada works that were shown to great acclaim abroad. If you didn’t make it to the 2013 Venice Biennale, now is your chance to see Shary Boyle’s The Cave Painter. You can also check out Jeremy Shaw’s Variation FQ, which premiered at the Schinkel Pavilion in Berlin last year. Of these works, Geoffrey Farmer’s Leaves of Grass has the biggest impact. Like Walt Whitman’s magnum opus, which the poet revised and expanded over his lifetime, this is an updated edition of a work that was initially shown in 2012 at Documenta (13) in Kassel, Germany. The title signals modesty, while the ambition counters mortality. Thousands of images cut and glued to long stalks of dried grass are arranged in chronological order across a narrow length of 124 feet, like a frieze of photographic ikebana or a puppet march of time animated as the viewer strolls by. All of the images are cut from a trove of over 1,000 Life magazines given to Farmer by Michael Morris and Vincent Trasov from their archives. For this installation, Farmer responded to its new home, and increased the size, adding three feet in height and an additional 5,000 to 6,000 images. It would take at least a year to look at thoroughly (it’s up for that long for those so inclined). It starts with dogs and pageant beauties from the thirties and ends with images from an issue on AIDS in the eighties. In between there is everything from booze to automobiles, forgotten product labels and Campbell’s soup cans, celebrities, regular folks, and a looming Oscar Levant. Numerous banners, slogans, advertisements and signs offer endless reading material: the declaration “We all like Ike” is met with a responding “We like Maidenform,” while a giant cover of “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” hovers overhead near a “coloured waiting room” sign. The difference in scale of the images, which makes visual sense in the context of the magazine, creates surreal juxtapositions in the installation’s montage and skews significance. Within the visual hubbub I zoomed in on a banner that read “Seeing is Believing.” Leaves of Grass is a fitting continuation of the work of a previous generation of Canadian artists like Trasov and Morris through their Image Bank, as well as General Idea who perpetrated their own inversion of Life magazine to engage with media representation in this country.

    David Hartt, Awards Room at the Johnson Publishing Company Headquarters, Chicago, Illinois, 2011, ink jet print (National Gallery of Canada, © NGC)

    In a similar vein, David Hartt’s Stray Light excavates, through a portrait of its headquarters in Chicago, the Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) and its legacy, which includes Ebony, a magazine that was deliberately intended to be an African-American version of Life and have a positive influence. Through photographs and a video commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, visitors to the National Gallery can explore what Hartt calls the “singularity” of the modernist JPC building, a highly focused example of ideology in architecture. The funky interior design by Arthur Elrond is out of this world, but an accrual of details root the building in the struggle for civil rights in the United States. The closing sequence of the video shows a series of books published by the company including works by Lerone Bennett, Jr. who wrote, in The Challenge of Blackness, "the image sees, the image feels, the image acts," underscoring the effect that images have on one’s actions and feelings of self-worth. Framed by the curators’ invocation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the works by Farmer and Hartt are exemplary in the way that they encourage us as viewers to take a closer, harder look at the images that make up our world of appearances.

    National Gallery of Canada:
    Shine a Light: Canadian Biennial 2014 continues until March 8, 2015.

    Michael Davidge is an artist, writer, and independent curator who lives in Ottawa, Ontario. His writing on art and culture has appeared in Border Crossings, BlackFlash, and C Magazine, among other publications. He is Akimblog’s Ottawa correspondent and can be followed on Twitter @MichaelDavidge.

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    After the insanely close municipal election that just happened and all the noise that’s surrounding #gomeshigate, it seems a bit too late in the day and not all that interesting to point out that Toronto also had two art fairs running over the weekend and there was, according to some, a rivalry between the two. The bigger problem, if you ask me, was that both were scheduled against the opening of La Biennale de Montréal, which must have left some gallerists running tight travel and shipping itineraries last week. As for the commerce that went down, I have always done my best to remain oblivious to dollar values associated with the art I critiqued. After a decade of writing on the subject, I still can’t explain those numbers in a way that convinces me, let alone a sceptical reader. With that blissful ignorance my ticket out of the realm of red dots and temporary walls, I found solace, as I always do, in empty galleries where I could assess the art in peace.

    Scott Lyall (photo: Toni Hafkenscheid)

    Liam Gillick is an artist I would probably think is bullshit was it not for the masterful and, dare I say, artistic way he discusses his own work. His spoken words and writing about the pavilions and architectural incursions he’s peppered throughout the globe’s most esteemed contemporary galleries are really his art object. I make a similar sort of justification regarding Scott Lyall’s difficult to get to know exhibitions, installations, and objects. Like the British braniac’s creations, they also come freighted with arcane backstories that allude to a prodigious and far reaching intellect but hint along their distant horizons at a deadpan mischievousness. How else to make sense of the seemingly solid black paintings that line the lower floor of Susan Hobbs Gallery? Particularly when you learn that they are in fact prints on glass of information translated from computer code and originating in some unidentified source. You are left staring into an opaque surface, straining to see not what is represented – that is lost in translation – but what is materially present to your eyes. In the end, their inscrutable lineage leads one to regard them as pure abstractions, all surface with only the blank wall visible faintly in the background. The dynamic is inverted upstairs with four predominantly white works that reveal hue only from the corner of your eye. The time it takes to see them is akin to James Turrell’s faint light sculptures that require a gradual adjusting of the eye away from the blinding stimulus of sunlight. Were it not for the intrigue elicited by the artist’s heavy involvement with computer code and printing processes pushed to their limits, I might not give them the time of day. As it is, Lyall has got my attention.

