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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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    Sometimes one small grating element within an exhibition – formal, conceptual, or practical – has the power to throw-off the entire experience. This was my predicament while viewing Putting Rehearsals to the Test, a multi-exhibition project located at The Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery, SBC, and Vox, curated by Viennese curators Sabeth Buchmann, Ilse Lafer, and Constanze Ruhm. I like the idea of a multiple venue, guest-curated group exhibition that acts as a small counterweight to the upcoming Montreal Biennale. The theme of “rehearsal” is also a compelling one, particularly in terms of the contemporary art, where, as the curators note, it has not been investigated that thoroughly as a methodology.

    Mathias Poledna, Actualité, 2002, 16mm film transferred to DVD

    The exhibition is comprised of not only exhibited works, but also a dynamic and extensive programming of events and activities, which should generate a plethora of discourse on the subject. The works selected take various approaches to the theme. Many deal quite literally with the idea of the rehearsal, for example a band practice documented in Mathias Poledna’s video Actualité or Harun Farocki’s video Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet at Work on a Film Based on Franz Kafka’s America, whereas others references are more opaque such as Heimo Zobernig’s room dividers or Silke Otto-Knapp’s beautifully teased out paintings of waves.

    However, I found that my experience of all three exhibitions was disrupted to an unnecessary degree by the fact that the curators have allowed all the didactic information (including the map and list of works) at each location to be incorporated into Achim Lingerer’s collaborative publication Scriptings#46, a catalogue, in any case unreasoned and incomplete. While I appreciate this as a conceptual object attached to a workshop, trying to navigate the information within was tricky and at the SBC I had trouble even finding the map hidden within the texts. As well, at each venue there are only a couple copies of the publication available for consultation in English and French, so if you are the third person to walk into the gallery – too bad for you, you have no access to any information about the works you are looking at. I found this strategy disappointingly hostile towards the viewer. Digesting contemporary art exhibitions should not necessarily be an easy experience, but knowing which artist made the work and the title doesn’t need to be such a challenge.

    The Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery:
    See websites for the various closing dates for Putting Rehearsals to the Test.

    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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    If ever there was a time for citizens and visitors alike to get a handle on the trajectory, breadth, and maybe even defining characteristics of the Toronto art scene, then this fall could just be the moment. The simultaneous exhibiting of Form Follow Fiction: Art and Artists in Toronto at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto and Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971-1989 at the Art Gallery of Ontario indicates a pressing need to trace and reflect on the history of creative practices emerging from this place. Perhaps it is due to an uncertainty of identity that permeates the present’s rapidly changing economic/architectural/demographic/cultural landscape. Perhaps it comes from a generation of artists and curators reaching an advanced enough age that they recognize their emerging years are now part of the historical past? Or perhaps it’s because there is a body of artists and curators who never felt part of the history that was written in the first place, so they look for other stories that include them and mean something to them?

    Arthur Lismer, Undergrowth, 1946, oil on aluminum

    Luis Jacob, the curator of the Art Museum's third attempt this year at distilling Toronto's relationship to art in a jam packed group exhibition, understands that the past as remembered isn’t singular and unchanging but threaded with various histories, both official and secret, that evolve as generations change. The rewards of his curation are rooted in the way he generates a bounty of connections, influential links, and serendipitous sympathies from a surprising range of sources. From landholding maps when the city was first established through historical works by familiar names (Lauren Harris, Arthur Lismer) as well as some less so (Paraskeva Clark, Christiane Pflug), he moves on to long unseen works from the eighties and nineties and then ends up in a variety of places throughout the present. As you move through the exhibition, at each turn there is a possible epiphany that links the usual suspects (General Idea, Carol Condé & Karl Beveridge) with some unlikely additions (Charles Pachter, Napo B) and some new faces (Kwan Tse’s short animation is a particular delight). The most illuminating and delightful aspect of Jacob's exhibition is this avoidance of any adherence to fashion or conventional reading of art history. In managing this, he allows for interactions that are greater than the sum of their parts. One such example is his slam-dunk placement of Carlo Cesta’s Reserved Parking Set sculpture in the middle of a room hung with Robert Houle’s four-part Premises for Self-Rule. It’s one of those moments when you hear a voice in your head exclaim, “Yes!”

    Jon Sasaki, Microbes Swabbed from a Palette Used by A.J. Casson, 2012, digital print

    If there is one downside to such an in-depth and expansive exploration of the hometown spirit, it is that the theme holds the work down to a localized reading. Visitors should allow themselves the experience of finding in such original combinations new and potentially non-Torontonian readings. The small room off the main entrance to the gallery’s University College space provides a condensed opportunity to do just that. Jon Sasaki’s petri dishes of Group of Seven generated bacterial culture rubs up against, on the one side, David Armstrong Six’s gooey-footed urban night walk and, on the other, the Toronto Ink Company’s found pigments. Bonnie Devine’s deer rawhide drawing adds a final piece to a puzzle concerned with the organic as both medium and metaphor for creation.

    I ran into Jacob just as he finished up touring a student group through the show and we joked that an hour and a half was just enough to scratch the surface of what could be said about the exhibition. It took him three years to put together, but there’s far more than that at work here, and impact of what it proposes about the past and present of Toronto will be felt for years to come.

    The Art Museum:
    Form Follows Fiction: Art and Artists in Toronto continues until December 10.

    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 was a preteen trying to grasp how romance worked, I used to watch ElimiDate, a dating/reality/game show where a group of young twenty-somethings go on group dates and eliminate members of the opposite sex until at the end of the show, the “judge” and the “winner” would go on a two-person date. In one episode, there was a particular contestant, a confident Asian woman, who referred to other women exclusively as “mosquitos.” Up until that point, I did not consider the gender of insects and assumed they were all male since young boys were so fascinated by them. I hadn’t really thought about it again until Aedes Hallucinates in the Jungle.

