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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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    It’s no big revelation to point out that artists are, in part, the architects of their own destruction when it comes to habitat. Cycles of urban gentrification are well documented over the past century, and the only thing that's changed is the speed with which a neighbourhood can shift from marginal to marginalizing. It's particularly evident in a city like Toronto where the real estate market is on roiling boil. However, creative types benefit from visibility (it’s one of their defining characteristics), whereas the people and the culture they build their communities on lie dormant for decades. The Junction is/was a solid example of this and the area immediately to the east is now having its moment in the sun. The number of galleries that have popped up on Dupont is obvious evidence. Slightly less so is the conversion of the Galleria Mall into a venue for temporary artistic incursions. Earlier this year, The Long Winter music/art series held an off-site event there and just this past weekend the curatorial collective Aisle 4 installed nine artists amongst the kiosks, owner-run shops, and smattering of chain stores.



    Oliver Husain, Galleria Cruise, 2016, video

    The Galleria is the kind of public access zone where commerce hasn't entirely squeezed out community. For many years, it was mostly ignored except by neighbours who frequented the stores that held on and seniors who just hung out. By failing as a “destination” mall, it instead became something more organic, something local and unique. Flying under the radar is essential to the survival of the kind of ecosystem that isn’t driven by rapacious market forces. And cities are all the better for their existence. Unfortunately, this article, as well as the exhibition that elicited it, as well as the real estate demands that have turned the surrounding housing into prime territory for development, means that it’s all going to change (much in the same way that Liberty Village changed over the last decade). All this occurs to me as I watch Oliver Husain's stop-motion video journey through the mall on the LCD info panels and listen to the Earlscourt branch of the Royal Canadian Legion practice their bagpipes and wait for my daughter to finish her gymnastics practice. (Did I mention there are two fitness facilities here as well? And an axe-throwing club is moving in?)

    Sarah Beck and Shlomi Greenspan’s diorama in a vending machine is all you need to see in order to get a sense of the transformations – both in the past and soon to come – the building is subject to, while Fraser McCallum and Jessica Vallentin make changes so subtle (his with text, hers with light bulbs) that it’s as if they knew to leave well enough alone. Roy Arden’s window display maintains the mall’s homespun aesthetic despite his odd insertion of a bit of glamour and Adrian Blackwell’s linked circular benches fit right in as well.



    Roy Arden, Shop Around, 2016, Smokey Robinson’s boots, pigment print, vitrine context

    The best thing about the culture at the Galleria – at least, for the time being – is that it is not dominated by chains. The stores, salons, and services are here and only here. Apart from the opening, when it felt like the art community were tourists objectifying the other that is everyday life for most, the best thing about this exhibition was that it didn’t dominate the space. Most art isn’t powerful enough to do that, but kudos to the curators and artists for collaborating with what’s given before it gets torn up for what’s to come.


    Aisle 4: http://newsite.aisle4.ca/word/portfolio_page/gallery-galleria/
    Gallery Galleria was open from May 12 to 17.


    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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    Artists don’t really seem to adopt alter egos anymore. After the heyday of 1970s performance and mail art (shout out to Flakey Rosehip and The MacBooty Brothers), the practice has fallen away over the decades. This might be why Nicole Kelly Westman and Del Hillier’s collaborative exhibition at Untitled Art Society takes on a distinctly nostalgic air, as they inhabit two working class country music performers in Presenting Two Left Footed Loocee and Delvis Cache.



    Nicole Kelly Westman and Del Hillier, Presenting Two Left Footed Loocee and Delvis Cache

    The exhibition is primarily a display of performance relics, or perhaps more accurately, props, that point to fictional characters based on the artists’ own experiences growing up in blue collar mining towns. Their 1970s-inflected costumes are displayed in two life-sized vitrines flanked by a rather over-lit video projection (almost invisible on the sunny day that I visited) and a behind-the-scenes area that looked like a mildly debauched dressing room. The installation draws you in, but, perhaps productively, its unabashedly theatrical (almost hammy) nature really just makes me want to see those costumes animated by live performance. There are a couple of attendant events that will scratch that itch, including the launch of a “cassette publication” Live from UAS with the Sled Island music festival. My sense is that the live events will complicate the lighthearted gallery installation – the props are just one piece of the puzzle of this ambitious multi-pronged project.

    Westman and Hillier’s work certainly resonates with the city. The honky-tonk country western vibe might come off as ironic elsewhere, but in Calgary, where real cowboys walk around and nobody bats an eye at the ten-gallon hat sitting at the bar, this project has a surprising and refreshingly earnest quality to it. And, on one hand, it’s admirable that our ARCs support contextually appropriate projects and locally based artists rather than chase international names. However, this is the latest in a string of exhibitions at ARCs featuring the work of other Calgary ARC staffers (Nicole Kelly Westman is the director of Stride Gallery). While Westman and Hillier’s work is strong and no doubt worthy of an exhibition in this space, this recent micro-trend in programming leaves me hoping for fresh blood and new names in the season to come.


    Untitled Art Society: http://www.uascalgary.org/
    Nicole Kelly Westman and Del Hillier: Presenting Two Left Footed Loocee and Delvis Cache continues until July 2.


    Sarah Todd is a curator currently based in Calgary. She has previously worked at Western Front, InterAccess Electronic Media Arts Centre, XPACE Cultural Centre, and The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. She has also produced projects with a range of organizations including Vtape, Kunstverein München, The Goethe Institute, The Pacific Cinematheque, Glenbow Museum and The Illingworth Kerr Gallery. She is Akimblog’s Calgary correspondent and can be followed on Twitter @sarahannetodd.


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    There are few birthdays quite as significant as your twentieth – the moment when you leave behind your heady teenage years and begin to face adulthood in full. For an artist-run centre, turning twenty is a momentous occasion especially if that organization is as significant as Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art. Founded in 1996 by a group of artists and cultural workers including Louis Ogemah, Lita Fontaine, and Liz Barron, today Urban Shaman remains one of only three artist-run centres in Canada dedicated exclusively to the support and promotion of Indigenous art and artists. (Sakewewak Artists Collective Inc. in Regina and Tribe Inc. in Saskatoon are the other two.)



