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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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    Ok, full disclosure – I am currently under contract at Glenbow Museum doing some curatorial work. That said, I had absolutely no direct involvement with Pamela Norrish’s exhibition. This was the work of the brilliant and generous Nancy Tousely, an independent curator and Governor General Award recipient that Calgary is so, so, lucky to have close at hand. I have held off on writing about Glenbow exhibitions for obvious conflict of interest reasons, but with this exhibition I really cannot shut up about it.



    Pamela Norrish, Outfit for the Afterlife

    As part of Tousely’s three-part One New Work series where a Calgary-based contemporary artist exhibits a new work in a small gallery adjacent to the main exhibition spaces (the inaugural installment was by Walter May), Magical Thinking features the work of emerging artist Pamela Norrish. The main attraction is her extraordinary Outfit for the Afterlife, a highly realistic adult human-sized t-shirt and jeans hand sewn (no looms here) entirely out of tiny glass seed beads. As the title suggests, this is Norrish’s totally ordinary and incredibly spectacular outfit for eternity. Norrish started the work five years ago after the sudden death of a close friend and has worked on it continuously ever since.

    A meditation on death and grief, Outfit glows in the dimly lit space under the coffin-like vitrine as if imbued with some kind of spectral energy. Norrish says it’s hard to be around now that she’s finished it and I can see why. It sits like a relic from a very long, very hard endurance performance work. The exhibition also includes some truly remarkable and expertly curated pieces from the Glenbow collection and beyond, including intricately beaded Blackfoot birth amulets, a quilt by Barbara Todd, and a small Gisele Amantea installation, among other items. The disparate yet deeply resonate works of contemporary art, craft, and cultural history have a synergy and that reminds me of Ydessa Hendels’ most evocative exhibitions. Magical Thinking deftly and buoyantly approaches what might be the last taboo – death – through the process of making and the enduring power of objects.


    Glenbow Museum: http://www.glenbow.org/
    Pamela Norrish: Magical Thinking continues until September 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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    If you’re only going to see one exhibition this summer, then you’re not trying very hard. For those with efficiency on their minds, the current preponderance of clever group exhibitions invites the opportunity to see a lot of different artists in one go. There’s no better place to see a cornucopia of solid work right now than the Art Museum at the University of Toronto, but you’ll have to move fast because it closes at the end of the month. I’m kicking myself for sleeping on this exhibition that opened way back in May as a feature presentation of the Contact Photography Festival. Now that I’ve seen it, I want to take friends and neighbours – particularly those who might be unfamiliar with or sceptical about visual art – because it provides a perfect balance of smart, haunting, beautiful, challenging, personal and historical images that will please both the knowledgeable and the novice.



    LaToya Ruby Frazier, Huxtables, Mom and Me, 2008. gelatin silver print

    With the evocative and open-ended titled Counterpoints, guest curator Jessica Bradley allows for any number of possible connections and narratives to be explored as you work your way through the two galleries that make up the Art Museum. One encompassing category is that all of the work was sourced from the coffers of local collectors. I don't usually look at the lender's credit on title cards, but this exhibition invites it. For the Toronto bound (as in those of us who are trapped here), certain names will provide insight into familiar faces and the things they have in their homes and their heads. This makes for some mild scuttlebutt, but should not be a distraction from the real rewards.

    The line-up of artists on display reinforces this gallery’s status as a heavy weight contender in the museum field. Everyone from Dorothea Lange to Cindy Sherman to Vivian Maier is here. André Kertész to Seydou Keita, Edward Burtynsky to Peter MacCallum, Ed Ruscha to Christopher Williams: they’re all included. Every German you could think of – Höfer, Ruff, Struth, Gursky, and the Bechers– makes an appearance. And if you want Vancouver School, they got Vancouver School: Wall, Wallace, Douglas, and Graham. Plus a Herzog for old times sake.

    The Barnicke Gallery is split in two, with one room dedicated to female artists (Rebecca Belmore, Meryl McMaster, Nan Goldin, Laurie Simmons) depicting bodies both real and constructed, while the other room is stacked with apartments and office buildings. There are no bodies here, just grids of glass and concrete that go from the elegiac (Hiroshi Sugimoto's World Trade Centre in blurry silhouette) to surreal (Thomas Ruff's queasy green night vision pics) with various degrees of objectivity thrown in for good measure.

    The former U of T Art Centre opens with a self-reflective suite of photographs of cameras, photographs of photographers, and photographs of photographs that is a critical theory thesis waiting to happen. In a side room, Lee Friedlander's series of selfies avant le lettre add yet another layer of awareness to this most democratic and proliferous of media.



    Althea Thauberger, Ecce Homo, 2011, laminated digital chromogenic print

    One large gallery is dedicated to landscapes that trace the impact of humanity on the planet (or, at least, that’s one way to read it). A social realism room opens with Richard Billingham's parents and looks back to Weegee, Lisette Model, and Lewis Hine. There's a William Eggleston scene of racial division that will stand as a history painting for America in the 20th Century and a series by Jim Goldberg that shows you how little has changed regarding wealth and poverty in the last thirty years. There are politics, biography, truth and fiction all on display, sometimes, as with Tracy Moffatt’s piece, all in the same image.

    E.J. Bellocq's 1912 Storyville portraits are hidden away to one side. They show that right from the start photography revealed everything and kept it all hidden at once. The pictures are there to see and believe, but they also remain damningly silent. Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle makes this point dramatic by including noise-cancelling earphones with his photograph. If only we were free to walk through the entire exhibition with them on.


    The Art Museum: http://artmuseum.utoronto.ca/
    Counterpoints: Photography Through the Lens of Toronto Collections continues until July 30.


    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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    Terroir is a word used on vineyards to refer to a combination of factors – including soil, climate, and sunlight – that give grapes their distinctive character. Terroir is also a survey of Nova Scotian art running until early next year at the Art Gallery Of Nova Scotia. This collection of work is made distinct by its use of an open call for submissions. Every artist across the province, no matter how unheralded, was given a unique opportunity to be juried alongside recognized artists who more frequently fill established galleries like this. A massive number of applications rolled in and twenty-nine were selected.