    Fabiola Carranza, Aedes Hallucinates in the Jungle

    At Malaspina Printmakers, Fabiola Carranza has produced an unexpected series of vernacular black and white civic signage that reproduces passages taken from a Mexican romance comic book titled Lágrimas, Risas y Amor. The signs in Spanish read !Dame cinco pesos o te doy untiro! (Give me five pesos or I shoot you!) and Tragando grueso, con suplicante mirada, rogó el auxilio femenino (Swallowing thickly, with a supplicant glare, pleading for feminine aid). Another sign is the title of the exhibition, which is taken from a French novel (Chris Marker’s Le Coeur net). The smell of citronella permeates the small gallery space. It is emitted from a mural made up of small round citronella patches with smiley faces printed on them. Each brightly coloured dot smiles back. A repellant that feigns friendliness? Or a cheerful talisman that protects its wearer? Either way, the smile feels a bit insincere.

    The exhibition requires you to know a few things and, like a circuit of tripped dominos, an intricate system of meaning eventually reveals itself. Aedes is the genus of female mosquitos that transmits yellow fever, dengue, and Zika virus. There was an outbreak of the virus in South America. The Zika virus mostly affects pregnant women and their unborn fetuses. In many parts of South America, abortion is illegal. Citronella is a mosquito repellant but having too much on will increase your heart rate.

    Carranza’s chosen passages are suggestive of duress: someone is held at gunpoint, in need of “feminine aid,” or in a state of delirium in a tropical forest. And though the facts are all there, the artist will still make you work for the meaning of all this – first by challenging legibility with the use of a foreign language, then by offering up seemingly banal signage, and then by reading esoteric references through the lens of current events, gender politics of ecology, and public health as metaphors for covert assaults on the feminine body.

    Malaspina Printmakers:
    Fabiola Carranza: Aedes Hallucinates in the Jungle continues until October 9.

    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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  • 10/05/16--07:33: Nuit Blanche 2016
  • It was with slightly less hullabaloo than normal that Toronto’s annual Nuit Blanche came and went this past weekend (except for a couple pieces at City Hall that will linger longer). Whether the absence of former chief sponsor Scotiabank was real or only felt, there was a sense of reduced circumstances in the overall experience. Having now passed its tenth anniversary, perhaps a breather year was in order. The audiences for this rare instance of a popularly received contemporary art event know the drill by now. They dutifully wander the streets, treating the evening like an annual trip to the museum, checking off each project on their guide-maps before moving along to the next. There are also the crowds of young people who use the night to gather en mass in streets and city squares, wandering in packs and enjoying their momentary freedom. I’ve come to feel that the night is more and more about them. Someone should treat these hordes as a medium one year. Until then, there are always the temporary attempts at eliciting contemplation. To impose some order to my review, I’ve highlighted five themes.

    Samuel Bianchini, Pas de deux pas de, 2016


    I used to start out at the north end of downtown and work south from the U of T campus, but now the waterfront zone makes a more sensible starting point. The night was mild and threatened rain, but perfect for biking around for hours. My first stop might just have been the best of the night were it not a bit cheesy and obvious. Samuel Bianchini’s duet of dancing spotlights had the perfect weather conditions: low lying clouds that blanketed the sky and served as a screen for his choreography. Spotlight art is one step away from fireworks as art, so I wasn’t entirely won over, but it at least set the bar for creating something within the particular context of the event. The dominant form of light through the rest of my travels was in the form of video projections. Some, like Pascal Grandmaison’s double-screen video on the outside wall of The Power Plant, worked by dint of location and content somehow cleaving together. Others felt just like videos being screened outdoors (except when they weren’t – more on that later). Which was fine, but not really the point of this weird one-night thing.

    Daniel Canogar, Asalto Toronto, 2016


    The point of this thing is to defamiliarize the city and make it, for lack of a better term, magical (or, at least, disorienting). The artists who succeed at that actively engage with the urban architecture to exploit its power, not just use it as a venue for screening, hanging, or performing something. Once again, they were kind of cheesy, but Daniel Canogar’s projection of masses crawling up the columns outside Union Station and Kevin Cooley’s waterfall of flatscreens in Brookfield Place couldn’t have happened anywhere else and turned the mundane into something memorable. The two videos inside Union Station had art star power (one was by David Hammons, the other by Bruce Nauman), but the installation could have happened anywhere. It actually should have happened somewhere else, because the location on Saturday was perfunctory and made the work seem equally so.

    Lisa Park, Eunoia II, 2015


    On the topic of location, it continues to boggle my mind that NB curators put works in interior spaces with limited access even though they must know that throngs of thousands come out for this one-night-only exhibition. First of all, if you want to install a video projection inside, then just do it in a gallery during a regular exhibition. Nuit Blanche is not that. It’s about the city and public space and unexpected experiences. Second of all, I hate waiting in lines. Third, the reason I like art is that I get to enjoy it in relative isolation (the other 364 days of the year). It needs lonely contemplation. Crowds are an impediment to that. By dispersing the exhibition zones (like, say, to the waterfront), the crowds disperse and there is more opportunity to get enthralled without distraction (and don’t tell me to wait until four in the morning for the crowds to thin; the one year I did that, half the projects had closed down by the time I got there).

    Director X, Death of the Sun, 2016


    If I deride video projections for being easy, I celebrate performances for being tough. The dancers in Paul-André Fortier’s smartly located piece October Sky had a long night ahead of them, but they were going strong when I passed them at the halfway mark. Peggy Baker’s presence in Lisa Park’s Eunoia II was disciplined, precise, and captivating (though they should have installed it beneath a mezzanine for better sightlines rather than the bank lobby where the performer was surrounded like a street busker by a neck-craning crowd). The NB security and info staff/volunteers should be celebrated too for their dedication to guiding the mobs for however many hours they signed up for. And lastly, Director X’s spectacular spherical screening and Floria Sigismondi’s short video projected on a wall of water mist, both at Nathan Phillips Square, will also endure for a while longer; so if you missed them, you still have a chance one evening this weekend.

    Santiago Sierra, 100 Plastic Containers for Human Corpses, 2016


    One of the last works I saw was Santiago Sierra’s flatbed truck of mass-produced disposal units for human remains. It reminded me about the power of singular (or collected) objects, but I could also see how hard it is to command attention with an inert object. Had this devastating accumulation of things been left at the end of an alley in an unfamiliar recess of the city, it might have carried more weight than being parked on the edge of the nightlife district. On the other hand, maybe the occasion and the city have outgrown that possibility. This place has changed drastically in the last ten years and how we inhabit it has to change apace. As I biked through the night I kept seeing people walking their dogs. I’d never noticed that before. Plus it’s just weird to be walking a dog at two in the morning. There are new people here, new habits, new communities. It’s a new downtown and the art we find here will inevitably evolve accordingly. Who knows what next year will bring?