    Nadia Myre, Meditations on Red #4, 2013

    Organized by Urban Shaman’s Director Daina Warren, The Fire Throws Sparks celebrates the gallery’s notable milestone while featuring some of the artists who have helped ‘spark’ the space’s development over the past two decades. As with most group shows, some works in the exhibition are stronger than others, with highlights here including selections from Nadia Myre’s Meditations on Red series, Scott Benesiinaabandan’s black and white self-portraits, and Rebecca Belmore’s piece Mixed Blessing. Some older works are revisited as well and I’ll admit that I felt something catch in my throat upon seeing Lita Fontaine’s 2000 installation The Woman’s Drum once more.

    While there have certainly been ups and downs over Urban Shaman’s history, the following twenty years now stretch out ahead and I look forward to what this next stage of maturity will bring to the gallery. Happy birthday, Urban Shaman, keep on stoking that fire.


    Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art: http://urbanshaman.org/
    The Fire Throws Sparks continues until June 30.


    Jenny Western is a curator, writer, and educator who lives in Winnipeg. She can be followed on Twitter @WesternJenny.


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    Getting back to nature is an increasingly complex endeavor, not simply because it raises these two questions: 1. Were we ever there in the first place? 2. When did we leave? The simple answers might be 1. Yes and 2. We haven’t, but that doesn’t do much to clear up our muddled thinking about the world that grows outside our windows (and sometimes on our window sills). There are too many overlapping and deeply entrenched assumptions to be found in our various histories, technologies, biographies, and psychologies of biology to reduce our place as human animals in the world to an “everything is one” ethos.



    Public Studio, Everything is One, 2016, LED screen, saplings

    Public Studio, the collaborative art practice of Elle Flanders, Tamira Sawatzky, and (at least in this particular exhibition) a number of expert contributors, make exactly that suggestion in the central work of their ambitious Art Gallery of York University exhibition What We Lose in Metrics. However, their Everything is One installation turns the table on purists and inserts a gargantuan LED advertising billboard within the gallery to serve as a source of light for a nursery of saplings. Before reaching this point, the viewer has travelled down a shadowy tunnel beneath overhanging branches, discovered a cabin in the woods, journeyed through the collective unconscious of film memory by viewing a collage of ominous wooded scenes from Hollywood’s past, and then walked in step with a series of video game players who promenade through virtual forests that have had their attack modes largely neutralized in order to allow for contemplation.

    Contemplation is definitely in order here because the dense textual overlay, from the scrolling declaration of the Rights of Nature to the poetry incorporated into the gaming works, takes time to unfold and requires parsing. Those not acclimatized to the worlds of Assassin’s Creed, Skyrim, or Dragon Age also need to adapt to the uncanny valley realism of the digital realm before they embrace this most recent extension of nature. In doing so, the question of whether all nature is an extension (as in: is all nature unnatural?) can be added to our list.



    Sarah Anne Johnson, Pink Forest, 2015, chromogenic print

    The community of nomadic hedonists who appear throughout Sarah Anne Johnson’s Field Trip series – now on view at the bastion of nature art that is the McMichael Collection– might just think they are getting at one with Gaia during the musical events they travel the countryside to experience, but they could probably also be convinced that Gaia is a computer and we’re all inside a video game. The costumes they wear and characters they embody are as much a departure from the world of squares (that is: the city) as the places they escape to. The music is electronic and the colours that Johnson adds to her photographs, over-painting in sparkly blobs and explosions, are out of this world and, in all but the most radical sense, unnatural. The result is something both joyous and depressing, beautiful and filthy, inviting and terrifying. Those contradictions have been around since humans first entered the forest and these two exhibitions just continue the tradition.


    Art Gallery of York University: http://theagyuisoutthere.org/everywhere/?p=4994
    Public Studio: What We Lose in Metrics continues until June 19

    McMichael Collection: http://50years.mcmichael.com/sarah-anne-johnson
    Sarah Anne Johnson: Field Trip continues until June 5.


    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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    Only a few more days remain to soak in the depth of Mitch Mitchell’s I Will Meet You In The Sun at the Art Gallery Of Nova Scotia. His sculptural works are spotted throughout the open space like objects abandoned in an industrial complex. Chief curator Sarah Fillmore refers to them as little dropped memories. Everything is intentional. Each imitation of disarray is formed from a number of delicately placed and meticulously crafted elements.



    Mitch Mitchell, Oppenheimer, 2016, wood, fire (photo: Steve Farmer)

    Predominantly trained as a print maker, Mitchell’s work makes many references to print media and its history. Charred coal blocks tumble out from a copper pail in the centre of the space. Every block surface is carved with a semitone pattern and painted black with India ink. The pail is hand forged from a copper plate.

    I Will Meet You In The Sun honours the trauma Mitchell’s grandfather carried silently as the first soldier to witness the bomb dropping on Hiroshima: a tiny blip on his radar screen. Fillmore intuits that the artist has inherited the bodily memory of that trauma. He uses artistic labour to “work the devil out” and articulate to his audience a family history marred in the complexity of war and the silent strength of secrets.

    In a large video projection, rust runs through flour and water as hands slowly gather a mess of ingredients into a lustrous, inedible red ball of dough. The audio is slightly offset. The hands are detached from any body, they instruct through action how to make bread from metal, how to feed the body with that which corrodes.

    Domesticity, industry, and war are kneaded together in this weighted, but not dark, exhibition. Mitchell has crafted a beautiful visual language to convey a personal story of lives lived amidst industrial scale destruction.


    Art Gallery Of Nova Scotia: http://www.artgalleryofnovascotia.ca/
    Mitch Mitchell: I Will Meet You in the Sun continues until June 5.


    Anna Taylor is an artist, crafter, and organizer sitting on the board of the Halifax Crafters Society. She is Akimblog’s Halifax correspondent and can be followed on Twitter @TaylorMadeGoods.