    Angela Glanzmann, On the Matter, 2015, found objects, police grade fingerprinting powder, UV lights (photo: Steve Farmer)

    The work varies greatly and is spread through the bottom floor and a portion of the north building of the AGNS. The exhibition is generally laid out with complementary groupings, so clusters of ideas and styles crop up. The sea, nature, automobiles, scenes of domesticity, and a contemporary reframing of craft form strong themes that bind this local aesthetic. Distinctly traditional media engage in conversations with the conceptual works by artists raised at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design just down the street.

    Certain parts suffer from crowded space and some repetition exists. Melanie Colosimo and Charley Young are once again put side by side after having a recent joint show at the Mount Saint Vincent Art Gallery. Nonetheless, the presence of so many rising stars sharing space with heavy hitters like Ursula Johnson breathes excitement into the survey.

    A dark room features a video projection by Anne Macmillan titled For The Trees. The camera creates a topographical examination of bark as it navigates the circumference of each tree before jumping to the next. It is an intimate exploration of nature as it simulates hands running across trees as one walks through a forest. The piece is paired with Angela Glanzmann's On The Matter, a neon installation of objects dusted for prints with forensic powder and lit with black light. Together the two artists explore an absence of the human body through gestures of touch.

    From the doorway of this dark space one can see Colosimo's flopping neon Transmission Tower I suspended from the ceiling and Johnson’s woven costume and documentation from the performance Elmiet. This line of sight alone speaks to the immense strength in Nova Scotia’s contemporary arts community. We are fed by one another, by the sea, and by the complicated lands we occupy.


    Art Gallery of Nova Scotia: http://www.artgalleryofnovascotia.ca/
    Terroir: A Nova Scotia Survey continues until January 15.


    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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    Similar to when an actor tries their hand at singing or when a singer appears on screen, I experience a noticeable scepticism and disdain when visual artists encroach on the world of words. Part of it is just a matter of defending my turf and part of it is protecting my investment in the visual aspect of visual art. As one curator said of an installation I exhibited during my brief tenure as a visual artist: “There are too many words.” His dismissal stung, but I knew he was right. Which is not to say there is no place for text in art: titles, words on canvas, and speech in performance/video/sound can all be in service of the visual (and, admittedly, the visual has at times been usurped by the conceptual). Down to Write You This Poem Sat is a group exhibition currently on view at the Oakville Galleries that dives into the deep end of verbosity by gathering together contemporary art that embraces poetry.



    YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES, ALL FALL DOWN, 2002; SAMSUNG, 2000; GALACTIC TIDES BY NIGHT, 2009 (photo: Toni Hafkenscheid)

    In addition to the risk of there being too many words for a venue that promises visuals, there’s also the matter of the sound that is the material manifestation of the words taking up space where folks are expecting to see rather than hear. Thankfully contemporary art dropped such medium specific expectations long ago, but to help anyone still tied to the idea that the contents of an art gallery should appeal to the eyes and the eyes only (which is basically the majority of the planet), a number of the artists in this show root their work in concrete poetry that treats the formal presentation of text as one part of its meaning.

    The inspiration for the exhibition title and the ur-work within it is an early computer graphic animation by bpNicol that appears on monitors in both gallery sites. Saved from obscurity by some digital archaeology and technological reconstruction, the work is weirdly nostalgic, crummy, delightful, and disorienting simply because of its means of presentation. The way the words dance across the screen to emphasize the non-linear generation of meaning shouldn’t be so surprising, but the simplicity of each brief epigram makes it so.

    In a more straightforward but no less engaging way, YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES advances text to the screen-age by animating narratives to the rhythms of music. These propulsive videos not only compel the viewer to follow along with the story, they make the rhythm of speech visual and highlight the patterns of expression.



    Hanne Lippard, Locus, 2011, audio (photo: Toni Hafkenscheid)

    Hanne Lippard’s contribution represents one purist extreme by simply existing as an audio recording played in the gallery. Her palindrome of a poem is conveniently, though insignificantly, complemented by the windows looking out onto the Gairloch Gardens. At another extreme is Adam Pendleton’s unembellished wall text referencing Amiri Baraka and the Black Arts Movement. The politics of identity, in particular the ways in which language can determine and trouble that which defines us, are explored in greater depth through Martine Sym’s Lessons I-XXX, Hannah Black’s My Bodies and The Neck, and Tanya Lukin Linklater’s The Harvest Sturdies.

    By shifting away from the formal quality of verse toward the use of words to express what language cannot (the truth of a poem is always to be found in the spaces between the words), these latter works provide as good an argument as any to justify the link between the visual arts and poetry. In the end, both have more to do with expression, evocation, and implication than the gap-filling explanations and instructions of pedestrian prose.


    Oakville Galleries: http://www.oakvillegalleries.com/
    Down to Write You This Poem Sat continues until September 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 gave my companion a hearty eye roll when the gallery assistant at the Walter Phillips Gallery initially outlined the screening schedule for Yael Bartana’s On Cohabitation exhibition. I am a bit jaded by the way in which artists’ films and videos are exhibited in galleries and museums. Trying to make a gallery into a cinema rarely works in my experience. I recall one particularly traumatic incident where Yvonne Rainer’s entire back catalogue was exhibited on a tiny wall-mounted monitor with not a chair in sight. However, in this case, I jumped the gun and my initial snark was totally misguided.



    Yael Bartana, Inferno, 2013, one channel video and sound installation

    The front space featured Inferno, an epic and visually stunning video rendering in sweeping cinematic style the construction and ultimate demise of a replica of the Third Temple of Solomon. Conflating disparate places and time periods, this work oscillates between historical re-enactment and prophecy. Sitting on clever and comfortable foam blocks before a projected image that could only be described as opulent in terms of quality, we were rapt for the entire twenty-minute running time.

    The back gallery featured the equally compelling True Finn, a documentary that details a diverse group of Finnish citizens trying and failing to parse what makes a “True Finn.” Particularly resonate in our current moment of cartoonish political discord, this video raises difficult questions about the idea of a cohesive nation state versus individual differences, and the hard and essential work of creating and maintaining a democracy. Also, not incidentally, the modular bleachers here were similarly comfortable to the foam blocks at the front, and the work was absorbed without distraction.