    Blue Republic

    Art duo Blue Republic are a walk in the park compared to Lyall. Their gallery-filling exhibition a couple doors down at Georgia Scherman Projects is an anthropologist’s overload of wall drawings, found objects, collages, constructions, and works on video that cram together war, horizons, currency, stamps, water, and the signs and symbols we use to shorthand our ideas about all of the above. The front room is covered from floor to ceiling with black-lined diagrammatic illustrations decorated with graphically arranged objects like badges, coins, and bent wire. The artists’ desire to communicate is evident in the more obvious work – such as a phallic assemblage of a missile and two army helmets – as well as the simple drawings they are seen painting in water on rocks in recordings taken from cottage country. While I always enjoy working my way through the many clever details in a Blue Republic installation (the collaged electrical tape palm trees are a standout here), I’m never left wanting more. The tanks, guns, and military gear anchor this in a narrative that I’d rather be freed from. Sometimes you can show too much.

    Susan Hobbs Gallery:
    Scott Lyall continues until November 22.

    Georgia Scherman Projects:
    Blue Republic: Lick But Don’t Swallow continues until November 22.

    Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

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    The inaugural exhibition at Carnegie Gallery’s TBA Artspace is a fitting homecoming for Dianne Bos, who knew this building in her childhood as Dundas’ library. Now, a glass atrium embraces the back wall of the heritage structure to create a light-filled analogue to the pinhole photographs on display here – one of which, appropriately enough, was taken with a camera fashioned from a Petit Larousse dictionary. It’s not this book alone that speaks in a foreign tongue: Revenant swells with Parisian carousels and Italian interiors haunted by forgotten things and light thickened by slow exposure. In this unearthly atmosphere, a chunk of plaster clinging to the ghost of a fresco appears to float free from the wall as its own apparition.

    Dianne Bos, Flooded Seine, Paris, 2004, gelatin silver print

    All this romantic distance appears to resist the present, but as with Bos’ medium, a patient eye is needed to recognize the contemporary slippages in an image of Venetian piazza. This particular print is subtitled in homage to the utterly unmysterious red tank top worn by a tourist capturing the same view through the fleeting technology of her phone. That casual photographer and her fellow tourists set the stakes for Bos’ pinhole photography as a means of taking time to develop impressions through slow, steady illumination.

    There’s more at play here, a detail related by the artist when I requested images for this review. Because these prints were stored at her parents’ home in Dundas, they are among a small number of Bos’ works to be spared destruction in last year’s flood in Calgary where she is now based. Holding that fact in mind, her unnerving photograph of the flooded Seine takes on a prescience, even an urgency, that defies the slow march of time.

    Carnegie Gallery:
    Diane Bos: Revenant continues until November 23.

    Stephanie Vegh is a Hamilton-based visual artist and writer whose criticism has appeared in Scotland's Map Magazine, Canadian Art, C Magazine, and Hamilton Arts & Letters, in addition to her own blog. Her drawings and installations have shown most recently at the upArt Contemporary Art Fair and Nathaniel Hughson Gallery in Hamilton. She is the Executive Director of the Hamilton Arts Council and a member of the Curatorial Committee for Hamilton's annual Supercrawl. She is also Akimblog's Hamilton correspondent and can be followed @Stephanie_Vegh on Twitter.

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    I’m interested in art that doesn’t matter if it’s art. I’m interested in art activities that occur outside of art-designated spaces, that exist as equal contributors to the greater world, that seamlessly integrate into the public realm in an effort to undo those expectations. On the recommendation of a friend, I went to the University of Calgary’s Environmental Design building to visit the Kasian Gallery and their exhibition Neon: Audio Visual. Here, curator Jayda Karsten has assembled three Albertan artists who work with neon and public contexts: Dick Averns, Don Hill, and Neil Martin. These artists, she writes, “expand on the medium [of neon] from alternative perspectives while also acknowledging its history as an advertising medium.” The gallery, sort of enclosed but almost indistinguishable from the university’s other labyrinthine corridors, seems an adequate bridge between public and private space – well suited to the content of the show.

    Dick Averns

    Hill’s droning sound piece foregrounds a sense of publicness and urgency in this well-lit space; layers of pedestrian chatter and blurred car sounds increase my discomfort as people rush to class behind me. I feel guilty for standing still. Looking at Martin’s Blue I Love You – a neon tube bent to depict a hand forming the phrase “I love you” in sign language – I thought about the increased integration of non-linguistic symbols into our semantic realms. More and more, Unicode characters and shorthand pervade our missives, mimicking the efficiency of directional signage and traffic symbols. Martin’s work uses this truncated vocabulary to subvert primarily informative structures with intimate gestures.

    I texted Karsten to ask if Averns’ work – two wood frames containing the words “illuminating language” in neon – was meant to be only half-lit and partially disassembled. She told me something had occurred, something indeterminately intentional or accidental, and I told her I was interested in vandalism as an organic component of signage in public. After a confused exchange of texts, I clarified, “I meant that neon in public realms is often meant to be instructional or directive. His work uses the form to undermine the assumption of function. This, in itself, is a sort of vandalism.”

    According to Karsten’s curatorial essay, some of the work in the show had previously existed as installations out-of-doors. I wish I could’ve seen them out there, just out of happenstance, without worrying about how to critique it so long as it disrupted the predominately-commercialized public realm, presenting briefly, and perhaps unmemorably, something unexpected in the tedium of our capitalist landscape.

    Kasian Gallery:
    See website for current exhibitions.

    Steven Cottingham is another artist. Based in Calgary, he studied in New York and has recently exhibited in Havana, Glasgow, Fredericton, and Vancouver. Currently he is writing, as so many have done before, a book about love and art. He can be followed on Twitter @artcriticsm.

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    Thematic exhibitions are a tricky proposition. Looking retrospectively at a single artist is so much simpler, with just one pair of hands to consider when figuring out what unites all the work and then having the arrow of chronology help you assess the artist’s trajectory. In fact, anything historical, even a group show, has at least time as an ordering principle. But when all there is to justify this gathering is some idea or argument drawn from the zeitgeist or identified in the faintly overlapping Venn diagrams that link studio to studio, the responsibility falls on the curator to hold the show together and not simply display each work for contemplation, but to arrange them so they rub up against their neighbours and generate a productive friction that makes them more than the sum of their parts.