    Nuit Blanche 2016:

    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 planning on writing about the Sharon Lockhart video at Gallery TPW this week and its glacial conflation of sublime nature scenes with the wanderings and banterings of Polish teenage girls, but I happened to find myself in Ottawa over the weekend and managed to convince the people I was with that a trip to the National Gallery of Canada to see the very recently installed exhibition featuring the five finalists in this year’sSobey Art Award showdown would be worth their while. Now that this contest has gone on annually for ten years (with a couple biannual awards before that), the big names of the Canadian art scene who managed to make an impression before they hit forty have all had their chance at the cup (and I’ll admit that name-recognition isn’t the most scientific of standards in such an insular community), so the nominees this time around might not ring a bell for everyone. Which is actually a good thing because it means you judge the winner by their art alone (though it doesn’t mean you actually get a say in the judgement).

    Brenda Draney, The Righteous, 2012, oil on linen (photo: Sarah Fuller)

    The real winner will be announced at a gala on November 1, but until then we can consider the relative merits of the five on display (with the obvious caveat that choosing the most deserving of these artists is a ridiculous endeavour given the disparity of their practices, the lack of a quantitative standard for measuring art, and the icky feeling that such contests are just a marketing ploy to trick people into caring about something they should care about for its own sake rather than its status as the winner of some trumped up art contest). Moving from west to east (an added obstacle to thinking this is about merit is that the finalists are selected regionally, which precludes the possibility of more than one worthy artist running in any one region), we start with Jeremy Shaw who has a longish history of dealing with altered states of consciousness in his art. Drugs, music, and religion all make an appearance, but his featured video Quickeners leans on the last one. It’s framed in a fake official discourse that treats found footage as a document from the future. That shtick feels somewhat dated (pun intended), yet the voice of administration also manifests itself in two of the other artists here, so maybe it’s a thing again.

    Before we get to that, there are the straightforward paintings of Brenda Draney to remind us that art doesn’t have to be coy; it can simply be expressive. She’s already been celebrated by that other national art contest – the RBC Canadian Painting Competition – and manages to evoke the unresolved remnants of history and memory in her unfinished paintings on raw linen. That said, the work didn’t blow me away; it instead left me thinking about paintings I’d seen in the last year that made a stronger impression by demanding my attention. While there’s nothing wrong with reticence, it doesn’t strike me as an award winning quality.

    Next up, Charles Stankievech describes himself as an artist, curator and writer, but I’d argue that he’s much more the latter two than the first. His voluminous research and love of parallel discourses culminate in a densely packed and densely informative installation that folds art history over espionage to blend truth and fiction in the administrative voice I mentioned earlier. However, if I had my druthers I’d prefer it in the form of a book or a documentary film. As a visual art exhibition, it demands more reading than looking, and that misses the point.

    Hajra Waheed, The Cyphers 1–18, 2016, found objects, cut photograph, Xylene transfer, glass, ink, printed Mylar and archival tape on paper (photo: Colin Davison)

    Hajra Waheed also draws on the discourse of administration in her documents of possible trauma or political strife, but she tones down the texts and simply uses graph paper or official forms to frame drawings and objects that suggest larger events, particularly when torn from any clear context. There is an automatic appeal to such ordering practices for anyone overwhelmed by the barrage of contemporary reality and the work presented here is seductive, but it is also so reminiscent of Walid Raad’s quasi-official documentation of partially fabricated histories that it loses much of its power.

    Which leaves us with William Robinson’s video Sun Ship Machine Gun (Metallurgy I), which recounts in a non-didactic way the transformation of church bells to munitions and then on to saxophones. Relying solely on visuals and music, he leaves enough space for the viewer to grasp the alchemy he’s documenting while also allowing for an openness to interpretation that invites the contemplation of more elemental transformations as well as the consideration of the whole thing as a metaphor for universal flux. By treating this conjunction of philosophical themes, poetic images, and a particular historical episode with a light hand, he wins the game of making the best art in the room – at least according to my vote.

    National Gallery of Canada: 2016
    2016 Sobey Art Award continues until February 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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    Located in Brandon, The Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba boasts an impressive programming rec-ord that can often motivate Winnipeggers to catch an exhibition two hours away. Amalie Atkinswe live on the edge of disaster and imagine we are in a musical might be one such show and the AGSM is a terrific venue for it as her aesthetic is very much at home in the Wheat City. The film, video, and installation pieces on display showcase a variety of rural tropes from tall grasses to charming domestic interiors; yet the fascination of Atkins’ work is her ability to spin a tale that is at once comfortingly familiar and intriguingly bizarre. In The Braid of Harvesters a mother and daughter collect stray braids of hair from the landscape and hang them on a clothesline. Embrace invites the audience into a cozy red tent to watch a projection of identically dressed elderly twin sisters walking towards each other and hugging over and over again. And perhaps the most mesmerizing and perplexing of the lot is The Summoning, where roller skating conjoined twins are given a set of axes by another gang of roller skating multiples. The exhibition as a whole envelopes us in an enchanting world of vividly coloured costumes and fanciful mythology set right here on the Canadian prairie.

    Amalie Atkins, The Summoning

    Sharing the gallery space is a solo show by local photographer Tim Smith featuring his portraits of a Hutterite colony. Smith’s crisp images capture candid moments of colony life alongside more formally posed arrangements with both offering a glimpse into these notoriously closed communities. Identical twin sisters Kayla and Kelly Waldner shows us two women standing side by side in matching headscarves, modest dresses, and dark hoodies, looking not unlike the characters presented on the other side of the gallery. This juxtaposition presents an interesting foil to Atkins’ work, but I am left wondering whether the pairing unwittingly nudges viewers into seeing the Hutterite subjects as inhabiting a world of make-believe rather than the realities of the private world shared with Smith’s lens.