    Sadly, I missed the memo about the Saturday-only screening of Bartana’s feature-length Parades (Orchard), but I am planning on making a trip back before the exhibition closes later next month. It was invigorating to see international, important, ambitious contemporary art, flawlessly presented, somewhere other than Esker Foundation (no shade to Esker here; other art institutions in Calgary just need to step it up). As for the exhibition’s seventy minutes running time (double that on Saturday!): relax, you have time, you are in Banff.


    Walter Philips Gallery: https://www.banffcentre.ca/walter-phillips-gallery
    Yael Bartana: On Cohabitation continues until September 18.


    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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    The prejudice against art as the progenitor of artifice, deception, and metaphysical decay goes all the way back to Plato, but science shouldn’t be let off the hook too easily. Particularly in the realm of technological reproduction (be it print, electronic, digital, or genetic), the materially real has been imitated, replicated, and fabricated in any number of amazing and disconcerting ways. Strangely enough, and with all apologies to Socrates’ number one student, it has been left up to the artists to provide the content for that amazement as well as the criticism for what we should regard with scepticism. While this overlap between art, science, and technology was par for the course with the Ancient Greeks, we still retain some of the silofication of the intervening centuries when wrapping our heads around what’s real and what we should think about it.



    Brent Watanabe, San Andreas Deer Cam, 2015-16

    The Algorithmic Imagination, the current exhibition at InterAccess, Toronto’s gallery/production studio/educational facility dedicated to electronic arts and new media, is part of the larger Vector Festival of digital practices, gaming culture, and all things new, media, and electronic. These descriptive categories have become somewhat meaningless in the everyday world (that is, the world outside of galleries) of today where every interaction is mediated by technology that was unimaginable to even the wildest of professional dreamers a couple decades ago.

    The speed with which this change came about makes it difficult to establish a critical distance from the new normal. I was brainstorming this review while wandering a suburban retail zone searching for directions from one big box store to another on GoogleMaps and MapQuest and my rental car’s GPS, trying to orient myself in a landscape that was a farmer’s field within my lifetime but was now indistinguishable from any other suburban retail zone on the continent. While it’s not jacking into the net like a character from Neuromancer, I was definitely displaced through multiple fields of reality. However, the experience was not heroic or futuristic, just simply disorienting. And a bit existentially draining (but that might be a sign of age).

    I felt like Brent Watanabe’s San Andreas Deer Cam as it wanders, independent of any outside influence, through a variety of virtual gaming landscapes. The deer pursues its course whether the screen is on or not, and when the gallery is closed, by inhabiting an alternate world online. That place where we increasingly spend a lot of our time has a life beyond us and we have a life within it that continues even when we disconnect. I was trying to understand my place in the concrete world by searching this other approximate reality, but I didn’t’ expect to find the truth and I doubt the deer will ever make its way home.



    COLL.EO, The Fregoli Delusions: Chapter 1, 2016

    This is where Plato and his ilk hit the nail on the head and why they desperately try to shore up our sense of self against the uncertainty of permanent flux. And there is nothing more ever-changing that the reality-plus of our technologically mediated world. The purgatory that is this now can be experienced in the other virtual world work in this exhibition. COLL.EO’s episodes from the videogame Forza Motorsports 2 isolate background characters who should barely be noticed in passing as the racecars zip by. In an inversion of typical game dynamics, rather than engage in competition, the viewer witnesses the pointless wanderings of insignificant souls lost in their own thoughts or enrapt in silent conversations. The sense of alienation is both fascinating and familiar. My life is like this. I wander these streets as the race goes on elsewhere. Standing in the gallery, rather than being distracted by manufactured adventures, I’m faced with contemplating my own mundanity. It doesn’t make for an entertaining game, but it makes for affective art.


    InterAccess: http://interaccess.org/
    The Algorithmic Imagination 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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    The sixteen works in Isabel Nolan’s solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery come across like a group show. Titled The weakened eye of day, it mines the poetry of geological time, citing Greek mythology, astronomy, the cultural signification of donkeys, and abstract painting. A number of framed texts explicate the myth of Icarus and Daedalus. These passages call into consideration the pursuit of taming or defying nature. They form a kind of lasso that holds the metaphors and research together. This story of the man whose son falls to Earth demarcates the field of Nolan’s inquiry into the sustained tension between limitless heavens and the mundane terrestrial realm.



    Isabel Nolan

    Rock founded the place is a scroll of text written by Nolan that hangs on the farthest wall when you enter the gallery space. It could be seen as a starting point, though the exhibition doesn’t demand a linear reading. It begins, “Four thousand, two hundred and eighty million years ago or so the sun shone on no fixed thing” and proceeds like a science lesson given as a creation story. The plot is Earth; the protagonist is Rock. “Rock is hard. Rock has done time. Compared to Rock most minerals seem frivolous.” By the time Sun has entered the story, the scroll has reached the floor and the next sentence can only be seen peeking out beneath the roll gathered at the bottom. This moment indicates an unknowable ending. However, the intrigue is balked by a number of paintings dispersed around the gallery that have a somewhat tepid presence. I can’t tell if they are footnotes, surfaces that the more distinct ideas can fall into, or studies that led to the resonating meanings floating between the works.

    Two groupings of concentric spheres are strewn in this space and in the next. Their shapes recall the layers of the Earth, but their chalky and uniform surfaces evokes the anatomy of a jawbreaker or an unfinished teaching prop. This banal tangent finds its accompaniment in a sculpture of a lemon yellow stage prop of a lion with a gold spike piercing its raised paw. I chuckled at the total estrangement between it and the object behind it: an austere steel construction of an imagined map of a galaxy and a constellation titled Somewhere between Andromeda and Vulpecula: Sky Atlas.

    Nolan seems determined to explore everything pertaining to and beneath the cosmos, yet she never strives to be all encompassing or epic about it. Her modest works might seem frivolous, but they lead her audience to find connections in an extensive visual lexicon.