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    What does the millennial have to smile about? Trevor Discoe’s exhibition You Are Here at Dynamo Arts Association suggests that you have “arrived.” But where, exactly? That which is presented as a gestalt for success, taste, and relevance – your new condo! Discoe has taken urban real estate marketing tropes – images with a projected sense of mastery over one’s wealth and life management – and reduced them to empty signifiers in three new and untitled works. We know he isn’t trying to sell us a lifestyle, so we can rest easy looking at a small monitor playing a compilation of immaculate show homes. I watched with a sense of remorse for the artist who found and edited footage the together. The camera work is meant to give you a sense of the layout – granite countertops, designer furniture, and splashes of colourful throw cushions against a monochromatic living room set – but there are no sign of life.



    Trevor Discoe, You Are Here

    A sculpture representing a generic architectural model is sequestered in a recessed room in the gallery and can only be viewed through two large windowpanes. Discoe’s treatment of the sculpture feels like that of an alien object in quarantine or some kind of incubating seed. Either way, the creepy sci-fi narratives resonate.

    The most prominent work is a projection that looms over the gallery like a small billboard. Individuals smile for the camera against a white background. Appearing in succession, the slow smile of the millennial evokes a conflicted reaction. Some gush at the sight of a familiar face (many can be identified as members from the artist-run community), yet the expressions articulate something deeply cynical. The demographic in this video is hardly on a trajectory towards homeownership, but these fresh faces are often cast into the metropolitan complex of various condo marketing schemes: walking down the street with a small dog in one hand, a cluster of shopping bags in the other, laughing into cellphone or eating a salad.

    The simplicity of the smile can be overlooked as banal or saccharine (as the paranoid intellectual looks on) and the human element drawn from the local participants might only circulate amongst a small community of emerging cultural workers. Discoe’s footage was produced during a barbeque at a building where several artist studios reside. He asked his friends and acquaintances to smile without being told why. They did so without skepticism or complaint. Almost accidentally, in an attempt to merely mock marketing creatives, Discoe captures a kind of richness that exists before the threat of capitulation under the weight of our own images used against us.


    Dynamo Arts Association: http://www.dynamoarts.ca/
    Trevor Discoe: You Are Here continues until June 17.


    Steffanie Ling's essays, criticism, and art writing have been published alongside exhibitions, in print, and online in Canada and the United States. She is the editor of Bartleby Review, an occasional pamphlet of criticism and writing in Vancouver, and a curator at CSA Space. She is Akimblog’s Vancouver correspondent and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram @steffbao.


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  • 06/01/16--09:16: Jeff Bierk at AC Repair Co.
  • Portrait photography is a collaborative process with inescapable ethical implications, as the AGO's recent Outsiders exhibition made clear. While no one gets stressed if the subjects are rich and powerful, as in Tina Barney's family photos of the one percent, we do get squirmy when perusing images of so-called marginalized people. We expect to find poetic significance in lives lived on the edge, yet at the same time are guilty of a privileged voyeurism when viewing those edges from the safety of a gallery or a museum. Richard Billingham's “squalid realism” raised this concern twenty years ago, John Water's played it up in his film Pecker, and now local shutterbug Jeff Bierk is wrestling with it.



    Jeff Bierk

    In a recent video on CBC Arts, the artist explains how he came to realize the importance of consent in documenting the homeless men in the neighbourhoods around his home and studio. Rather than just taking pictures of the people he found on the street, he befriended them and began to work with them, establishing relationships over time and learning their stories. His public project for last month’s Contact Photography Festival distributed fleece blankets with their portraits printed on them around the city. They were free to be used and circulated according to practical purposes while at the same time acting as a roaming exhibition.

    Blankets also serve as the theme for his compact exhibition currently on display at AC Repair Co. This new project space just off Dupont is perfect for experiments of this kind. By highlighting a particular aspect of an artist’s work or allowing them to test out a new angle, the gallery provides an incubator for new ideas. Here, a couple photos plus a blanket installed on the bare concrete floor beneath a collage stuck to the overhanging roof beams allows the viewer to focus on the blanket as a canvas, a repository of stains, a means for shelter, and a landscape of absent or hidden bodies. Bierk’s role – as a photographer and a human – is to make these overlooked citizens visible. His art is to make the experience resonate.



    Jeff Bierk

    Also on view at the same venue are a couple metal sculptures made by Lili Huston-Herterich in collaboration with the neighbourhood children. Pairing two artists who connect with the local community is appropriate for a gallery that serves as a place of opportunity and growth for Toronto’s artists. It reminded me – in size as well as ambition – of the Goodwater Gallery that used to be on Palmerston just off Dundas. Both spaces make a virtue of modest means to foster creation. AC Repair Co. is a sign of health in this new northern art zone along Dupont and a strong complement to commercial spaces like Erin Stump Projects, Angell Gallery, Richard Rhodes Dupont Projects, and Katzmann Contemporary – all of whom are within walking distance. Now that the summer is here, I expect to be biking up this way on a regular basis.


    AC Repair Co.: http://www.acrepairs.co/
    Jeff Bierk: Everybody Wins Except for the Losers continues until June 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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    Winnipeg’s West End is known for its turn-of-the-twentieth-century houses. These houses, with their good bones and relatively low property taxes, have long attracted artists and cultural workers to make this neighbourhood their home. Sometimes along with the new homeowners come small galleries and alternative exhibition venues, such as Artlington Studios, Hole in the Wall Gallery/Summer Art Box, and the too-soon-gone Tumble Contemporary Art. Also As Well Too is the latest to join in the roster of West End arts spaces. It is an artist-run not-for-profit library of artists books hosted in the living room of its founder Alexis Kinloch. Also As Well Too made the Akimbo Critic’s Picks list for Winnipeg in 2015 having amassed over 250 donated artist publications and participated in a six-city Western Canadian tour during its very first year of inception.



    Lindsay Arnold, Heirlooms, 2016, installation view (photo: Mandy Malazdrewich)

    This year Also As Well Too opens it doors (door?) on the Hollow Earth Gallery – a small closet adjacent to the main library area. The gallery’s latest exhibition, Heirlooms, is a fitting display of the sly and unexpected one hopes to find when peeking into such an out of the way nook. North Portal, Saskatchewan-based artist Lindsay Arnold transforms the space into a kind of altarpiece – walls lined with a velvety grey wallpaper and lit by a glass oil lamp. An artist’s book masquerading as a hand-bound album recounts the weird tale of a Gibson Girl-type and her dog-beast. A small series of cartes de visite illustrate a collection of “noteworthy hats.” Delicate china plates are on display too, their patterns disrupted by images of stylish, prim women scheming against one another. Arnold’s practice employs images of Victorian-era ladies in order to delve into the darker side of decorum and perfection.