    Julie Moon, Sight Flight, 2014, porcelain, glaze, mylar

    With Chimera, now on display at the Craft Ontario gallery space on Queen West, Morgan Mavis has brought together two artists and her artist-run home museum to explore the overlap between nature and culture, setting David R. Harper’s ceramic, embroidered, and stuffed animal spirits alongside Julie Moon’s surreal ceramic sculptures and a floor-to-ceiling arrangement of taxidermied fauna from the collection of the Contemporary Zoological Conservatory (aka Mavis’ museum). The room is crammed cheek to jowl and, while there are material links in craft from work to work, Harper’s restrained and rigid symbolism dominates, leaving Moon’s mutant models that blend body and soul a quieter presence. Mavis’ menagerie is stuck at the back and loses some of its dramatic effect due to the limited architecture, which is a shame because the combination of artists and curatorial ideas is full of promise.

    Jennifer Murphy, Hands, 2003, collage on paper (courtesy: Clint Roenish Gallery)

    Moon Room, Kristin Weckworth's current confabulation at Narwhal Contemporary, isn't simply a collection of tributes to la lune; it riffs on the ur-text of nocturnal free association – Margaret Wise Brown's children's classic Goodnight Moon– and uses it as the jumping off point for an equally freewheeling collection of objects, from Margaux Williamson’s murky paintings to Heather Goodchild’s mythic hook rugs to a sculptural assembly by Nikki Woolsey that materializes one of the central figures in the story (“a spoon, a brush, and a bowl full of mush”) into a surreal piece of furniture.

    There are, in fact, two rooms in Moon Room, and while the first gives us an earthly perspective, the second places us on the lunar surface and surrounds us with drawings, paintings, collages, and a stained glass window high over one entrance that play off the interpretive delusions we engage in when desperately trying to discern what we see when we look up to that disc or sliver in the night sly. Some take the theme metaphorically, such as Jennifer Murphy and Maggie Groat, building on the blank surface to reflect all that earthly activity and matter we imbue with moonishness. Dipping into more celestial territory, Eli Langer’s luminescent radial line drawings, Maryanne Casasanta’s night sky, and Patrick Krzyzanowski’s star bursts (which are actually spirograph drawings made by rats) take us into deep space. You have to find your own way back.

    Craft Ontario:
    Chimera continues until November 22.

    Narwhal Contemporary:
    Moon Room continues until November 15.

    Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

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    I should be clear from the outset that sculptor Brandon Vickerd’s 2012 Chopper series (now on view at aceartinc.) and I were never going to be a love match. Biggish body-shop sculptures based on custom motorcycles that gently rib (but mostly revel in) stereotypically “masculine” aesthetics are simply going to be non-starters for me. These just aren’t things that I (a generally prissy pedestrian) like or care about. Your mileage, of course, will vary.

    Brandon Vickerd

    To produce the work, Vickerd embedded himself within a posse of motorcycle customizers, gaining familiarity with both traditional and computer-aided fabrication techniques while absorbing something of the culture and its distinctive visual language. The sculptures are formally inventive and finely crafted, with a satisfying interplay of materials and textures – rusted steel, polished chrome and copper, powder-coated pipes, unfinished Styrofoam, and sanded resin.

    They retain enough familiar automotive forms (trailing exhaust pipes, blower wheels, etc.) to look motorcyclical while taking on other, contradictory resonances. Strongly biomorphic, one asymmetrical construction slumps to one side like a tiny beached mechanical whale, while another rusted form sprouts wiggly exhaust-pipe tentacles. I feel that one looks remarkably like a giant vacuum cleaner (others saw exercise equipment); one rests on a pair of deflated-looking and distinctly nutlike tanks, and two vinyl wall pieces comprising overlapping layers of pinstripe filigree are giant variations of the world’s ugliest back tattoo. All of those things are funny and gently subversive, but the work’s primary appeal (or not) remains formal.

    Vickerd remarks that many of the actual chopped, screwed, and baroquely augmented bikes his sculptures reference are, in fact, so hobbled as to be essentially nonfunctional as means of transportation. Instead, the modifications are about ownership, identity, and appearances: in these respects they’re well down the road toward becoming a sculptural form unto themselves. This consideration adds a measure of depth to the work, connecting it to established but still interesting conversations about the conferral of “art” status, its relationship to use value, and so on, but I sheepishly found myself more curious about these useless, art-like motorcycles (not pictured) than I was interested in the decorative, bike-like sculptures in the gallery. But like I said, your mileage may vary.

    Brandon Vickerd: Chopper continues until November 21.

    Steven Leyden Cochrane is an artist, writer, and educator based in Winnipeg, where he contributes weekly exhibition reviews to the Free Press. He is Akimbo’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed @svlc_ on Twitter.

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    I meandered across my neighbourhood (the increasingly gentrified Mile End) the other day to check out Grier Edmundson’s exhibition at Centre Clark (an old resident of the “Pied Carré” complex under renovation on rue de Gaspé). In keeping with his usual practice, the exhibition is a stylistically heterogeneous mix of painting, sculpture, and print that refers to early Modern economic and social theory and its ripple effect on contemporary life.

    Grier Edmundson (photo: Paul Litherland)

    Un serpent dans la pelouse hangs its critical hat on the ideas of economist Thomas Malthus (1766-1834). Edmundson has painted a reproduction of Malthus’s portrait, which hangs alone on one wall of the gallery. Large paintings of Monopoly property cards hang on two walls and a third is covered with wallpaper featuring the mustachioed Rich Uncle Pennybags in tiny multiples and a neon sign that reads “Content.” The dominant visual motif of Monopoly alludes to one of Malthus’s seminal texts, The Nature and Progress of Rent (1815), which introduced the concept of rental property as a profitable capitalist venture. Bringing Malthus’s theory into the quotidian present, several readymade elements sit on and around square white cubes stacked together in groups: a bowl of Cheerios, a child’s rain boot, a take-out coffee cup, two porcelain figurines, and a random table lamp. They are all signs of domestic life in an age when young families are increasingly squeezed by economic stress.