    Contemporary Art Gallery: http://www.contemporaryartgallery.ca/
    Isabel Nolan: The weakened eye of day continues until October 2.


    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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    I just returned from two weeks in and around Vancouver and, as my wife (who happens to be from BC) routinely pointed out, Toronto is ugly and boring compared to the west coast metropolis. What with mountains on one side, an ocean on the other, and a whole lot of cash being dumped in the middle, there's really no point arguing with her. However, we are stuck in the T-Dot (my hometown) and must bear its banal sight lines. As a temporary respite from the lack of visuals, Olga Korper's landscape-themed summer group show, Between Land and Sky, is a handy solution.



    Melanie Gausden, Electric Impulse, oil on canvas

    Melanie Gausden's trio of classic Canadiana scenes of lake, sky, and conifers possess a tinge of Peter Doig's psychedelia and Kim Dorland's heavy hand, but are overly restrained in the stereotypically polite Canuck way. Better bad behaviour can be found nearby on Suzanne Heller's upended canvas that places a distant smog-bound city along the top edge, but then descends, literally and metaphorically, into a raging storm of tar black and murky grey green. It's the opposite of what's outside right now, but malevolent weather is a state of mind we all know too well. A lighter mood can be found in Mel Davis’ series of small abstractions that I'm going to read as a walk in a wild field on a hot summer day with effects of light and air agitating the visual field amongst the spare but colourful undergrowth.



    Meaghan Hyckie, UFO-13, coloured pencil crayon on paper

    A couple Paterson Ewen works shifts things further into the atmospheric, but it's Meaghan Hyckie's obsessively worked portraits of clouds mapped out with three-point perspective precision that really take the cake. They are equal to the phenomena they replicate in that there is nothing there amidst the seeming disorder, but you can't stop looking for some anchor. Or else, you relinquish yourself to the complexity of light and shade (because that’s all that’s there) and savour the different tones of sun and shadow she captures across the half dozen drawings here (three of which have been picked up already and I can understand why).

    The rest of the exhibition turns to specific life forms, beginning with Barbara Steinman’s silhouettes of birds in flight inspired by the photography of Edward Muybridge. The absence of detail here is contrasted with the extreme realism of Reinhard Reitzenstein’s miniature sculptured portraits of individual trees. They can’t stand up to the real thing, of course, and only make me pine for a walk amongst the pines. Barbara Hobot’s layered prints of netting remind me of the dried exoskeletons of cicada’s that can be found clasped to bark and branch these days. And Kristina Burda’s colour field abstractions leave the door open for interpretations based in scenery, anatomy, or ideas.


    Olga Korper Gallery: http://www.olgakorpergallery.com/
    Between Land and Sky continues until August 20.


    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 was glad to learn that Ulla von Brandenburg would be showing at The Darling Foundry this summer. Her bold visual and historically based practice has been of interest to me for a while. Camped in the gallery’s voluminous exhibition space, It Has a Golden Orange Sun and an Elderly Blue Moon investigates the history of performance and set design in the mid-century by referencing the work of Laban, Beckett, and Cage, among others.



    Ulla von Brandenburg, It Has a Golden Orange Sun and an Elderly Moon, 2016

    The exhibition consists of a massive stage set-like installation and a projected video. The viewer can walk up the steep structure and, at the far side, find themself on steps, ready to sit and watch a video that depicts a handful of dancers performing on a similar structure. The on-screen stage set is a crisp clean white and the performers wear monochrome, softly coloured casual clothes. Solid coloured swaths of felt-like fabric are used as props to be held up by the performers, draped across the steps, and folded together into a messy geometric pattern. The video is quite beautiful to watch. Bradenburg's work is often very graphic in a formal way, and this was, quietly, no exception. The performers’ careful movements, the cold sleek set, the colour-saturated fabric, and percussive score all work together with precision, confidence, and beauty. Almost anachronistic (in a way that perhaps hugs the zeitgeist’s curb a little too closely), it clearly harkens back to a 1950s-60s aesthetic. Even the colours of fabric – mustard yellow, rusty orange, bluebirds egg blue – are of that era. My one criticism is that the exhibition leaves me wishing Brandenburg had somehow problematized or complicated her relationship to mid-century high-modernist Euro-American culture. Despite this, its unquestioned beauty and poignancy did not disappoint.


    The Darling Foundry: http://fonderiedarling.org/en/
    Ulla von Brandenburg : It Has a Golden Orange Sun and an Elderly Blue Moon continues until August 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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  • 08/17/16--03:47: DIY at MKG127
  • When I read the acronym DIY, I immediately think of the sloppy diagram of three guitar chords with the text: This is a chord, this is another, this is a third, now form a band. To me it's the essence of a punk ethos rooted in seizing the means of production and rejecting the commodification of culture. Rather than succumb to being a consumer, you become a producer (which admittedly relies on its own micro-capitalist ecosystem). My twelve year old daughter, on the other hand, has recently become obsessed with DIY on YouTube. These instructional videos are posted by the children of Martha Stewart, not Ian MacKaye. They give me the heebie-jeebies with their telegenic hosts customizing various beauty products and personalizing the mall crap I still hate. However, I try to see some sliver of authentic creativity in their emphasis on making over buying.



    Daniel Eatock, Spray Can Sprayed With Its Own Contents, 2016

    Artist Dave Dyment touches on the whole spectrum of what “Do It Yourself” implies in his curation of MKG127's annual artist-curated summer group exhibition. Some works, like Dean Baldwin's jerry-rigged coffee maker speak to squatter economics and the ingenuity of those who have little cash but a lot of the broken down shit those with cash toss away. Bill Burns’ Ikea instructions for the assembling of prison towers and holding cells also leans to the anti-imperialist politics of the punk end of DIY. Daniel Eatock’s ingenious self-painted spray can has both a radical resonance (shades of Situationist graffiti) and the appeal of a functional product turned into a beautiful object. This hand crafting of consumer goods does a lot to drain them of their dollar value and turn them into fetish objects of a different sort – as in Roula Partheniou's generically rendered household items. Michael Dumontier makes things even simpler so they become representations of what they resemble, while Joe Scanlan targets the commodities of the art world with zine-level skewers.