    That one of the more intriguing galleries in the city right now is housed in a dim closet annexed to the living room of a West End home seems odd, perfectly natural, and pretty great.


    Hollow Earth Gallery: https://alsoaswelltoo.com/hollow-earth-gallery/
    Lindsay Arnold: Heirlooms continues until July 3.


    Jenny Western is a curator, writer, and educator who lives in Winnipeg. She can be followed on Twitter @WesternJenny.


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    You make a devil's bargain on becoming an art critic. By dedicating yourself to the delights of all that artists can provide, you risk becoming inured to those very delights the longer you engage in the pursuit. The hoped for trade off is that what you lose in frequency, you make up for in depth and intensity. Which is not to say I wander through galleries with a seen-it-all air (though that does happen), but I more often experience a slow simmer than a raging boil. However, when I am jolted to attention, as I was this past weekend at the Art Gallery of Mississauga, I am pleasantly reminded why I started doing this in the first place.



    Pansee Atta, Afterglow, 2015, GIF animation

    Perhaps I don't spend enough time looking at Post-Internet Art, but Pansee Atta's animated GIFs in the entranceway of the Canadian Belonging(s) group exhibition struck me like a breath of fresh air. Her combination of Pre-Raphaelite painting and digital processing turned an already evocative combination of text and image into a hypnotic loop of claims and denials, objectification and abjection, representation and abstraction, etc. and so on. The closest comparison I can think of is Jeremy Blake’s video paintings, which also combined history with the ineffable to unforgettable ends. There is a series of Atta’s moving images on display and they, on their own, make the exhibition worthwhile by compressing the struggle of identity, bound as it is by history – both imposed and discovered, disavowed and reclaimed – and present circumstances, into brief episodes of transformation.



    Meryl McMaster, Ancestral, 2008, C print

    On the opposite wall is another series of transformations where Meryl McMaster has 19th Century portraits of Indigenous people who were being documented because they were expected to “disappear” projected onto her face and that of her father. The mapping of past onto present combined with the agency of the artist taking control of the previous narrative weds the atrocity of colonialism with a critique of decolonization in work that is created from nothing more than light and paper.

    The impact of that paper – be it a photograph, a passport, or a postcard – is the running theme through this exhibition, but what makes the work engaging are the stories behind the documents. Some, like Cindy Blažević’s Muslim Girl Guides photographs and Abdi Osman’s intimate images of contemporary black queer bodies, simply demonstrate that the homogeneous account of being Canadian no longer holds sway. Other, like Basil AlZeri and Kristie MacDonald, question the official status of official materials by introducing ambiguity and forgery into the equation. The result is a pleasing disorientation that reminds at least one critic that there’s still a lot more to see out there.


    Art Gallery of Mississauga: http://www.artgalleryofmississauga.com/index.html
    Canadian Belonging(s) continues until July 3.


    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 didn’t know Mathieu Lefèvre well, but sometimes I think I see him walking down the street, his blond hair and slight figure glimpsed through the crowd, and I have to check myself because it can’t possibly be him. Lefèvre died in 2011, at just thirty years old, when he was hit by a truck while cycling in Brooklyn. Centre Clark’s exhibition Make It Big (More Shit on Walls) is a retrospective of his conceptual and multidisciplinary practice, which mainly consists of paintings, sometimes sculpture, and the odd video or installation as well.



    Mathieu Lefèvre, Rave, 2010, spray paint on Watteau poster

    The exhibition is carefully co-curated by Nicolas Mavrikakis, Roxanne Arsenault, and Manon Tourigny. The Edmonton-born artist’s paintings – joyously anti-heroic, one-liner critiques of the art world – are thoughtfully hung and the artist’s studio is also delicately re-created. However, as posthumous retrospectives go, this one takes a rather different approach. Following the artist’s spirit in more ways than one, the curators contacted a psychic medium to consult with Lefèvre on the development of the exhibition. Video documentation of their intriguing conversation is included and it veers between comforting, amusing, and unsettling. Whichever way, it’s definitely worth watching. That Lefèvre had already created a tongue-in-cheek work to be exhibited after his death, Last Will - mon testament ou Death Wish from 2006, makes the curators’ attempt at a transcendental collaboration fitting and brings an unexpected layer of intimacy to the exhibition. Not many curators would be so thorough in their research! I left Centre Clark re-acquainted with Lefèvre’s practice and less willing to dismiss the possibility that maybe he does indeed still walk among us.


    Centre Clark: http://www.centreclark.com/en
    Mathieu Lefèvre: Make It Big (More Shit on Walls) continues until June 18.


    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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  • 06/15/16--06:05: 2016 Luminato Festival
  • Easily the most impressive thing about this year's Luminato Festival– the local multi-arts extravaganza that works best when it presents genre-spanning spectacles requiring deep pockets and good connections – is the location itself. The long abandoned Hearn Generating Station has been a mecca for photographers of urban decay for years, but Jorn Weisbrodt, the artistic director of Luminato, has secured it as a venue legally accessible to the general public (I can only imagine what the insurance costs are). Unsound, the music festival within the festival, got its foot in the door last year and filled the big space with post-industrial drone music perfect for a place haunted by ghosts of the coming apocalypse (it was a coal-fired power plant, get it?). This year, rather than occupy venues across the city, Luminato has gone full Hearn and turned the cavernous hulk of a wreck into a cavernous hulk of an art centre.



    Michel de Broin, One Thousand Speculations

    You can't have an abandoned industrial building in this day and age and not throw some art in it. The challenge is to curate work that isn’t dwarfed by the scale of the surroundings. The denizens of upstart art space YTB Gallery make a valiant effort in creating site-specific installations that respond to the neighbourhood, but other than a couple, like Franco Arcieri’s light and shadow show, they don’t make a big impact. Black pools of rainwater, dusty sunbeams crossing towering concrete blocks, and nests of overhead wires, all demand more attention. Only Michel de Broin’s equally massive disco ball matches the environment and turns the interior of the upper gallery into screen on which circling abstract figures of light roam beyond reach.