    In the Mile End, where many Montreal artists live and work, it is now almost impossible to find an affordable rental apartment big enough to house a family and the transformation of the monolith block of artist studios on de Gaspé into “Pied Carré” is a well intentioned but fraught project. Not coincidentally, this exhibition references some of these issues and more in a delicate, personal, and highly crafted manner.

    Centre Clark:
    Grier Edmundson: Un serpent dans la pelouse continues until November 21.

    Susannah Wesley is an artist and curator living in Montreal. She has been a member of the collaborative duo Leisure since 2004 and from 1997-2000 was part of the notorious British art collective the Leeds13. Formerly Director at Battat Contemporary in Montreal, she holds an MFA from the Glasgow School of Art and an MA in Art History from Concordia University. She is Akimblog's Montreal correspondent and can be followed @susannahwesley1 on Twitter.

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    He lived on Utopia Parkway in Queens and she lives on the Funny Farm in Meaford, but Joseph Cornell and Laura Kikauka are kindred spirits when it comes to redeeming the mass-produced detritus of the 20th Century (he, the first half; she, the second). Neither of them is cool in the art world sense of the term. Both are outsiders who aren’t as outside as they’d have us believe. Both are obsessive builders and ill at ease in the world, so much so their ongoing creations are generated as defense mechanisms to insulate the artist while also functioning as symbolic and literal tools for dealing with the conundrum of being human (or, at the very least, give us something to do as we wrestle with that very challenge).

    Laura Kikauka

    Kikauka’s collection of boxes currently on view at MKG127 numbers in the dozens and is nowhere near as anal as Cornell’s. She’s post everything that he was pre, mostly notably Warhol (another inside outsider with an obsessive streak). Her glue-gunned dioramas are populated by the pop culture effluent that lurks in the nether regions of junk stores, thrift shops, and garage sales. It’s easy to mistake the trashy aesthetic born out of an unholy union of John Waters and Martha Stewart as simply camp, but there’s also a sense of wonder and play (and darkness) that comes from a sincere connection to the material, be it stuffed animals, toy violins, or a Mr. Potato Head stripped of all of its features. She’s been mining this territory for long enough, so no one should be questioning her authenticity. This is who she is and how she expresses herself. Once you’re cool with that, you’ll see rubber worms are as effective as cadmium red in painting a picture.

    Kotama Bouabane

    Kotama Bouabane’s Outdated, Updated, Renovated at Erin Stump Projects could just as well be called Hall of Mirrors or, better yet, Home Show of Mirrors. It’s a photography exhibition that foregrounds the surface of the image over and over again so that any sense of the real – the lie that simplifies every snapshot for our tired eyes – is undercut by artifice both within and without the frame. The standalone photographs depict the loose edges of display surfaces in the real world, either being pulled away or left unfixed, so there’s no central subject, only glimpses into the constructed environment we call home. A long shelf supports an overlapping collection of pictures of surfaces, panes of glass, mirrors reflecting the works on the far wall (not to mention the viewer), and an image of what looks to be the actual shelf you’re looking at pasted in behind everything else. The viewing options proliferate and in doing so defeat any search for a true sightline or unified object.

    In the end, or better said, the middle, since there is no end, Bouabane’s exhibition title describes the constantly shifting world of surfaces which our ever present camera-phones are constantly one step away from capturing. We are always too late or not there. This endless deferral is a fundamental truth in photography, if not all representational art. Maybe even all art? That’s too big a question for the time being. Better you make your way down to Dundas and Dufferin, and catch this exhibition before it closes this weekend in order to see what you’ve been missing.

    Laura Kikauka: What Box? continues to November 15.

    Erin Stump Projects:
    Kotama Bouabane: Outdated, Updated, Renovated continues to November 15.

    Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

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    Joscelyn Gardner’s Creole Portraits III: bringing down the flowers… is an intimidating exhibition. Earlier, I was having a conversation with a friend at another gallery. She asked what I thought about the paintings and I said – as obtusely as I could – that in a society ruled by racist patriarchs, I have no patience for art that concerns itself with trending aesthetics. This behaviour, I explained, only reinforced the superficial prejudices that have made this world the shit-hole it is today. She gave me a look and we talked for a while longer: me, backpedaling, and her, describing aesthetics as a vessel that redelivers the morals we so often take for granted.

    Joscelyn Gardner

    Gardner’s exhibition at the Alberta Printmakers’ Artist Proof Gallery is the perfect counterpoint to my initial polemics. The accompanying essay by Jenn Law elaborates on the colonial prerogatives that were so present throughout the early development of print history, acknowledging specifically how Gardner’s prints examine “the representation of the black female subject as an object of scientific and anthropological analysis, as well as a politicized site of both subjugation and resistance.”

    The show, then, is a thirteen-part riff on a single formula: each hand-painted lithograph comprises an elaborately plaited hairstyle, an unthinkably cruel 19th Century iron slave collar, and an abortifacient flower specimen. Gardner uses the aesthetic vernacular of scientific illustrations – proliferated to all corners of the European Empire through the burgeoning print medium – and a technique of plaintive collage to recreate monstrously faceted narratives of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Undoing the objectifying intents of the original documentors, the artist ventures into a world untouched by any noble-minded scientist. The hairstyles, portraits of the back of various women’s heads, display numerous complexly braided attempts to assert individuality from within the most dehumanizing of circumstances. The slave collars are just as varied and individual. One, a thorn-like assemblage of barbs and bells, is especially disturbing.

    Joscelyn Gardner

    Plantation owners were keen on the growth of their labour forces and, accordingly, abortions and unfulfilled pregnancies were considered heinous crimes. Female slaves subverted the will of their oppressors by ingesting a variety of flowers that induced menstruation and prohibited pregnancy. Thus the eponymous euphemism of the show: “bringing down the flowers…”

    The hair, removed from the head; the collar, removed from the neck; and the flower, removed from the context of rape and capitalist oppression, result in abstract assemblages. They are beautifully rendered with a neutral-ish scientific precision that leaves them initially unclear in their purpose. They look like alien growths and, after reading the essay and speaking with the gallerist, I wish they did belong to an alien species that had no hand in shaping the world that exists today. Sadly, this is not the case.