    Liam Crockard, On Becca's H, 2014, 2016, video

    Liam Crockard's video On Becca's H is the perfect distillation of this aesthetic turned into a performance. His collection of clips featuring skateboarders rolling, grinding, and falling off assorted public sculptures documents the way in which found objects can repurposed for unpredicted actions. The disrespect for the fountain/playground/monument’s intended role can be jarring for someone who likes to follow the rules, but each abuse can be defended with the retort: Why the fuck not? Which, in truth, is the first line of defence for all artists worth their salt.


    MKG127: http://www.mkg127.com/
    DIY continues until August 20.


    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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    Crafting is an act inextricable from the body. The maker is ever present through form and clay is especially physical. Whether the visible fingerprint is left impressed or is smoothed away, clay remains a medium of the hand. In Clay Bodies at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Sandra Alfoldy has curated a brief reflection on this physical relationship. Here the figure is reflected in the objects on display, both in the presence of the maker as well as a narrative of the body as celestial and mythical. Figures dance on painted surfaces and are reflected in curves of stoneware or perfectly sculpted porcelain.



    Shary Boyle, Live Old, 2010, porcelain, enamel, gold lustre, glass beads

    The works come from a span of time from the 1950s to the present day. A large and simple Ashtray by Pablo Picasso sits next to a small crop of Ernst Lorenzen’s delicate mushrooms sculpted in thin white clay. Almost all the objects are grouped and encased in glass. It feels like a museum collection, hovering as ever in-between object and art. In this context at least, craft is not able to break from that mould. This feels like a strange choice given Alfoldy’s teachings and influence on contemporary craft discourse.

    At the center of the room, enshrined in its own large case is an exquisite elephant-headed figure dripping with beads and rising out of sculpted water. The piece is Live Old by Shary Boyle. She is a powerhouse of exquisite skill and this is a beautiful work of mythical narrative. The delicate figure is slightly mottled with the remnants of Boyle’s hand. The clay holds the story of being shaped. The figure stretches its hands out; glass beads drape between tiny fingers. It is as sensual as its medium allows.

    Clay is of the body. It slips around fingertips and runs fluid with water. Clay Bodies flows with that simple statement.


    Art Gallery of Nova Scotia: http://www.artgalleryofnovascotia.ca/
    Clay Bodies continues until December 4.


    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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  • 08/24/16--03:47: Theaster Gates at the AGO
  • While I was sitting in my car on Dundas waiting for the Art Gallery of Ontario to open, the rapper k-os was on CBC radio trying to explain what he meant when asked about an old quote in which he said the Tragically Hip helped him understand white people. He back-pedaled a bit, didn't exactly remember saying just that, and then told a story about a girl he had a crush on in university. My guess is that he was thinking more about the band’s fans than the band itself, but it heightened my self-consciousness as a white critic on his way to see the two Black artists who were currently featured in the gallery’s contemporary floors. Art (and music in particular) has always been my gateway to learning about people with profoundly different experiences than my own, but the politics of that relationship are never simple. Hence k-os’ justified hesitation and my own concern with how I say what I would eventually say after seeing the exhibitions.

    First up (and now unfortunately down because it closed last weekend) Hurvin Anderson’s vibrant paintings of scenes from England and Trinidad reflect both personal and cultural history as they are grounded in his experience as the son of Jamaican parents growing up in Birmingham. The opportunity to see them from a variety of angles – be it in the boldness of their colour schemes, their connections to post-Doig Expressionism, or as approximations of dissipating visual memories – make them rewarding to behold, while at the same time opening the gates for an artist of colour to be seen amongst his equals.



    Theaster Gates, How to Build a House Museum,
 installation shot (detail), 2016 
(©Theaster Gates)

    Gate-opening is at the heart of Theaster Gates’ expansive installation How to Build a House Museum. His proposals for institutions dedicated to Black creativity are the gallery-bound symbolic spaces that parallel those houses he has realized in the world. Through his purchase of real estate in Chicago and his accumulation of archives such as DJ Frankie Knuckles’ record collection, he has created bricks-and-mortar institutions to house the history of the Black community. In doing so, he ensures that it remains a living thing that is as much about the present and the future as it is about the past.

    The first room to be entered, House of House, addresses the very questions of how and why such sites are created. The exhibition then proceeds by linking well-known figures like Knuckles, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Muddy Waters with lesser-known individuals like the brick maker George Black and 19th Century Black painter Robert S. Duncanson to weave together a history through visual cues that are at home in an art gallery – paintings, sculptures, installations, video projections – while also drawing some energy from the more propulsive environment of club culture.



    Theaster Gates, How to Build a House Museum, 
installation shot (detail), 2016
 (©Theaster Gates)

    Gates’ strength as an artist is his ability to generate – and see through to fruition – righteous projects that catalyze communities and feel like they are accomplishing something meaningful. Without his drive, it's possible to be disappointed when you walk through the installation, to wonder what the deal is with the unexceptional graph-inspired paintings, to wish the music was louder, to imagine what it would feel like outside of this restrictive institution. The gallery houses the proposals, but doesn’t fulfill their promise. Gates is the mover and shaker who excites and inspires because he’s taking on the forces of history and bureaucracy to create something in a new way, something that teems with possibility. Those things are happening elsewhere and the exhibition only hints at that, but even a hint is reason enough to visit.


    Art Gallery of Ontario: http://www.ago.net/home
    Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum continues until October 30.


    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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    Caitlin Thompson’s Dandy Lines in the Esker Foundation storefront project space is a work in constant motion. Her opulently embroidered capes turn and flutter atop wooden kinetic sculptures that are part armature, part farm surplus. The black garments are so visually striking in both design and embellishment that the source of their movement recedes when you look at it long enough.



    Caitlin Thompson, Dandy Lines (photo: David J. Romero)

    Thompson’s material practice is concerned with animation in two and three dimensions. She has worked in stop-motion and digital moving images previously. That totally makes sense when you look at this exhibition. Craftwork and reskilling is also present and she is refreshingly ambivalent to how craft is romanticized or pigeonholed as the radical antidote to our networked, digitally saturated moment. She’s happy to discuss the high tech embroidery machine she used, and the parallel drawn between craftwork and image-based animation continues to reveals itself in the hypnotic motions of her creations, which are in some way akin to a surreal IRL GIF.