    Scott McFarland, PARTISANS, Jorn Weisbrodt, Trove

    The festival’s ambitions are revealed in the virtual exhibition Trove, which gathers photographs of fifty exceptional objects – including many celebrated artworks – from collections around Toronto and pastes them into images of a proposed gallery within the Hearn. It’s a dream of what the space could be in the future. These composite photographs are then pasted to the brick along one wall. An accompanying map shows where they would be place if the imagined exhibition actually existed. And then there’s a map of the city that identifies the locations of doubles of all the images in an even more public exhibition. Confused? Me too.

    The festival’s strength is also its weakness as discussions of the venue overwhelm the art at points. Trove takes a good idea and turns it into a Photoshopped pitch for urban development. Weisbrodt and some longwinded MPP overstayed their welcome by going on about the future when introducing the performance Monumental, which had already been delayed by an hour as the team of technicians worked out the kinks of this alien environment. All was forgiven when the collaboration between dance troupe the Holy Body Tattoo and post-rock ensemble Godspeed You! Black Emperor cranked up the sturm und drang with their evocation of urban social distress and upheaval. As bodies thrashed and feedback wailed, I looked up through the web of overhead steel girders and smiled. It wasn’t the right response to the violent drama on stage, but given the whole experience, I couldn’t help myself.


    Luminato Festival: https://luminatofestival.com/
    2016 Luminato Festival continues until June 26.


    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 twin festivals that mark Calgary summer are set to descend: Sled Island and the Calgary Stampede. Not twins at all really, these events – a hundred year old rodeo vs. a leading edge music festival – attract vastly different audiences. Sled Island has a scrappy but enthusiastic arts program associated with the festival featuring mainly local artists (this year the Cream at Contemporary Calgary is a good bet), while the Stampede’s art programming seems primarily concerned with highly realistic equine portraiture.



    Yvonne Mullock

    Suffice to say I was surprised to see Yvonne Mullcok’s exhibition at Stride Gallery referencing the Stampede and its attendant Western culture through the use of both the horse and iconic Stetson hat. Her work consists of what could be seen as traces of a collaborative performance between artist and horse. Along the walls hang ghostly impressions on paper of what, after some time, reveal themselves to be monoprints of cowboy hats. On the other opposite side of the gallery lives a large, wooden horse-size enclosure including a small trough with hay. It all makes sense once you move to the basement and see an endearing video of the artist placing a black cowboy hat under the enclosure and a horse amiably using its weight to make the hat impression while munching on some hay.

    The process is sweet and funny, but it also brings up some complex ideas around Prairie culture, entertainment, and the fraught relationship between humans and animals. It is oddly satisfying to see the mighty Stetson (worn widely and without irony not only during Stampede week, but year-round in Calgary) crushed over and over again, its traces at once abstract and persistently recognizable.


    Stride Gallery: http://www.stride.ab.ca/
    Yvonne Mullock: Dark Horse continues until July 15.


    Sarah Todd is a curator currently based in Calgary. She has previously worked at Western Front, InterAccess Electronic Media Arts Centre, XPACE Cultural Centre, and The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. She has also produced projects with a range of organizations including Vtape, Kunstverein München, The Goethe Institute, The Pacific Cinematheque, Glenbow Museum and The Illingworth Kerr Gallery. She is Akimblog’s Calgary correspondent and can be followed on Twitter @sarahannetodd.


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  • 06/22/16--06:57: Semiopaque at G Gallery
  • Sometime last month a couple students put a pair of eyeglasses on the floor of a SFMOMA gallery and tricked – or inspired (your call) – visitors to regard it as art. Anyone who's been paying attention for the last hundred years of art history would be fine with that, but there seems to be a long lingering joy in making hay with the pretentions of post-post-post-post avant-garde art (if the internet activity relaying the prank was any indication). However, as Peter Schjeldahl pointed out in a brief reflection on the readymade, the teens were on to something.



    Liza Eurich & Tegan Moore, Semiopaque, 2016, installation view

    Unless you're wearing them, when you look at a pair of glasses you're really just looking at the frame. But the funny thing is, the frame is what you're not supposed to see when you wear the glasses. By placing the glasses – or more accurately, the frame – on display, you make visible the invisible. Or, to put it another way, you draw attention to the hidden architecture of our perception. If that’s not art, then I don’t know what art is. A similar prank could be played on Liza Eurich and Tegan Moore's exhibition Semiopaque at G Gallery since they are also working with everyday structures that hide in plain sight. Troublemaking teen Conceptualists could label the air vent or fluorescent lights with a suitably accurate but suggestive title like Circulation Enhancer. They don’t need to because the artists, working independently but in synch with each other’s thinking, do a sufficiently subtle but disorienting job of making something out of what appears to be nothing.



    Tegan Moore, Interiors of a Hollow Core, 2016, detail

    Just like the glasses frame, that nothing is really quite essential and ubiquitous. The most obvious example of this unobvious phenomenon is Moore’s Interiors of a Hollow Core: a transparent wall that bisects the gallery. The semiopaque surface provides a surface that is both transparent and not – seen and unseen. It not only reveals the back half of the exhibition but it puts its own construction on display: within the two-inch width of the wall is a geometry of studs along with wires and a speaker system. The framing of the wall echoes the frames of Eurich’s rack sculptures. Both provide support – like the glasses frame and a picture frame – for something else. In the absence of the something else, the frame, the rack, and the wall come out of the shadows like in a Twilight Zone episode where the puppeteers of our private lives are dramatically revealed.

    Moore takes this idea further afield with her furnace filer sound piece (in the aforesaid wall) and furnace filter sculpture (Particle Preserver). Just as space is bounded by frames, the very air we breathe is designed to contain us. And, it should be said, we like it that way. Or we’ve gotten so used to it, we prefer it. Despite the reference to renowned grump Theodor Adorno in the artists’ statement and the suggestion that deliberate reticence can be appropriated for a critique of consumerism, this exhibition strikes me as full of wonder rather than dread. By removing the commodities – the junk on the rack, the pictures on the wall – Eurich and Moore clear the air and bring light into world.