    The Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba:
    Amalie Atkins: we live on the edge of disaster and imagine we are in a musical continues until November 20.
    Tim Smith: Hutterites of Manitoba continues until November 20.

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

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    Before their opening this past Thanksgiving weekend, Barbara Edwards Contemporary had received fifty RSVPs and were looking forward to a well-attended event. On the big night, four hundred people showed up to catch a first glimpse of Death to Pigs. For a space the size of a large living room, it was a tight squeeze. The reason for the turnout is that Ydessa Hendeles, the exhibiting artist, is a local legend and on her way to becoming a global art star. Most recently, her inclusion in the New Museum's exhibition The Keeper garnered positive press in the New Yorker and the New York Times. However, hers has been in no way an overnight success and among the many roles she has taken on over the decades, “artist” is only her latest incarnation.

    Ydessa Hendeles, Prize, 2015, oil painting suspended from painted steel chains, anatomical model, child's table (photo: Robert Keziere)

    She started as a gallerist in the eighties, repping the likes of Kim Adams and Liz Magor from an upstairs space on Queen Street West. Her gestational phase came with the establishment of the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, where she grew from an estimable collector of contemporary art into a private museum director and, ultimately, curator. I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of this experiment when works by artists the equal of any publically funded space in the city (at the time, really only The Power Plant and the AGO) were displayed alongside rare and obscure items of personal and historical circumstance. I first read in the Globe and Mail about the purchase of an expensive teddy bear, and years later, after hearing about her days spent on eBay buying up photo after photo, it culminated in the Partners project (that same obsessive collection of bears that blew minds this summer in New York). Her curation had become something more than just arranging the art of others, and Ydessa the artist began to emerge. Her talent (and, it must be admitted, her privilege as someone with seemingly great resources of wealth) was to bring together highly charged objects in combinations that revealed the underlying forces at play in history and biography. They could be unique works of art from the likes of Douglas Gordon, Shirin Neshat, Paul McCarthy and Diane Arbus, or precious artefacts like rare toys from prewar Europe or a charm bracelet from a Golden Age of Hollywood movie star. Her materials were not just consumer items, but talismans that were cherished and tied to actual people and actual times. You could feel their irreproducible auras as you made your way from one to the next.

    Ydessa Hendeles, Princess (1964), 2015, pigment print on archival paper and first edition copy of Animal Farm (1945) by George Orwell, both framed in hand painted white poplar frames (photo: Robert Keziere)

    The Foundation closed in 2012 and since then she has exhibited her installations at galleries and museums around the world. She returns to Toronto with a provocatively titled collection of photographs, found objects, and a video piece. The initial allusion is to the murders committed in California in the late 1960s under the direction of Charles Manson. A picture of one of the killers, Leslie Van Houten, taken from her high school yearbook, is on display alongside a first edition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. From there the narrative connections spiral through nursery rhymes and livestock contests to local abattoirs (one famously downwind of her old Foundation) and animal rights videos of pigs being killed by poison gas. The booklet that accompanies the exhibition (and that can be found here) details the history of each piece, but leaves the links between them up to the viewer to discern. The scholarship that went into assembling the collection is obvious and Hendeles manages to locate the perfect triggers to trip those moments of recognition when our innocuous past congeals into a horrifying truth.

    The power of her installations has always relied on the authority of actual object presented in the flesh, so the one downside of this exhibition is that she relies too much on photographs of toys and figurines. In doing so, she drains them of their charge and makes her work documentary rather than real life. The Orwell book is actually there and the Van Houten yearbook is, according to the notes, in her possession. Knowing that, the viewer is pulled inexorably into the provenance of these things that have travelled far to get here. That is something you can feel and if Hendeles accomplishes anything when all the pieces fall into place, it is that history is something felt deep in our bones.

    Barbara Edwards Contemporary:
    Ydessa Hendeles: Death to Pigs continues until November 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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    One advantage that writers have over artists is that they don’t always have to be themselves. Novelists are free to create worlds unlike their own, but artists are held responsible for their work because its authenticity is bound to personal expression. One visual artist who has successfully evaded this burden is Iris Häussler. She exhibits under her own name at Daniel Faria Gallery, but also inhabits from time to time fabricated artists through which she creates entirely original bodies of work. However, to leave it at that would make the results an evasive manoeuvre akin the fabrications of famous authors writing under pseudonyms. Häussler is concerned with the legacy as much as the life of an artist, so she wraps her creation’s creations in an art historical discourse that blends fact and fiction to get to a greater truth through indirect means.

    Iris Häussler, SLR_264, 2016

    On the website that documents her current endeavour, she refers to it as an installation-novel. The protagonist is a turn-of-the-century French painter who goes by the name Sophie La Rosiere. In the fragments of her biography made available, there is the implication that she is a covert lesbian. Her art, when it is revealed, consists of erotic images of nude women and vulva-like flowers. The narrative twist that Häussler introduces is that this work was at some point later in the artist’s life obliterated by layers of black beeswax encaustic. The hidden paintings thus resonate as buried evidence, concealed emotions, lost histories, and erased lives. It’s not surprising that videos of expert commentary on the discovery of this previously unknown artist include a couple psychoanalysts hypothesizing the reasons for this act of creative repression.

    Iris Häussler, Reconstruction of the studio of Sophie La Rosière as found in Nogent-sur-Marne, abandoned ~1918, 2016 (photo: Cheryl O’Brien)

    Whether the experts on screen are in on the deception or not isn’t clear, but I don’t think it matters. Häussler is not so much interested in trickery (though she has made effective use of dissemblance in the past) as the suspension of disbelief. That is the minimum requirement of all representational art (which is why Plato was so down on it) and she cranks it up to a reality-infusing degree, so much so that her creations overflow into the world we inhabit. Sophie La Rosiere’s black paintings appear in a reconstruction of her studio that fills a gallery at the Art Gallery of York University. In another space, vitrines filled with souvenirs and memorabilia trace the outline of her story in a bare bones fashion. A historian onscreen points out that figures from the past become more ghostly the farther they recede from our present. This particular artist lies on the cusp of the 20th Century, but remains out of reach of modern recording devices; all that’s left of her are scrap of papers, personal effects, and her mysterious works.