    In conversation with the artist, she divulges that the pieces on view here are just a small selection of fabrics that she painstakingly embroidered (by hand and by machine) over two years at Concordia. This body of work and its attendant research was the outcome of Thompson’s MFA. Coined “cosmic country embroidery,” this work is clearly informed by traditions of western embroidery (think Rhinestone Cowboy) and the strange and transformative potential of these costumes. The decorative, which is often much maligned in contemporary art, is activated here by drawing out ideas around labour, gender, identity, and the body. The empty robes have a haunting quality and the absence of the body posits speculation around what body would inhabit this and how. It also makes me wonder how work that resonates in a macho country/urban environment locally would function in a place like Montreal, perhaps the city most culturally disparate to Calgary.


    Esker Foundation Project Space: http://eskerfoundation.com/
    Caitlin Thompson: Dandy Lines continues until October 23.


    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 is a particular time of the year when the sun sets directly along the east-west axis of Toronto’s main thoroughfares. It makes the evening’s commute hazardous if you’re heading west (and, I suppose, if you’re eastbound and heading toward the blinded drivers going the other way). Despite the dangers, it also provides the perfect opportunity to view the city as a modern age Stonehenge with parallel monoliths cleaving sunlight into illuminated strips. That flattening of skyscrapers into silhouettes divided by an overpowering glow is exactly what Wanda Koop replicates in her new exhibition, In Absentia, at Division Gallery. However, what might sound like an exercise in landscape painting actually has a lot more in common with Op Art and the trippier end of Abstract Expressionism when you really lay your eyes on it.



    Wanda Koop, In Absentia (Luminous Red - Rose - Deep Magenta), 2015, acrylic on canvas on stretcher

    Except for a handful of failed experiments that could have been edited out of the exhibition, all of the paintings are basically the same: one field of colour dominates and represents the buildings, while a second colour represents the shards of empty space where the light shines through. Koop turns this repetition into a platform for endless variation with searing combinations of color. Like an optical illusion that flickers between two states, figure and ground fluctuate between what we know it to be and what we see. The texture of the washes and the hints of additional complimentary colours that line the edges of these concrete valleys add more surprising details to a seemingly uniform collection.



    Wanda Koop, In Absentia (Horizon Blue - Luminous Red), 2015, acrylic on linen on stretcher

    This body of work came about during Koop’s recent stay in New York City. As she watched the Manhattan skyline from her Brooklyn studio, she must have sat through a lot of sunsets because her use of colour reflects the wide spectrum of hues contained in natural light that are revealed in the minutes before nightfall. But these paintings are as much about how your eye receives light as they are a depiction of how light behaves out there in the world. As such, they work wonders when assembled en mass, each one contradicting and complimenting the next. One on its own would miss the scope and cumulative power of the gallery-filling exhibition (though the electric neon pink one is plenty arresting when viewed up close). As a whole they make for a fine afternoon of immersion care of a painter who has the skills to turn blank canvas into windows full of radiating brilliance.


    Division Gallery: http://www.galeriedivision.com/toronto/exhibitions
    Wanda Koop: In Absentia continues until October 8.


    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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  • 09/07/16--20:52: The Great Outdoors
  • Half of my summer was spent weathering traffic congestion and heat waves while chasing down exhibitions. The other half was spent trying to escape the city in search of open spaces and cool breezes. No central air conditioning in our house provided plenty of motivation to leave, but we don’t have any cottages in our family holdings, so we had to rely on the generosity of others (as well as some cheap rentals) to have a place to land in the great outdoors. I was happy with the basic mental health benefits of being a step closer to nature, but the professional rewards of getting away were made clear to me after last week’s review of the Wanda Koop exhibition. To make sense of how luminous her canvases were, I appealed to the wide spectrum colour field of a Georgian Bay sunset. The wonders of the wild provided a handy reference point, but there was something more. Standing still in Division Gallery, waiting for the paintings to reveal themselves, I was doing the same thing I’d done off-and-on for the past handful of weekends when I found myself beneath a tree, on the end of a dock, or walking through the darkness that only comes when you leave the city behind: I was paying attention.



    (Photo: Kelly O’Brien)

    Standing still in a forest (or your backyard or the city park you find refuge in) is to invite a personal performance of John Cage’s 4’33”. The big lesson of that so-called silent piece is that there is no silence at all, that a concert hall is infused with the shuffling of feet and humming of HVAC systems, and that the world around us is constantly abuzz with sounds and songs and noise. The most insistent instance of the sounds around us shifting to something we can’t ignore is the piercing industrial buzz of the cicada. They seemed particularly aggressive this year (and I hear them electrifying the air outside my window as I write this). Maybe it was because I spent two weeks in a park where every tree had a couple insect husks attached to its bark and on good days you could witness the winged bug emerging from its former body. The sound catches you unawares, but eventually you can hear nothing but. It reminds me of Max Neuhaus’ Times Square installation (which is still there, generating its tone beneath a subway grate, as far as I know). His intention, student of Cage that he was, was to elicit a moment of stillness within the hubbub of Manhattan. These days, each of us carries that restless noise of demands, distractions, and updates in our heads (and our hands), so a moment of contemplation can be an effort even in the middle of an empty forest.



    (Photo: Kelly O’Brien)

    One day I met a kid on the edge of that forest who had just come back from Quaker camp. She told me that every morning the campers sat in silence on a hill for an hour. I found out later that this is known as meeting for worship and common practice for the faith. I was amazed that a pre-teen could handle such a task, but she was cool with it. In fact, the more people I ask, the more often I get the response that a time to unplug, to be quiet, to have a moment to oneself is not only appreciated, but something we crave. Those who have the means find it outside of town and I carved away some precious minutes of it this past month, but I also find it in galleries where the possibility of infinity comes in contact with my miniscule consciousness and in that instant I feel part of something greater.