    G Gallery: http://ggalleryprojects.ca/
    Semiopaque continues until June 25.

    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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    As someone who grew up attending concerts in the Brutalist building of the Dalhousie Arts Center, music for me is strangely synonymous with concrete. Between dance recitals and symphonies I ran my child-sized fingers along the polished concrete surfaces of rounded staircases and wondered at white lines of sediment leaching from solid walls.

    William Robinson's Brutalist Songs at Galerie Sans Nom in Moncton is a studied love song to concrete architecture. His three subjects are the Confederation Centre Theatre Building and Confederation Art Gallery in PEI and the Dalhousie Killam Library in Nova Scotia. With the help of composers Thomas Hoy and Ryan Veltmeyer, the 2016 Sobey Art Award East Coast nominee turns these cultural hubs into musical portraits.



    William Robinson, Untitled, 2016, faux rock, turnstile, microphone casings, ultrasonic sensors, microcontrollers, effects pedals, mute pedal, audio cords, speaker, mic stands, painted dowel, light reflector (photo: Annie France Noël)

    Each composition was created by superimposing building blueprints over a grid of musical bars. When the lines of the building’s plans intersected with the musical bars, the composer placed a note. Robinson told Hoy and Veltmeyer to take aesthetic liberties within their collaborations. They bent the hard descriptions of these immovable buildings in order to create music that in and of itself is pleasing to the ear. This creative process reflects that of architecture where purpose and aesthetics are intertwined and inseparable.

    Large rocks that mimic those found in the landscaping around the Killam rotate on two plinths at either end of the gallery. Each is rigged with ultrasonic sensors that read the surface as they turn. A tumble of wires leads from the topographical readings to create an audio output that visitors can switch on and off. Outbursts of fluctuating tones playfully interrupt the continuous soundtrack of the Brutalist Songs.

    The installation can be alternately loud and soft, but it undoubtedly fills the space. Like the buildings it describes, Brutalist Songs is imposing and intellectually driven, but the overall effect is beautiful and strangely humble. Robinson’s compositions hug the concrete walls of his subject matter. The notes reverberate along seams of concrete cells and describe every detail of the heft and weight of their static forms. The result is a caring study of the contradiction of such an oppressive structure housing cultural space, and it elicits that old feeling of soft stone running under fingertips.


    Galerie Sans Nom: http://galeriesansnom.org/
    William Robison: Brutalist Songs continues until July 1.


    Anna Taylor is an artist, crafter, and organizer sitting on the board of the Halifax Crafters Society. She is Akimblog’s Halifax correspondent and can be followed on Twitter @TaylorMadeGoods.


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    “The fraud that goes under the name of love” is a phrase that passes through two politicized voices operating today: 1) Silvia Federici, who is then quoted in a poem by 2) Anne Boyer. Where Federici states that domestic care must be considered equally brave and essential as other conventional notions of industriousness, Boyer’s appropriation of the phrase is a negation of sorts. The poem recounts her battle with breast cancer as the labour of healing or self love – as a necessary stoppage of work.

    The curators of the group exhibition (currently on display at the Audain Gallery) that shares its title with this phrase highlight the distance Federici addresses particularly as it operates in Maggie Groat’s curtain installation. Each lightly dyed panel is infused with the natural pigments of different types of food waste she salvaged from family meals. Here, she demonstrates that what might be considered craft or housework involves fastidiousness, organization, and a comprehension of chemistry. When looking at a set of beautiful hand-dyed curtains in any other context, these layers of labour go unacknowledged.



    Mika Rottenberg, Time and a Half, 2003, single channel video

    The struggle between staying alive (mortally, economically) is often considered at odds with poetic experience. In Mika Rottenberg’s Time and a Half, both these pursuits are comically invoked. A bored waitress taps her tropical themed acrylic nails on the bar counter where she is stationed for a slow shift at a Chinese restaurant. This sound is slowed and exaggerated to create a soundtrack that echoes throughout the exhibition. A mythic gust of wind arouses her hair and clothes in concordant slow motion with the sounds of her nails; she smiles. A goddess of nine to five: she is to be worshipped!

    The poetry included in the exhibition requires special attention. Presented mostly as vinyl wall texts, it departs from the vernacular of dry conceptual gestures by virtue of not telling you what to do/say/think or reiterating what it is. Originally borne for the page, it simply asks to be read. Hannah Black’s text work looms in all-caps-bold san-serif glory, but even when she tells me, IF YOU EAT RIGHT AND EXERCISE AND STOP TALKING YOU WILL DIE, I MEAN BECOME MORE ATTRACTIVE… the charge of her demand doesn’t convince me of the power given to this stream of consciousness (and I read soon after: YOU MUST NOT LISTEN TO ME). This disembodied voice seems ultimately caught between sardonic defiance and its slow systemic surrender to the capital complex.

    It’s a familiar voice that chimes in and out of working our part-time jobs and the desire for full-time passions. In this economic climate, a “passion” usually implies ambition, perhaps a creative labour that we try to make our primary source of income. However, the works in this exhibition remind us that passion is a personal profession: be it caring for family or finding love, the leasing of our bodies goes beyond a paycheck.


    Audain Gallery: https://www.sfu.ca/galleries/audain-gallery/The-Fraud-That-Goes-By-The-Name-Of-Love.html
    The Fraud that Goes Under the Name of Love continues until August 1.


    Steffanie Ling's essays, criticism, and art writing have been published alongside exhibitions, in print, and online in Canada and the United States. She is the editor of Bartleby Review, an occasional pamphlet of criticism and writing in Vancouver, and a curator at CSA Space. She is Akimblog’s Vancouver correspondent and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram @steffbao.


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    There are some works that effectively sum up an artist's career and render the rest of her oeuvre secondary. For Angela Grauerholz, that work is Privation from 2001. In this series of portraits of books from her personal library that were destroyed in a fire, you can find documents, collective memory, the instability of reproduction, the ambiguity of representation, mortality, the power of objects, history, theory, philosophy, biography, autobiography, and fiction. It's all here in these individual scaled-up photographs – turning the books into their own tombstones weathered by age, fire, and water. The elements are played out on their surviving surfaces while title pages are obscured into abstract smears that hide any particular identity, but suggest the tumult within. Some words remain, some covers are intact, but loss is inevitable. Entropy happens in bursts or over centuries, but is only ever paused for a moment even when contained in a work of art.