    Alberta Printmakers’ Artist Proof Gallery:
    Joscelyn Gardner: Creole Portraits III: bringing down the flowers… continues until November 29.

    Steven Cottingham is another artist. Based in Calgary, he studied in New York and has recently exhibited in Havana, Glasgow, Fredericton, and Vancouver. Currently he is writing, as so many have done before, a book about love and art. He can be followed on Twitter @artcriticsm.

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    I’ve always like fringes. Edges. The penumbra of things. It’s where, in the natural world, life thrives, and, in the aesthetic world, all the really interesting stuff tends to happen. John Climenhage is similarly inclined. Or, at least, his nineteen paintings comprising Terre Sauvage: The Topology of Anamnesis which just opened at the Art Gallery of Peterborough seems to suggest this. Landscape work in a Canadian context inevitably brings the Group of Seven to the fore (which isn’t fair, but there you go). You can follow the lines between the G-7 canon and Climenhage’s paintings, but then you’d miss the bigger picture. For Climenhage engages representational perception in a very painterly way, but he also moves past it into another kind of seeing.

    John Climenhage

    Untitled (Terre Sauvage #1) shows what I mean. The representation of landscape is clearly front and aesthetically centre. We immediately recognize it as such; the ingredients are all there. But the mixture is a bit off from our expectation. It’s a landscape that’s gone rather awry. The world has begun to fold in upon itself, begun to curl round like a wave that’s cresting. This is a world undergoing profound perceptible change, a representation of a firmament that is, in fact, no such thing. Fixedness has been absented, and our notion of the representational has long been based on its presence, its discernible verity.

    I’m not talking here about a slide into abstraction – though in a couple of paintings Climenhage teeters very close to that edge. No, we are decidedly within the realm of realism framing an aesthetic representation of the world – but it’s a world that’s perceptibly off-kilter, as if we were on another planet remarkably like our own and yet subject to slightly variant set of physics. Untitled (Terre Sauvage #1) speaks of a world shaped by another degree of gravitation, pulling it and its representation back into themselves.

    John Climenhage

    Float (Algonquin, Low Horizon) gives us a world more cognizably ours. Only just. It’s almost entirely comprised of sky, the world in this painting, barely bisected near the bottom of the work by the bilateral symmetry of an island reflecting in what we intellectually comprehend must be very still water but see as an extension of sky. Float is the entirely accurate titular designation for what we encounter: landscape adrift and unmoored in the vast presence of sky. A kind of island world, almost mythic in scope.

    Okay, so maybe we aren’t back in our mundane world of clear-cut up and down, of representational distinctions we’ve learned and have come to believe are somehow innate. Perhaps our perception has been untethered, if only a little bit. And maybe, just maybe, we’ve been lured by the expectation of seeing an exhibition of painterly landscapes by John Climenhage, and instead given to see wonderful images of the world uncoupled from itself.

    Art Gallery of Peterborough:
    John Climenhage: Terre Sauvage: The Topology of Anamnesis continues until January 18.

    Gil McElroy is a poet, artist, independent curator, and freelance art critic. He is the author of Gravity & Grace: Selected Writing on Contemporary Canadian Art, four books of poetry, and Cold Comfort: Growing Up Cold War. He is Akimblog's roving Ontario correspondent and can be followed @GilMcElroy on Twitter.

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    Possible Futures: What is to be done?, the 2014 Windsor-Essex Triennial of Contemporary Art, frames its propositional title by themes of post-industrial and urban transformation (the changing landscape of), possible (sustainable) economies, and landmarks (enduring and makeshift) used by artists to re-orient working and living spaces for future use, even if only temporary. The exhibition involves not only the Art Gallery of Windsor, but four offsite venues located in Leamington, LaSalle, Ford City, and the Capital Theatre in Windsor. Out of necessity (tight scheduling owing to an equally tight window of viewing time), my visit focused mainly on those artists exhibiting at the AGW. My commute-woes aside, readers and visitors are encouraged to visit all the remaining venues to better map out the exhibition as a whole.

    The original exhibition call asked for stories of survival amidst the changing socio-economic conditions of southwestern Ontario, Windsor-Essex and Detroit. On the third floor of the AGW, the exhibiting artists take up this request via signs, signals, plans, documents, and artifacts. Kiki Athanassiadis’ project Desire and the City: a citizen’s abandoned-lot design consultancy suggests that empty lots be used for: “useful short-cuts”, “other views”, “open, unintended and changing uses”, “imaginative play”, and “all of the above”. While visitors’ drawings and collage-like plans for these spaces shift between brightly-colored used-car lots, apocalyptic fire-pit/political platforms, and abandoned ghost-town sets, phrases like “open, unintended and changing uses” or “useful short-cuts” also read like knowing commentary on the conceptions of space proposed by other surrounding artists.

    Ingrid Mayrhofer, Art S.E.A.L.S.

    Amidst exhibition landmarks such as artist-duo Timeanddesire’s modified construction sign which points to an open and indeterminate destination, Mike Marcon’s shack-as-time-capsule, and collective TH&B’s bright layered core sample of destined-for-the-landfill trash, other artists take up markers and documents of survival in more unexpected ways. Situated between larger works, Collette Broeders’ large durational drawings are alive with tightly coiled marks that document the reach and arcs of her body; the resulting drawings resemble elegant nests or insect exoskeletons. Ingrid Mayrhofer’s wall-length pattern of Victorian flowers, made as part of the performance series Art S.E.A.L.S. (Skills Exchange And Learning Series), includes the tentative marks of visitors invited to fill in the ornate petals and stems. In another corner, a dusted, bluish-grey whetstone sits on a small plinth: a remnant from a performance by Barbara Hobot and Patrick Cullen in which the artists cycled around Windsor offering knife-sharpening services. While cycling, the artists “invoked the protection of St. Catherine”, patron saint of all who use and wield spinning wheels. The whetstone, described by the artists as an “abrasive brick”, becomes a document of strokes and marks made by other means.