    A selection of the black paintings has undergone x-ray imaging to reveal the images that lie beneath. These are on display at Scrap Metal Gallery along with the video testimonials and work tables stacked with reference texts (from exhibition catalogues to W.G. Sebald’s books to something from the Museum of Jurassic Technology) and what looks to be Häussler’s own studio ephemera from the creation of the experience we have just passed through. Another of the experts mentions the different ways we pay attention, and the possibilities are drawn out of us as we move through the layers of this story, piecing it together one fragment to the next. The subject at its centre, whether she ever existed or not, comes alive for us (just like the characters of our favourite novels) and then – and this is where artifice becomes something more – her life expands into the eternal themes that enrich our own: love, desire, loyalty, freedom, constraint, expression, resignation, loss, and the list goes on.

    Art Gallery of York University:
    Scrap Metal Gallery:
    Iris Häussler: The Sophie La Rosière Project continues until 11 December 2016

    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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  • 10/25/16--23:05: 2016 Montreal Biennale
  • I’ve been around for at least half a dozen editions of the Montreal Biennale and the 2016 version, assembled this time by Belgium-born/German-based curator Philippe Pirotte, is the strongest yet. Subtle and open-ended in its approach, Le Grand Balcon (The Grand Balcony) feels more akin to an elegantly curated group exhibition than what we’ve come to expect from a typical biennial.

    Nadia Belerique, Bed Island (Don’t Sleep), 2016

    The exhibition’s title refers to Jean Genet’s Le Balcon and engages the concept of the balcony as an ambiguous space between public and private, acting and gazing, revolution and counterrevolution. Using hedonism as his mantra, Pirotte evokes this ambiguity and evades a clear curatorial narrative or strategy of categorization. At the opening press conference he discussed the pleasure he took in letting his research shape the exhibition throughout the process of organizing it. In doing so, he made unexpected links and went in unplanned directions. He pitched it as the anti-thesis to “a via negativa of alienation, scepticism, discomfort, and loss” which surrounds us in the current political climate.

    Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Cassava Garden

    The resulting exhibition is an intimate investigation of the relationships between people, people and objects, and, through those relationships, history and the present. Most of the Biennale is located at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal where the galleries are sparsely and beautifully filled with quite delicate but potent works that ricochet off and absorb one another. Nadia Belerique’s spindly still-life sculptures consisting of glass tables towering above the viewer, strewn with bottles, spilled liquids and cutlery are juxtaposed against Isa Genzken’s intergenerational mannequins that are disarming in their abrasive, colourful, normcore attire. In another room the richly layered paintings of Njideka Akunyili Crosby are placed in relation to Luc Tuymans’ paintings of empty rooms, mediated by Elaine Cameron-Weir’s giant hanging snakeskin sculptures, and a painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder. There is a combined familiarity and discomfort within the works as well as between them. It turns on ambiguity, but is often pushed into the uncanny. Pirotte has created an experience that is beautiful and enjoyable to digest, but also challenging, discomforting, and thought provoking. It is well worth checking out. And don’t forget to go to the off-site spaces such as Frances Stark’s installation in the 5445 de Gaspe complex as well.

    La Biennale de Montréal 2016:
    Le Grand Balcon continues until January 15.

    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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  • 10/26/16--10:51: Michelle O'Marah at Artspeak
  • Michelle O’Marah’s exhibition at Artspeak, “What’s her problem?”, takes its cues from once-popular culture. The addictive melodrama of the soap and sitcom has perhaps since been eclipsed by a bevy of award winning mini-series (denying the “eternal return” of the soap) and the alluring prestige of film actors who have migrated to television to participate in the purportedly “golden-age” of television (rather than graduating the other way around). O’Marah’s reconstructions of popular culture in the eighties and nineties tells us that the caliber of entertainment is not tied to popular culture’s maturation since we still can’t resist the allure and satisfaction of a well-crafted melodrama.

    Michelle O’Marah, "What's her problem?", installation view (photo: Blaine Campbell)

    The first room could be considered a tangible trailer or sorts for O’Marah’s work-in-progress It’s Just Me, a family drama that unravels in ten episodes. A variety of low-key mix-media works are displayed. The wall is painted to reflect an excerpt of set design, production stills mounted on the wall, props and the script are present. In the midst of this display is a glorious floral couch and modest television screening Valley Girl, O’Marah’s rendition on Martha Coolidge’s 1983 film, which is subjected to the artist’s coarse editing and even campier acting. However, the genre’s tropes remain made painfully, yet delightfully, intact. We seem to enjoy it all the same, yet with entirely different expectations, and resultant realizations.

    In another work, A Girl’s Gotta Do What a Girl’s Gotta Do, a three-channel video reproducing scenes from the 1996 film Barb Wire starring Pamela Anderson, O’Marah points to the flaccidness of what entails a “strong female lead”. In each scene, three different actors play Barb. Relying on sex, sexiness and rain, and a crude fight scene to present controversy, as usual, overtures of lust and violence in the action obscure the actual body and identity of the character. Now, despite the golden age, and watchful PC-audiences, have we managed to really “empower” images of women in popular entertainment beyond the goal of rudimentary amusement? Works like Barb Wire attest to how we cannot expect the arena that perpetuates these basic characters to also subvert their own production. So it is left to artists to hilarious appropriate.

    Michelle O’Marah: What’s her problem? continues until November 5.

    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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    Expertly exploring the relationship between craft, art and commerce, Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery’s Home Economics is a standout among the many exhibitions that aim to highlight craft or folk arts. Featuring hooked rugs from the Textile Museum of Canada’s collection, the show spans 150 years and moves from traditional homesteads to the latest digital animation. The design and commentary by curators Shauna McCabe, Natalia Nekrassova, Sarah Quinton and Roxane Shaughnessy brings the economic and social issues inherent in the creation of these rugs to life.

    Leading with a work by Emily Carr and the little-known fact that Carr also created hooked rugs to supplement her income as a painter, the exhibition subtly brings in gendered questions of economics. Did Carr’s peers in the Group of Seven need to make rugs to supplement their income? Farther along, a text tells the story of women in Newfoundland outports who were encouraged to make rugs to sell to wealthier tourists as an income source when industry dried up. Little but a famous name separates the work by Carr and the other creators who made their rugs as a way to earn money. Most of the older work is anonymous and only a couple of the named creators are male – mainly, like Carr, more well known artists.