    Angela Grauerholz, Privation, Book No. 54, 2001, inkjet print (courtesy: the artist, Art 45, and the Olga Korper Gallery)

    Grauerholz's other work – empty spaces, indistinguishable figures, and aged interiors – never made an impression on me. Almost twenty years ago, I sat for three months in a gallery with her Sententia I-LXII, a beautiful wood cabinet designed to hide and display sixty-two such photographs, and viewing them again in her survey exhibition at the Ryerson Image Centre, I’m still baffled by their layers of reticence. Perhaps that’s the point. They emerged in an era when images were suspect and the artifice of their construction foregrounded. Her purposefully out of focus photographs of dead space that evoke the random insignificance of faint memories resist identification so well that there's very little compelling you to search for any deeper meaning. In this day and age of relentless image fabrication and infinite quantity over indefinite quality, her photographs reflecting on photography are simply anachronistic reminders of a technology that only remains as a filter option on Instagram.



    Angela Grauerholz, Scotiabank Photography Award exhibition installation view, 2016 (photo: Larissa Issler, Ryerson Image Centre)

    It's only when they come in crisp on an actual object – a book or a piece of museum equipment – that they capture not just the ephemerality of representation but that of the world itself. It’s no longer enough to mourn the loss of our memory of the past; we can now mourn the loss of the present in the present. Circling the remains of her former library, I’m struck not by the obliteration of these volumes (they are all just copies with more copies just an Amazon search away) or her loss (fetishizing the book as a possession is a condition of capitalism of which I am often guilty, but I increasingly relinquish as just another seduction of commodification), but by my inability to read the books I do have (or the magazines, journal articles, editorials, blogs, etc.). I am (and I’m assuming you are too) always already at a loss. Call it permanent debt or original sin, but we can only do our best to transcend it or accept it. Perhaps a collection of burned books (or out of focus photographs) should be our starting point, instead of purporting to be where we end. If that’s the case, I’ve got Grauerholz all wrong: her work is about the future, not the past.


    Ryerson Image Centre: http://www.ryerson.ca/ric/exhibitions/Grauerholz.html
    Scotiabank Photography Award: Angela Grauerholz continues until August 21.


    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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    When I let on that I’m interested in art or listen to obscure music, my students sometimes peg me as a hipster, so I have to explain to them that, if I’m anything, I’m a slacker. They’re too young to remember the 1990s and none of them have seen Richard Linklater’s first film, but I break it down to a simple binary by explaining that the hipster embraces the variety of culture and ignores division by throwing it all together while the slacker polices those divisions and remains sceptical of any attempt to exploit his (and it’s almost always a he) fields of interest. In music, this manifests itself in the now meaningless mainstream/underground distinction and the purposeful rejection of the former to avoid any accusation of selling out. In visual art, a similar sort of rejection or deferral – even within the institutions of the established art world – characterises the slacker artist. It’s the final phase of the avant-garde/punk/critical position that lead the so-called resistances of the 20th Century (only to be absorbed into acceptance with each generation) until the internet happened and youngsters finally asked, “What are we fighting for?”



    Brad Phillips, Two photographs taken at different times connected only in my mind, 2016, archival inkjet print

    Brad Phillips, whose exhibition at Division Gallery was recently extended through to August, is closer to my age than he is to the Millennials and his work relies on a deferral that is quintessentially slacker (and, now that I think of it, might also have something to do with his being a straight white male, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish). His paintings are suspicious of identity and obscure meaning in decontextualized still lives or mysterious figures with hidden faces doing inexplicable things. The undercutting of his own authority continues with his photographs of found texts that combine self-awareness with diffidence (“The greatest art is to endure” or “Shit! I’m an artist’s artist.”). Jokes are a running theme and they provide the artist with a defence that is another deferral – that he’s not serious, even when he’s trying to be funny. As one of his texts has it: “Not every joke can be gold. It’s okay.”



    Brad Phillips, Source Material, 2016, archival inkjet print

    But if a joke isn’t funny, then what is it? A snapshot of someone ironically supplicating before a wax figure of Mother Theresa has this scrawled along the top: “A joke is always an assertion of superiority.” Therein lies the purposeful frustration with this work. The joker can’t be mocked or held accountable, leaving the viewer in on the joke or the butt of it. Phillips manages this untouchably cool position through clever wordplay reminiscent of Ed Ruscha – another untouchably cool artist who leaves me cold. They both establish the disarming reserve of the straight man and then stand back to let the semiotics shiver. Phillips has a bit more humanity and it comes through in his writing. For a painter, he’s got a way with words and, in the end, that’s where he reveals himself even when he tries to hide.


    Division Gallery: http://www.galeriedivision.com/toronto/exhibition/-first-last-chance
    Brad Phillips: First Last Chance continues until August 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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    Visiting commercial galleries in the summertime can be a bit like peeking behind a curtain into the mental backroom of the owner. The now standard group exhibitions that appear in July and August allow you to discover a gallerist’s other areas of interest, see artists who aren’t normally represented, or experience a guest curator’s take on the roster. Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran has gone one step further in formalizing their alternative summer programming by inaugurating a new curatorial competition open to PhD candidates in Art History at the Université de Montréal. This year’s exhibition, Festina lente curated by Ji-Hoon Han, is a fine start for this new partnership.



    Festina lente, 2016, exhibition view (photo: Paul Litherland)

    Han approaches the exhibition through the mythical walking woman figure of Gradiva in Wilhelm Jensen’s novella Gradiva: A Pompeiian Fantasy. Formally and conceptually there is a lightness of touch, and the sprawling looseness suits the subject matter and season well. The exhibition presents the fiction of Gradiva’s unearthed private art collection. Just as she walks through dreams and into reality across centuries, the works on display step lightly across the gallery following a meandering poetic trail, each one hazily embodying a kind of movement.