    Corrie Baldauf, Frames for the People: A City of Halos

    Leaving marks and offering skills in states and spaces of transition runs through several other artists’ works, including photographic documents of residents and local businesses in Hamilton (by Stephen Brookbank) and the enduring or temporary working and living spaces of artists in Detroit (by Christian Ernsten and Corine Vermeulen). While these photographic documents help ground these spaces in the midst of uncertainty, Corrie Baldauf’s video Frames for the People: A City of Halos is an attempt to record the fleeting interactions between artworks and surrounding Detroit. Her sheets of brightly colored acrylic are shown amidst various indoor and outdoor locations or physically carried or held by Detroit locals. Alongside the awkward, baffled, and silent ways individuals react to these encounters, Baldauf’s video allows for moments when the tinted acrylic and surrounding space transform each other in quietly inventive ways: dead greys and windy weather feed the breathing glow of abandoned blue shapes, the snow from a falling refrigerator becomes the trail of a meteorite, the reflecting sky reverberates behind an armchair, and the peeling bars of a jail cell become the inner architecture of a laboratory. Baldauf offers these temporary collaborations as gestures of possible ways of working and being together, while allowing the vulnerability and uneasiness between artist, artworks, and surrounding community to remain as a visible effect, shifting and troubling the state of each interaction.

    The Art Gallery of Windsor:
    Possible Futures: What is to be done? continues until January 11.

    Kim Neudorf is an artist and writer currently living in London, Ontario. Her paintings have shown widely in Alberta and at Susan Hobbs Gallery in Toronto. She has contributed writing most recently to Susan Hobbs Gallery, Cooper Cole Gallery, Forest City Gallery, and Evans Contemporary Gallery. She is Akimbo's London correspondent and can be followed @KimNeudorf on Twitter.

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    Camp Fires: The Queer Baroque of Léopold L. Foulem, Paul Mathieu, and Richard Milette is a beautifully presented retrospective of three significant contributors to queer ceramic art. The amount of work on display at SMU Gallery is overwhelming, and combined with the detail in each of the pieces, an attentive viewer will have to dedicate some serious time to fully appreciate it. Block out an afternoon, because you can’t see this exhibition on a coffee break.

    Léopold L. Foulem, Reliquary

    The work is physical and rooted in a hands-on process of making. The objects are lush, intricate, and playful: crystals shower up out of an upstanding dick, a tea set brings to mind a BDSM version of Méret Oppenheim, and a reliquary with an image of Jesus on the cross reads “I ♥ My Daddy.” The artists subvert patriarchal symbology by teasing out the latent homoeroticism embedded in images of Mounties, Catholic priests, and even Colonel Sanders.

    At the beginning of the exhibition catalogue, the question of whether a younger generation of viewers will find this work politically potent or simply a reminder of “bad times for gays” is raised. Unfortunately, it is in many ways still controversial. While the notion of homosexuality as criminal behaviour is beyond my comprehension, I am sadly aware of the blatant homophobia that runs through our culture. Perhaps this exhibition will one day be considered innocuous and simply a footnote in a long, strange history of human sexuality. Until then, it will continue to challenge conventions.

    SMU Art Gallery:
    Camp Fires: The Queer Baroque of Léopold L. Foulem, Paul Mathieu and Richard Milette continues until November 30.

    Daniel Higham works in a butcher shop where he’ll talk to you about art, food, and life. Daniel writes for Visual Arts News and is Akimblog’s Halifax correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @highamdaniel.

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    To say history is written by the victors is a familiar adage; however, when discussing art history, it is perhaps more accurate to say it is written by the writers. Mike Kelley started writing about his own work because he needed to reclaim the narrative from reductive readings. Art Gallery of York University curator (and former employee of both the AGO and The Power Plant) Phillip Monk, on the other hand, is perhaps more concerned with being forgotten than being misinterpreted. He has taken it upon himself over the years to ensure that the fruitful period of art production that took place in downtown Toronto in the late seventies continues to get its due. That he is also a figure in that history only adds a self-reflective wrinkle to an already self-aware age of image making.

    Ross McLaren, Crash’n’Burn, 1977, film

    They were the kids who were fired up by conceptualism but also inspired by the recently translated post-structuralism and Marxist theory of Continental Philosophy’s usual subjects. They were also the children of Warhol and their relationship to the art market was a conflicted combination of suspicion and desire. Masters of that flirtation, General Idea open the exhibition with a video press conference where their strategies are laid out in all their linguistic glory. It was a time of lots of words and there is plenty to read here. The texts aren’t only on the page; they appear as advertisements, magazine spreads, fashion shows, and lo-fi videos that aspire to the lowest common denominator mass-market television. What distinguishes these “faux” commercial messages from the “real” thing is a thread of political consciousness that manifests itself to varying degrees of intensity and irony. Artists weaved their way through punk culture as much as the radical socialism of the time, trying on new identities in the same way they played at being artists. If there is any remnant of this era in the present, it is the adage that artifice is the only truth. Today’s artists have inherited the free flowing stream of signs that their elders interrogated, but have lost the anchor for their posturing. If you are the type to search for origins and the cause of our current malaise of meaninglessness, the answer you seek might be in a part of Toronto that is as far from the downtown as you can get.

    Annyen Lam, Portent, 2014, monoprints, hand-cut paper, paper casting, wood

    I was thinking about my own memories of Queen West circa the mid-80s as I drove in circles looking for a parking spot this past weekend. The Goodwill store is gone, as are the secondhand record and bookstores, but stragglers from that era can still be found in the art centres that hide within 401 Richmond. I passed through galleries with video works on Cuba, photography by First Nations artists, and installations that investigated globalization, so perhaps I’m wrong about the lack of politics, but something about the exhibitions felt old hat. It wasn’t until I got to Open Studio that I saw something that intrigued me. Annyen Lam’s delicate botanical fantasies cut from paper are accomplished both in terms of skill (she’s put a box of used knife blades on display to show what it takes) and imagery. She takes them to a new place with two backlit twilight dioramas that evoke Ed Pien (on the right) and David Hoffos (on the left). Any taint of Romanticism I might have felt at this point was pushed to the side by Hazel Eckert’s rigorous reclaiming of film and photography’s material debris. She turns these scraps into another kind of landscape, one whose connection with reality is just as dreamy, though a bit more abstract. Her concern is with seeing, not the sign, and as such trades imagination for contemplation.