    Yvonne Mullock with Mary Francis Decker, USE ME, 2013, artist’s clothes, burlap

    Though the rugs come from across the nation, the history of Atlantic Canada is deeply entrenched in this collection. It’s there in the underlying economic questions and, with a variety of mermaids and lobsters on offer, the overt imagery. But what has really changed over the 150 years covered in this show? Upstairs amidst the contemporary pieces, local artist Joanna Close’s work draws attention to the more current issue of outmigration from rural communities in the Maritimes, while Heather Goodchild’s gory fairy tale Journey reads like a Margaret Atwood story. Though our ideas of authorship, gender roles, and gender itself have evolved, I’m left thinking about who the women who made the older rugs were, what their economic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds were, and whether the contemporary pieces reflect this evolution, or how much the same narratives of privilege, hidden work, and power dynamics play out in craft today.

    Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery:
    Home Economics continues until November 6.

    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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    The two solo exhibitions currently on display at Oakville Galleries contrast so dramatically that it’s probably for the best they are housed in geographically isolated venues. Down by the water, a crafty culmination of art historical references and cultural trawling manifests itself in stark black and white line drawings on the walls, a smattering of loosely anthropomorphic blobs on the floor, and plaster shapes strung mobile-like from the ceiling. Over in the city centre, there's a collection of obsessively entwined objects rendered abstract by brightly coloured yarn that stimulates the eye while obscuring any interior view. The first artist is well versed in the discourse of contemporary art and burdens his minimal illustrations with titles that draw on the language of conceptualism. The second leaves each of her thirty sculptures untitled and was considered an outsider artist in her early exhibitions (though that term isn’t used here).

    Judith Scott, Untitled, 1991, fibre and found objects

    Judith Scott was an American artist born with Down syndrome who only began her creative career at 44 after a lifetime spent in institutions. Through her participation in the Creative Growth Art Centre in California, she dedicated the last seventeen years of her life to a body of work that intrigues and delights as much as it perplexes. Each of her pieces is constructed from found objects wrapped in miles of coloured string. The end result hints at what’s inside, but this metamorphosis transcends any utilitarian origin and approaches the pure contemplation demanded by Modernist forms. Scott’s colour combinations engage the eye with intense patterns reminiscent of tropical marine life. They compliment the evidence of her labour, which speaks to the artist’s effort to fulfill a vision, to bring something to completion. Beneath the surface, each inaccessible core evokes a buried past, the unknowable noumenon, the truth that can only be intuited, that might not even be there.

    After I explain this to my wife on the drive back home, she asks whether I expect Scott to have even thought about such things. My answers include: 1) I don’t know, 2) Maybe on some level, 3) We’ll never know, 4) I don’t think it matters, and 5) I do think it matters but we can choose to also think it doesn’t matter at the same time. This last response leaves me churning over not just what I think about the work, but how I think about it. It’s a place I like to be as a critic.

    Zin Taylor, Thoughts of a Dot as it Traverses a Space (Honolulu desert plain), 2016, wall drawing (detail)

    Zin Taylor is a Canadian living in Paris who makes art built on a fascination with obscure cultural practitioners and the margins of creative life. The soundscape to his installation at the gallery’s waterfront location is supplied by a record player stacked with cottage industry psychedelia and broadcast through speakers boxed in patters of his own design. There’s a running thread through his room-spanning wall drawing that references the hippy era and the effortless (as in purposefully resisting effort) aesthetic of that anti-establishment sub-culture. His work is full of knowing winks and sly nods to artists of the 20th Century and it’s only with an awareness of these connections that the exhibition develops a greater depth.

    Taylor’s necessary knowingness in comparison to Scott’s assumed innocence provides the starkest contrast between these two artists. When combined with their differences in medium, dimensionality, tone, complexity, colour, gender, age, and background, it begins to feel like an intentional curatorial choice. Artistic intention is the inescapable obstacle of criticism and this pairing of artists sets the question front and centre. One has clear intentions that dominate his work; the other has powerful work undercut by the possibility her intentions fall far short of what the work accomplishes. Neither response is certain or even fair. There is a temptation to ignore everything but what’s immediately in view; however, that ideal of unadulterated experience has never been anything but a myth. I can’t not know what I know about these shows and that knowledge is essential to an appreciation of what they do, but how much it matters to both the artists and me is a question left hanging in the air. The answer provides a possible redemption of Taylor and diminishing of Scott, which is not the outcome I’m feeling. And yet to ignore such things does a disservice to their stories. Each artist’s identity hovers in the background of exhibitions that should have nothing to do with who they are, but I continue to churn over this as I make my way home.

    Oakville Galleries:
    Judith Scott continues until December 30.
    Zin Taylor: Five Units of Haze continues until December 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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    Winnipeg is not always an easy place to live and make work in. Some artists stick it out here while others pack their bags, taking a part of Winnipeg with them when they leave. Bill Kirby, former Winnipeg Art Gallery curator and the stalwart founder/director of the Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art, has been working on the Winnipeg Effect project as a means of highlighting the contributions of former and current Winnipeg artists to the national scene.

    Royal Art Lodge art and archival material from There’s More Than One Way

    Organized together with the CCCA Board of Directors, The Winnipeg Effect: Should I Stay or Should I Go? was a symposium that took place this past weekend to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the CCCA website. It was focused on the artists who have stayed in Winnipeg, those who have departed, and those who have chosen to relocate here. Broken into a series of panel discussions and shorter spotlight presentations, speakers included Robert Houle, Laura Letinsky, and Diana Thorneycroft, with topics ranging from the Grand Western Screen Shop, the relationship of punk music to Winnipeg’s 1980s art scene, and the concept of institutional generosity. Less of a critical reading and more of a good-natured romp through our last fifty years of art making, perhaps the most valuable aspect of the symposium was the chance to hear about some of Winnipeg’s art history straight from the mouths of its principal players. In a city where our history is based more on oral tradition than written culture, the work of the CCCA is an important contribution, especially to Winnipeg aficionados.