    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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  • 09/14/16--20:21: Steve Hubert at Duplex
  • The inaugural exhibition at Duplex, a newly established studio and project space in Fraserview, is a modest group of works by Steve Hubert with the oblique title Dragging the Deleted Block into the Deleted Shape Input: DONT REMIND ME!!!. Paintings, reliefs, and sculptural accents arranged on the largest wall suggest a loose storyboard that teases at much loftier meditations. However, as one moves from one work to the next, any burgeoning logic is consistently jammed by a steady accumulation of references, symbols, and scenes.



    Steve Hubert

    Simulated brick, concrete, rusty nails, and other textures that might potentially resonate aggressively are alleviated by Hubert’s intuitive and curved line work and mostly quiet imagery: a potter throws a vessel in the company of shadows, a striped couch, a lesser neon sign fashioned from pouring resin over nails arranged to read “Computer Fixing Shop”. There are moments of subliminal messaging. A phantasmic “GO IN” is written next to the potter’s head. A meandering line of text that reads “TRANSFORMATIVE VISION” leads the eye from a painting based on the famous street fight scene in John Carpenter’s satirical sci-fi action movie They Live up to a clenched fist. In this film, a drifter inherits a pair of “truth” sunglasses and when he looks at members of the ruling class, they are revealed to be aliens that have infiltrated human society to perpetuate capitalism. Is this fist one of revolution or machismo? What’s the difference?

    A text written by Hubert’s alter-ego Greg X Voltz, a has-been Christian rock star, ruminates self-consciously about false enlightenment: “I’m thinking now that a more transgressive approach might be a total return to the mainstream…. How far afield can resistance go before it gets cut off from cultural relevance?” At times saccharine: “We are all clouds exchanging water droplets. That’s my idea of life and opinions.” But also sincere: “Better to love all people in a cloud, than fall apart alone in a storm.” The text is a fiction, but it reveals the artist’s excitement for (and faith in?) breadcrumbs – those mundane things in the other room that might lead to something of higher value or meaning, perhaps a profane illumination. It’s uncertain whether these are clues or distractions, but I feel content to look at the exhibition as if to gaze out the window of a moving car and see a fertile and undetermined landscape.


    Duplex: http://projectduplex.ca/
    Steve Hubert: Dragging the Deleted Block into the Deleted Shape Input: DONT REMIND ME!!! continues until October 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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    When I first met Matt Crookshank, he was in the first phase of survival for any young artist – that period after art school when one has to figure out how to pay the rent, feed oneself, and find the time to actually make something, all the while hustling to cover student debt repayments. This stage can last decades, but he clued in early on that he needed some more marketable skills and went back to school to learn animation. Since then he’s maintained a consistent painting practice while also managing to shift into the later phase of artistic survival – living like an adult, raising a family, maybe even owning a home while also managing to get into the studio on a regular basis to make work. All this might make him sound like a serious and together person (which he is), yet he miraculously stayed true to the unwound and overdriven spirit that has characterized his painting from the get go. Which is not to say that he hasn’t progressed, but he hasn’t – in the best possible way – grown up.



    Matt Crookshank, The Fever-Fervour Resonance, 2016, oil and watercolour on canvas

    His new set of paintings, currently on view at General Hardware, are, in fact, better behaved than some of the work he’s shown there in the past. Whereas his wall-hung objects used to be encrusted with layers of resins that gave the canvas a sculptural surface and a substantial volume, this current batch of abstractions tend to stay flat. They still throw up incongruous combinations of painterly gestures, sometimes reminiscent of Jonathan Lasker’s mash-ups, other times overloaded like John Kissick’s maximalism. Crookshank’s lexicon this time around leans increasingly in the direction of digital sketchpad-type doodles, the kind you’d find on an app like Brushstrokes. He layers them and varies them, testing out the options to find the right balance of squiggles, zips, stripes, and drips before replicating them larger than life on sometimes huge surfaces. For an artist whose work always feels restless, this current batch of paintings seems like it’s still searching for something to land on. Or maybe I’m pining for the amped up onslaught of earlier eras.



    Matt Crookshank/Awesome Cheesecake, The Sad Demise of Zellers, 2016, single channel musical video

    General Hardware has a wonderful (though completely wheelchair inaccessible) basement vault carved out of their concrete floor where complementary exhibitions are often presented. Down here, Crookshank has included some perfunctory photos that act as reference materials, a couple unframed collages/assemblages that include the evocative resin that I so love, and a looping video that turns the world (in this case a foggy street at night) into a psychedelic dance of lights and colour set to a gentle guitar figure that carries one along through multiple viewings. It’s part of a musical side-project he calls Awesome Cheesecake, but it’s of a piece with the freewheeling play that has always – and hopefully will always – define this lifer’s ongoing creations.


    General Hardware: http://generalhardware.ca/
    Matt Crookshank: Violent Whimsy continues until October 8.


    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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    There's a fundamental contradiction between the theme of The Edge of the Earth: Climate Change in Photography and Video, now on view at the Ryerson Image Centre, and the works it exhibits. This inconsistency can be found in most politically engaged art and can be summed up as the irresolvable divide between practical measures and speculative expressions. In this case, it is the unquestionable certainty of our endangered environment that is at odds with the ambiguity of the art intended to represent it. A prominent example of this (that also happens to be included in the exhibition) is the work of Edward Burtynsky. The local photographer has built his career on tightly framing gorgeous scenes of humanity's impact on the planet in a way that is undeniably real, but manages to drift into abstraction, thus allowing for an aesthetic consideration of what are often scenes of environmental devastation. At the other end of the spectrum are the images in the exhibition drawn from the gallery’s Black Star collection of photojournalism; these pictures clearly document the state of the world but fall into the shadow of the more spectacular contemporary art works.



    Hicham Berrada, Celeste, 2014, HD video

    The most memorable works in this wide-ranging exhibition are those that make dramatic statements. In that way they manage to effectively illustrate the immediacy of the threats to our environment while remaining open to other interpretations in other contexts. Naoya Hatakeyama's photographs of exploding rocks are nothing if not blatant reminders of the inevitable end of our self-perpetuated self-destruction, though they could also capture the dynamism of any system in flux. The toxic blue smoke that billows outside a country house window in Hicham Berrada’s video Celeste is clearly an evocation of air pollution and its limitless spread, though it might also be a formless sculpture caught in mid-reverie. Raymond Boisjoly’s unfixed contact prints of reservation gas stations are ghostly Venn diagrams overlapping environmental, aboriginal, colonial, corporate, and photographic histories, while Gideon Mendel’s series The Drowning World is Biblical, Apocalyptic, a document of current events, and straightforward portraiture all at once.