    Art Gallery of York University:
    Is Toronto Burning? continues until December 7.

    Open Studio:
    Hazel Eckert: Traces continues until November 22.
    Annyen Lam: Wayfinding continues until November 22.

    Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

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    One of the largest, most anticipated events on the Montreal contemporary art calendar for 2014 has been the Montreal Biennale (aka BNLMTL 2014). Since its opening a few weeks ago at the Musée d’art Contemporain (where crowds filled the museum and queued down the block to gain entrance), I’ve debated how to acknowledge it on Akimblog, because for over a year I’ve been hearing about it pretty much every night thanks to my partner, Mark Lanctôt, who is one of the curators, along with Gregory Burke, Peggy Gale, and Lesley Johnstone.

    Kelly Richardson, Orion Tide

    The Montreal Biennale has had a troubled history and the last two years have been fraught with changes (see my 2013 year in review comment here) including a new director, a partnership with the MACM, and the addition of MACM curators – Lanctôt and Johnstone – to Burke and Gale’s original curatorial team. The exhibition title, L’avenir (Looking forward), is in one sense an acknowledgment of how many people in the art community were curious as to what the future would hold for the BNLMTL 2014.

    Due to my obvious bias, I will refrain from writing a review and instead simply share a couple fairly evident thoughts. Partnering with the MACM has really changed the tone of the BNLMTL. It has gone from a scrappy biennale, held together with a piece of string and some toothpicks, to a highly professional event that involves a big museum exhibition alongside off-site projects in other galleries. I don’t miss the old biennale, but I do miss the adventure of seeing a lot of art in buildings I wouldn’t otherwise visit, buildings that don’t usually hold art. There was always a bit of magic in that. BNLMTL 2014, however, leaves all the magic up to the art works. Not a bad trade-off.

    BNLMTL 2014:
    BNLMTL 2014 continues until January 4.

    Susannah Wesley is an artist and curator living in Montreal. She has been a member of the collaborative duo Leisure since 2004 and from 1997-2000 was part of the notorious British art collective the Leeds13. Formerly Director at Battat Contemporary in Montreal, she holds an MFA from the Glasgow School of Art and an MA in Art History from Concordia University. She is Akimblog's Montreal correspondent and can be followed @susannahwesley1 on Twitter.

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    I was at a gallery last week with a friend when she said, “Going to see art exhibitions is like playing the slot machines at the casino. Most of the time you lose.” We even saw a few works of art on display that have reportedly made viewers cry, but we were unmoved. Could our hearts be too hardened? Regardless, it’s not necessarily the tear factor but separation anxiety that counts for me as one of the criteria for good works of art. When I’m in the presence of a work that I don’t want to leave, I know I’ve encountered something great. Samuel Roy-Bois’s Not a new world, just an old trick makes me feel that way. You might say I hit the jackpot with it. I’ve visited Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG) a number of times to see it and as the end of the exhibition nears, the sweet sorrow of parting with it increases. The last time I was there I even choked back a few tears.

    Samuel Roy-Bois, Not a new world, just an old trick, 2013, wood, paint, clear acrylic, and art objects (photo: Justin Wonnacott)

    The installation is one of the more recent works by the Vancouver-based artist that continues on a trajectory he has been following for many years: making art out of the mechanics of displaying art. By fabricating new spaces within art galleries, such as a recording studio or a private apartment, he effects a mise en abyme that mirrors the function of the space within which it is located and augments its potential. Like his other work, the piece at CUAG could be categorized as an architectural folly. Though a little roughshod and rickety, its details suggest a DIY Grecian temple, with modern touches like vibrant coloured throw pillows to create a relaxed vibe. At every stage it engages the viewer in a new role or experience, like a stroll through a manicured garden. It also suggests an ark with an art gallery inside.

    You must climb up and enter an environment reminiscent of an unfinished basement where a selection of works chosen by Roy-Bois from the CUAG’s permanent collection is hung salon style and in every nook and cranny. When curator Melanie O’Brian gave Roy-Bois carte blanche to do a project at Simon Fraser University Gallery, the first version of this piece was the result. Knowing they had something special, they sent it on tour. Now it is at CUAG, where the height of the ceiling has permitted the addition of a plexi-tower. Each iteration of the piece uses the local collection and allows for new discoveries. Next year, it travels to Oakville Galleries, where it will take on another configuration.

    Samuel Roy-Bois, Not a new world, just an old trick, 2013, wood, paint, clear acrylic, and art objects (photo: Justin Wonnacott)

    Of the three locations, I’m absolutely sure that the one at CUAG is the best, even though I will probably never see the others. A sense of local pride makes me say it. Can the others say that theirs offers a view of the Ottawa River from Barrack Hill circa 1860? Or a Claude Tousignant, which, nestled up near the rafters, looks like a hockey puck? The space provides an up close and intimate look at a percentage of the permanent collection that would otherwise be hard to see. Like a curiosity cabinet, it is crammed full of works, with dozens of pieces from a collection of over 27,000 showing in microcosm the character and idiosyncrasy of any public collection. There is a marvelous selection of Northwest Coast Graphic Art from the George and Joanne MacDonald collection that includes sweatshirts. There is a range of great works from contemporary Canadian artists, such as two pieces by Irene Whittome donated by Philip Fry in memory of Jacqueline Fry. A gift from W. McAlister Johnson, the engraving Coup d’œil exact de l’arrangement des Peintures au Salon du Louvre, en 1785, deepens the mise en abyme one step further, visually echoing the style of Roy-Bois’s installation and the attendees that animate it. Directly below is a photograph by Henry Kahanek, Suzy Lake Exhibition Opening at the National Film Board, a more recent depiction of people at an exhibition, showing a couple in a passionate embrace sprawled on a bench next to a man ignoring the catalogue in his hands. Roy-Bois’s installation has by a few accounts inspired similar instances of canoodling. While its title suggests that there is some mischief at play here, and Roy-Bois has certainly pulled some pranks in the past, I really don’t sense any maliciousness. The installation’s title is more likely an honest assessment of art as one of the few bulwarks we’ve got against the passage of time. The longer I spent in there and the more I looked, the more I saw thematic associations and formal links between the elements of the work. It was almost too much to bear.