    As for related programming, the Special Collections Gallery in the University of Manitoba School of Art is exhibiting There’s More Than One Way: An overview of collective art making practices in Winnipeg, 1968 – NOW. Curated by Kegan McFadden (and – full disclosure – including work from my art collective), it highlights the Winnipeg art scene’s tendency toward collaboration through work and archival materials from General Idea, The Royal Art Lodge, and Places For Peanuts, among others.

    Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art:

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

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    The painfully impersonal assessment of crunched numbers was nowhere more in evidence than last night as the entire world watched chart after chart slowly tally millions of digits to declare the leader of the most dangerous country on the planet. While the scales tilted inexorably toward someone so flagrantly ill suited for the job he cranks the danger dial up to eleven, I tried to imagine every one of those hundreds of thousands of votes for the red side as a flesh and blood human who I could perhaps understand and even reason with. But the numbers kept coming until all I could see was a graphic map slowly filling with colour. And the more I saw one colour, the more my heart dropped, the angrier I got, the less hope I had, and the less I understood. The numbers kept coming and they were endlessly debated, but somewhere buried beneath them were real people. Those lives – along with those of us on the rest of the planet who had to helplessly stand by as the disaster unfolded – were about to be changed in ways that no one can predict except to say it doesn’t look good.

    Richard Ibghy & Marilou Lemmens, Real GDP per Capita and Share of Global Population (2011), 2016, wood

    My visit to the current exhibition at YYZ Artists Outlet had, in a sense, prepared me for such a graphic display of pessimistic outcomes. Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmens’ wooden translations of statistical results do a good job of heightening one’s suspicion that dismal results are often hidden in visually appealing simplifications. Their models are elegant tabletop renderings of such significant data sets as Income Inequality in the United States (1910-2010) and Wage Growth Across Percentiles for Full-Time Workers. Each one uses line, colour, and shape to describe a movement or capture a contrast from one field to the next. Freed from context they resemble maquettes for sculptures inspired by the kind of Modernist abstraction that leans to hard edges and geometric arrangement. There’s even a touch of Minimalism in them as they reduce all information to the barest of elements and leave a lot of space within their composition for, one hopes, contemplation. However, as in those art historical styles, there is a coldness to their calculated expression that strikes one as inhuman and maybe even a little oppressive.

    Richard Ibghy & Marilou Lemmens, Disparities in Access to Care for Selected Groups, 2016, wood, coloured gel

    The clinical objectivity of the statistical analysis is presented here as the corollary to the rigorous refining of Modernism’s pursuit of essences and truth. And just as the latter became a dominant narrative that excluded a polyphony of expression, the former eliminates lived experience in the creation of images that profess to capture the truth. Thankfully, Ibghy and Lemmens resist any urge to sculpt in steel and wire. Their frail wood dowels and loosely hung coloured string, combined with the handwritten titles on tape that label each work, undercut the authority of these charts by being constructed in a handcrafted manner. They are only models like model airplanes, and as such not to be taken literally. Mistaking the model for the real thing has long been a key to deception and if we’re going to navigate the next four years of a US president who already proven himself an unparalleled liar, then we’re going to have pay close attention to the difference.

    YYZ Artists Outlet:
    Richard Ibghy & Marilou Lemmens: Drawing Rainbows in Unequal Air continues until December 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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    Calgary seems to be between exhibitions at the moment, so I took a walk over to the +15 public gallery space in Art Commons. I was happy to find a single channel video titled Wake Up! by emerging filmmaker Jessie Short installed in Untitled Contemporary Art’s window space and co-presented by M:ST Performative Arts Festival and the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers. It’s usually too easy to walk past video works in this over-lit public thoroughfare, but this piece stopped me and few others in our tracks. The work is confrontational – a straight on shot of the artist’s face, directly at eye-level, peering out from the blackened commercial window – and demands attention.

    Jessie Short, Wake Up!, 2015, video

    Over the course of about six minutes Short slowly and earnestly transforms herself into one of the only widely known Metis icons: Louis Riel. Hair is styled into an old-fashioned man-bob, a three-piece suit is worn, and a self-consciously fake moustache is applied. As the artist tries to keep the clearly uncomfortable and totally ridiculous facial hair from falling off, the likeness to Riel emerges. By embodying one of the only signifiers of Metis identity available to her, Short highlights a type of historical drag that points up the dearth of Metis representation in Canadian culture. The begrudging transformation into Riel also powerfully draws attention to the way in which historical representation differs between Metis women and Metis men.

    Wake Up! reminds me of iconic single channel video art from the 1970s in that it is deeply rooted in a performative practice and addresses issues of identity. That said, it treads this territory in a way that is freshly challenging and complex. I was sorry to miss Short’s durational sash weaving performance at the Famous Five Monument as part of the M:ST Performative Arts Festival. Lucky for me another of her videos is playing as part of the Femme Wave Festival on November 18 at the HIFi Club and there is a reception for the +15 piece on November 17.

    Untitled Contemporary Art:
    Jesse Short: Wake Up! continues until November 30.

    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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    On the drive over to the Artscape Youngplace, I listened to Donald Trump announce that he was planning to deport a couple million ("maybe three million") undocumented immigrants as soon as he takes power. I wasn’t surprised that he'd start with this instead of taking on trade deals with China. Both were promised to his supporters, but it’s easier to deal with the powerless. People who move across borders out of necessity get to see the worst of both worlds; however, in doing so, they also often reveal something greater. The overlap between artists and displaced people has a long history. They were called exiles or expats in the past and created art that reflected a nomadic existence. “Immigrant” has become the common epithet for the present and it is routinely used as a term of condemnation. Exhibitions that address this identity-in-transition set themselves up against the racism and xenophobia that has become more and more unapologetic in recent years. Two are currently on display in this former school located deep in the heart of a multicultural city that has long been home to wave upon wave of newcomers.