    Chris Jordan, CF000478: Unaltered stomach contents of Laysan albatross fledgling, Midway Island, 2009, Ultrachrome Inkjet print

    Paul Walde's Requiem for a Glacier succeeds in getting the sublime to effect real world change (the video contributed to the halting of a development project), but when it comes down to the undeniable, inexcusable, abhorrent, and objective truth of how fucked things really are, I defy anyone to find Chris Jordan's photographs of the plastic packed guts of bird corpses beautiful or manage to turn away from them. The horror of these images – a living creature with the blessing of flight brought down by manufactured junk that will be our century's epitaph because it will outlast us all – is all the more galling because it implicates every single one of us. There is no ambiguity here, only a tragedy arising from low stakes crap that no one needed in the first place. If the role of art is not simply to reflect the world, but to change the way we think about it, then these pictures do the job and prove it’s possible to be both raw and resonant.


    Ryerson Image Centre: http://www.ryerson.ca/ric/
    The Edge of the Earth: Climate Change in Photography and Video continues until December 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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    It’s not clear what to expect from an exhibition with the title “And yet we still remain, going around, and again in dominion's plot....” It’s a group show at the Dalhousie Art Gallery featuring, principally, Guelph photographer Lisa Hirmer’s photos of piles of dirt left behind at construction sites, but it also includes research photographs and sketches for Lawren Harris’ iceberg paintings, and Halifax artist Gerald Ferguson’s abstract, mostly black-and-white canvases. Its aim seems to be to tell a story about our relation to land in Canada and the evolution of landscape art. However, after reading the exhibition texts, curator Andrew Hunter’s narrative feels forced. Alongside Hirmer’s, Harris’ and Ferguson’s work ¬are sketches of Nova Scotia landscapes – drawings and prints of birds and trees by various artists from the gallery archives. Is this a story of Canada or Nova Scotia?



    “And yet we still remain, going around, and again in dominion's plot....”, Dalhousie Art Gallery, 2016, installation view

    Despite this confusion, the three main artists do work together, as hill-like and rounded forms echo each other. Would it have been simpler to let the viewer draw their own conclusions about their connections without the landscape sketches and broad historical narratives? If you compare this exhibition with another landscape-focused Nova Scotian exhibition – the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s Terroir survey – Hunter seems as though he’s added work just to fill space. Amid the artworks are several large, bold quotations transferred on the wall, large enough to distract from the individual pieces. One text refers to the “whiteness” of the Group of Seven’s work. Without further context, it’s unclear whether the curator is addressing race or Arctic landscapes. This is particularly puzzling in an exhibition focused on three white artists – one of whom consciously chose to eliminate traces of Inuit life from his art – while the other spaces in the gallery show, uncommonly, two smallerexhibitions looking at Black Nova Scotian history.

    Focusing on Hirmer’s, Harris’ and Ferguson’s work, what stands out is the minimalism of the three – their simple lines and static landscapes. How has the country evolved from Harris’ icebergs to Hirmer’s construction sites, from the early romanticizing of the North through to the romanticizing of subdivisions? Is there an inherently Canadian narrative here? Can Ferguson, as a conceptual artist (and American-born to boot), really be considered within the context of Canadian landscape art? There are more questions certainly and similarities, but I’m not sure if the most crucial ones have come to the surface.


    Dalhousie Art Gallery: http://artgallery.dal.ca/
    “And yet we still remain, going around, and again in dominion's plot...” continues until November 27


    Laura Kenins is a writer and comic artist currently based in Halifax. She has written for CBC Arts, C Magazine, Canadian Art, The Coast and other publications.


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    Now on display at The New Gallery, Winnipeg-based artist Divya Mehra presents three new works informed by the experience of losing her father Kamal (June 15, 1948 – May 22, 2015) last year. It’s really hard to make compelling visual art – or any art – about death. Death as a subject matter is a minefield of clichés, but also somehow lies beyond language. It suffers from an excess and a lack of signification simultaneously.



    Divya Mehra, A civic death (in praise of the threat), thus coherence – of patriarchy, of ancestry, of narrative – is made by erasure and exclusion OR nothing lasts forever, I hope you will consider the sensitivities of Hindus, 2016, tree slab (photo: Karen Asher)

    Mehra approaches her loss both head one and from the periphery. Leaning into the idea of the cliché, An honest Man (Even when the value of the object is gone, it is our feelings that keep it going) is unabashedly sad. The wall is literally crying (tears made in part from of healing waters Mehra collected from the Ganga river and the Bow River); the plaster and lath surface, painted dark British Racing Green, bubbles, cracks and erodes as a result. Across the gallery lies A civic death (in praise of the threat), thus coherence – of patriarchy, of ancestry, of narrative – is made by erasure and exclusion OR nothing lasts forever, I hope you will consider the sensitivities of Hindus. This disc of wood is a cross-section of a tree that Merha’s father prayed to that was coincidentally cut down soon after he died. Monuments and ruins are two ways in which humans process loss materially - the slab of tree on the floor functions at once as both.

    More pointedly working through the monument/ruin ambiguity is We are obliged to learn life's inevitable lessons and they are not easy (lies are necessary when the truth is too difficult to believe), which consists of a base of a Ganesh statue in which the figure has been violently stolen. This is a monument to absence. Perhaps the most affecting work in the exhibition, the heavy base with a jagged and unceremonious hole where the figure once stood, sharply evokes the breathtaking finality of the death of a loved one. Mehra’s intensely personal and specific approach is effective in that its intricacies stand in relief to the universality of death, loss, and grieving (perhaps the most ubiquitous of all human experience).


    The New Gallery: http://www.thenewgallery.org/
    Divya Mehra: Its Gonna Rain continues until October 22.


    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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