    Carleton University Art Gallery:
    Samuel Roy-Bois: Not a new world, just an old trick continues until December 14.

    Michael Davidge is an artist, writer, and independent curator who lives in Ottawa, Ontario. His writing on art and culture has appeared in Border Crossings, BlackFlash, and C Magazine, among other publications. He is Akimblog’s Ottawa correspondent and can be followed on Twitter @MichaelDavidge.

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    Walking down the stairs to visit the Dalhousie Art Gallery’s latest exhibition – (im)mobile– the view-er enters a strange and unpredictable dream. Just inside the door, Germaine Koh’s Fair-Weather Forces turnstile spins wildly, possessed, as if manipulated by an unseen hand, and a dissonant soundscape tumbles through the rooms.

    Left: Germaine Koh & Gordon Hicks, There/Here, 2011. Right: Edith Flückiger, Slogan (Ask…), 2010. (Photo: Steve Farmer)

    An electric red glow pulls the viewer through the installations to the back of the gallery. Walking around one corner reveals Edith Flückiger’s Slogan, a displaced subway billboard silently demand-ing, “ASK NOW FOR LATER.” Red light floods the room, enveloping the viewer. The sign feels out of place, and yet, in the manner of dreams, significant. Ask what for later?

    In the next room is Koh and her collaborator Gordon HicksThere/Here, a pair of doors that stand surrounded by empty space. They are stripped of purpose, leading nowhere. As one door is opened, the other follows, invisibly tied – evidence of a sort of unpredictable causality. Between the doors, a video projection by Flückiger titled Swim spills out onto the floor. In it a group of people swim. Shot from above, the camera slowly pans across anonymous bodies amongst the waves, creating a feeling of disembodiment, of watching one’s self from a distance.

    Mireille Bourgeois and Chantal Molleur’s curatorial premise for the exhibition title refers to physical mobility and stillness, and the displacing of the ordinary meaning of everyday objects. The collected work certainly achieves this, but the overall installation exceeds these ideas, disrupting the viewer’s sense of self and body to create a site of reflection and observation.

    Dalhousie Art Gallery:
    (im)mobile continues until November 30.

    Daniel Higham works in a butcher shop where he’ll talk to you about art, food, and life. Daniel writes for Visual Arts News and is Akimblog’s Halifax correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @highamdaniel.

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    As someone who is faced with the Sisyphean task of putting art into words each week, I often gravitate to work where the content dominates. This allows me to tell a story in advance of my critique, whereas a largely formal creation leaves me struggling to say anything beyond a description of what the thing I’m looking at Iooks like. “Two vertical panels of green and a horizontal strip of yellow” is nowhere near as fun to recount as “an array of intertextual references to post-structural thinkers and their assorted fetishes.” However, formalism still looms large in the world of visual art and I wouldn’t be up to snuff as a critic unless I wrestled with art at its most taciturn on occasion.

    Matt Donovan, Green Honeycomb (detail), 2014, Lego

    There is not much to say about Matt Donovan’s work at Olga Korper other than it’s made of Lego and based on patterns. His use of the ubiquitous children’s toy has little if anything to do with Lego as a cultural commodity and everything to do with its as an endlessly repeatable unit of matter. As such, it is a perfect medium for creating the various geometrical patterns that make up his wall-hung creations. Since they work in three-dimensions, they aren’t purely visual, but the closest art historical referent I can link them to is Op Art. What appears uniform from a distance breaks down into pixels up close and the shadows cast by each brick add an impalpable element to something so otherwise inescapably tangible. There is a disorienting effect in walking through the gallery and it’s easy to dismiss this, like the Lego, as a gimmick. However, if one were to run with it, the trippy phenomenology of drones, dream machines, and minimalism (of the hardcore techno variety) might just be the signposts you pass on the way to a purely abstract (in the sense of not being part of this world) Platonic Form – and you can’t get much more formal than that!

    Jamelie Hassan, Poppy Cover (for Holy Roller), 2010

    While Donovan’s work could only exist in the rarefied space of a gallery (or seem like alien presences without it), the art of Jamelie Hassan and Ron Benner, the two London, Ontario-based artists who have had a creative and life partnership for the past thirty years and are currently exhibiting complementary works of their own at A Space, is practically suffocated within the white cube. Benner’s projects in particular, since they often take the form of gardens, are most suited to the open air. Trapped inside they lack the circulating audience and environmental elements that root them in the local and so inveigle them into place that they almost disappear. I worked for years at Harbourfront and only slowly absorbed the presence of his All That Has Value. Hassan’s contributions work the same way and, while the installation of her Poppy Cover (for Holy Roller) has a definite presence, the image of its 2010 appearance in her hometown draped over a Sherman tank clearly demonstrate how it can best be displayed.

    The key to this exhibition is that it is of and about the world and, as such, flush with stories and flowers (note: I’m using it as a verb here) in context. Whereas a so-called formal work professes to sustain its unified self independent of the everyday, these historically inspired and politically engaged acts of collaboration (not with other people, but with nature itself) only make sense as part of terra firma. One puts your head in the firmament; the other keeps your feet on the ground. The nice thing is there is a place for both.

    Olga Korper Gallery:
    Matt Donovan continues until December 6.

    A Space:
    Jamelie Hassan & Ron Benner: The World is a Garden Whose Walls are the State continues until December 13.

    Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

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