    The installation in the main space is particularly well put together. Derek Sullivan’s whimsical drawings on prints, recent paintings by Anthony Burnham, older but stellar work by Numa Amun and Angela de la Cruz, Lizzie Fitch/Ryan Trecartin’s assemblage figurative sculpture Commercial Hue, and Eva Kot’àtkovà collection of books and images in Untitled (Floor Lessons) are all compelling works. Grounded, a large swing by Marielle Blanc, felt slightly out of place, but this was mostly accentuated by it being located in the smaller back room.

    Université de Montréal does not often implicate itself into the contemporary art community in Montreal, so this is an unexpected partnership. It will be interesting to see what future exhibitions it will produce!


    Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran: http://www.galerieantoineertaskiran.com/?locale=en
    Festina lente continues until August 13.


    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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    On the left edge of Ann MacIntosh Duff’s Watching and Thinking (a watercolour painting that can be found on the rearmost wall of her soon-to-close first solo exhibition at Nicholas Metivier Gallery), there is a section of green window sill, an open window pane, a pair of binoculars and a pre-digital camera. All three means of observation (the window being the first) cover the “watching” of the title. The rest of the painting depicts the night sky, but it isn’t one that’s ever been seen as such through a glass lens. The roiling and boiling mass of cloudy black and blue within which pinpricks of starlight appear as bare white space must be what the Toronto-based artist, now in her nineties, is “thinking” about.



    Ann MacIntosh Duff, Watching and Thinking, 2006, watercolour on paper

    It’s a misconception to assume that empiricism – knowledge derived from the senses – is concerned with how the world is out there. Experience is based on how we perceive the world; it’s what goes on in our heads. Only when we do our best to share that knowledge is any semblance of objectivity reached. The entirety of human endeavour can be summed up as the ongoing aspiration to share what we know. We do this first in order to alert others and second in order to confirm ourselves.

    An artist like MacIntosh Duff is an ideal conduit for this necessity. She directs her gaze on the familiar – an outboard gas tank, a line of trees, a vase of flowers – and pares the visual information down to essential components. In doing so, she strips away what we think is there to reveal what we see.

    When it works, the landscapes that inspire her paintings are overtaken by the landscapes the artist remembers. Many of these scenes are witnessed at dusk through watery eyes that draw points and periphery into focus while blurring the overall composition. Trees whipped in the wind are merely silhouettes scratched out in black like clustered ink pictographs. These burnt boughs depict a darker Georgian Bay than the Group of Seven ever saw. One work titled Northern Evening is barely there. Moments before night approaches, sky and ground are washed white and the nearby trees become vague abstractions as the viewer slips into reverie and approaches unconsciousness.



    Ann MacIntosh Duff, Duo, 1988, watercolour on paper

    It doesn’t always work. Commentary sometimes insinuates itself into a painting. MacIntosh Duff’s illustration of a public talk by Salman Rushdie shortly after a fatwa was issued for his death is made curious by the obsessive filigree of the venue’s proscenium before succumbing to a straightforward narrative with three shadowy figures who represent the author-in-hiding’s security team lurking at the edges of the stage.

    However, in her most striking paintings, there's an eccentricity to the selection of subjects and how they are depicted that disregards fashion or clever conceit with the no-nonsense candour of age. The wonderful purple sidewalk of Evening in the City and the murky bottom half of Boreal Pillars of Creation are just two examples of the artist’s honesty. To see her world is to know it’s as turbulent and beautiful as our own.


    Nicholas Metivier Gallery: http://metiviergallery.com/current-exhibitions/ann-macintosh-duff
    Ann MacIntosh Duff continues until July 16.


    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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    Spare Room is set up in such a way that before entering the gallery, you pass a vestibule that houses a wooden desk belonging to curator Sung Pil Yoon. His desk cordons off an alarming amount of stuff. Various objects connote engagements in light construction (nails, tools, painting supplies for the gallery space), writing or research (books, stationery), and bartending (mini-fridge, price list for beer and wine). They are the result of the sheer necessity of operating an exhibition space out of one’s formerly much more spacious studio. “Site-specific” has been applied somewhat loosely to a few prior projects at Spare Room, but Jacobo Zambrano’s installation A Convenient Vehicle for Miscellaneous Discussions engages quite directly with this “institution” by reversing the function of its rooms.



    Jacobo Zambrano, A Convenient Vehicle for Miscellaneous Discussions

    The small room has been drained of all its sundries. Taking its place is an overhead projector displaying an overlapped image captured on camera phones of a group enjoying an afternoon at the Bloedel Floral Conservatory. Where is all of Yoon’s stuff? His desk and everything else has been redistributed into the gallery space. All the same bric-a-brac has been neatly arranged and given breathing room. Long yellow and orange fluorescent lights hung at different heights give the room a peachy hue. In this rather hospitable environment, you can listen to a recording of Dr. Alan Reid, a botanist and distinguished contributor to the conservatory, give a brief discourse on plant life. He begins, “We’re all oxygen addicts,” to emphasize the geopolitical effects on populations that come into contact with foreign plant varieties. Reid, who is Scottish-Norwegian, recounts his allergy to quinine, which turns him orange. This allergy exposes a genetic anomaly, because it is normally attributed to Arabic and African origins, suggesting that his ancestry is perhaps more complicated. He jokes that when his grandmother saw him orange, she consistently called him Mowgli, the character from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

    The gesture of swapping the conventional use of Spare Room’s spaces and the botanical narrative initially seem disconnected. After listening to the audio and watching people get comfortable in the gallery, what Zambrano and Reid have in common is their prioritization of life forms. Relegated to the vestibule is a photograph depicting a contemporary impulse towards reproduction as the primary form of engagement. Whereas in the larger room we can spread out, remark on the subtle colonial undertones within Reid’s discourse, talk over him, and amongst ourselves, eat, drink, and even touch Yoon’s stuff.


    Spare Room: http://spare-room.ca/
    Jacobo Zambrano: A Convenient Vehicle for Miscellaneous Discussions continues until August 6.


    Steffanie Ling's essays, criticism, and art writing have been published alongside exhibitions, in print, and online in Canada and the United States. She is the editor of Bartleby Review, an occasional pamphlet of criticism and writing in Vancouver, and a curator at CSA Space. She is Akimblog’s Vancouver correspondent and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram @steffbao.


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