    José Luis Torres, à fleur de peau, 2016, faux fur, fabric (from Yonder at Koffler Gallery)

    To do justice to each of the particular narratives behind each of the sixteen artists, duos, and collectives in Koffler Gallery’s Yonder exhibition would require lessons in history, biography, politics, religion, and plumbing. Part of the process of navigating the gallery (and the parts of the exhibition that extend throughout the building into staircases, onto windows, and up to the ceiling) involves getting to know the context for each work. This weighs the exhibition down in didactic panels that explain the specifics of language, reference, and props, but it also makes things more personal as it reveals each of the artists’ own stories. Rafael Goldchain’s photographs are the story of his journey to Toronto as much as they are a document of similarity and difference across three continents. Brendan Fernandes’ videos are about his past as a dancer as much as they are about deforming ourselves to alien traditions. Divya Mehra’s text panels hint at her own politics as much as they play semiotic games. Once you accept the required intimacy, any assessment of the art on display takes a back seat to getting to know where it’s coming from, which makes for a far more compelling lesson on how to fight the forces of hate than any account of the merits of individual works.

    Luis Jacob, The Lookout, 2016, digital print on vinyl (from Yonder at Koffler Gallery)

    The optimism of Yonder is not as evident in Crossing the Line, an exhibition of contemporary Danish art gathered together at Critical Distance by local curator Earl Miller. The European perspective on migration is complicated by starker divisions between purportedly homogeneous nations opening themselves up to people from elsewhere (not to mention former colonial nations dealing with post-colonial realities). Alongside stories of migration (for example, in Jens Hanning’s portrait of a first-generation refugee in Denmark) is the troubling mirror image of the immigrant in the form of the privileged tourist (care of Stine Marie Jaocbsen’s clothes swapping snapshots), but the most assumption-puncturing work on display is one that concerns international adoption. Jane Jin Kaisen was born in South Korea and then adopted by a Danish family. The one photo and accompanying book documenting her fabricated inversion of that convention (whereby an Asian-American couple adopt a Danish girl) cuts right to the heart of the prejudices that terminally divide us. Instead of representing the experience of the person at risk of being deported, it forces us to face our own complicity in allowing such ostracism to occur.

    Koffler Gallery:
    Yonder continues until November 27.

    Critical Distance:
    Crossing the Line: Contemporary Art from Denmark continues until December 11.

    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 third in a series of exhibitions produced by Jaimie Isaac, the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Curatorial Resident of Indigenous & Contemporary Art, Boarder X is what one might deem a “passion project.” Isaac spent much of her youth skateboarding and snowboarding, and in more recent years has been an active participant in the national Indigenous art scene as a curator, artist, and member of The Ephemerals art collective (of which I am, full disclosure, also a member). As such, the exhibition is significant for Isaac on a personal level, but it is also notable original programming for the WAG, which has struggled to adequately engage with First Nations and Metis art, artists, and audiences in the past. Isaac’s residency (which will hopefully become a permanent appointment) has engendered some optimism toward the gallery’s commitment to diverse communities and the curators who explore these spheres.

    Jordan Bennett, Guidelines, The Basket Ladies (detail), 2014, carving with ink on wood and video installation.

    Boarder X explores of our relationships to land and water by highlighting seven Indigenous artists working in a variety of media who also skate, snowboard, or surf. At a moment when the events at Standing Rock and elsewhere have brought questions of Indigenous sovereignty, water, and land rights to the forefront, this exhibition proves to be especially timely and effectively introduces its dialogue through an approachable pop culture format. Skateboarding-inspired artworks by Jordan Bennett and Mark Igloliorte hold a particular appeal for youth and a halfpipe was built in the WAG’s limestone-clad Eckhardt Hall for the exhibition’s opening reception. Local skateboarders flocked to the gallery and stood beside members of Winnipeg’s Indigenous community to watch boarders grind along the edges of a skateable miniature reproduction of the WAG building. For an exhibition that examines skate, surf, and snowboard culture as “vehicles to challenge conformity and status quo,” Boarder X crosses borders as its name suggests, attempting to subvert not only a mainstream mindset but push for inclusion and representation within the art establishment itself.

    The Winnipeg Art Gallery:
    Boarder X continues until April 23.

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

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    At the risk of being reductive, I can't help but think of the work currently on display at Clint Roenisch Gallery without taking into account the artists' identities. Just as I approached Theaster Gates’ recent show at the AGO in terms of his being Black in America and considered the context of Judith Scott's disability in her Oakville Galleries retrospective, I wonder about the condition of being a white male mid-career artist when I look at the recent creations of Kristan Horton and David Armstrong Six. The privileged position of an assumed all-inclusive p.o.v. has slowly been pried from the fingers of such dudes and, in a moment when long silenced voices of other experiences demand our attention, the dominant figures of centuries past are now left with the question of what they even have to say. It’s a minor problem (and one overshadowed by the fact that old white guys still wield an immense amount of power), but I appreciate their struggle to make meaningful art when a particular kind of authority has been willingly checked.

    Kristan Horton

    In the recent results of his career-long pursuit of making and meaning, Horton resorts to the one universal that still remains: consumer goods. He takes packaging from food, cigarettes, candy, and possibly art supplies, strips it of its identifying characteristics, and subjects it to a rigorous system of categorization and recombination. Roenisch showed me the three-ring binder that houses the instructions, but I could see enough in the patterned panels that lined the gallery walls. Pattern identification is one of the fundamental steps of coming to understand the world and Horton’s grids of salvaged box tops and lid flaps struck me as nothing less than a desperate attempt to make order out of the onslaught of stuff that fills our lives. It’s also an obsessive endeavour and as such a luxury for those who have time to aestheticize what might otherwise be shelter or kindling. As with any garbage art, it implies our inevitable death and these decorative surfaces are reminiscent of any number of past empires in decline that are known to us now only as artefacts.

    David Armstrong Six

    Armstrong Six takes a similar path through our accumulated debris (the pairing of the two artists was more serendipitous than planned according to Roenisch), but preserves it in plaster sculptures that also harken back to ruins from fallen civilizations. Rather than patterns, he seeks balance, stacking chunks of moulded food containers on top of hunks of plaster-cast rubber boots and branching out with shards of scraps (and a yam). On one level they reference the most basic (at one time, I would have said “primitive”) impulse to create, the feeling that drives bored souls to stack stones on a beach. On another, they hint at more refined, rarefied – shall we say “Modern”? – inclinations, but Armstrong Six’s ever present sense of humour (a plastic fork remains in the mould of one yogurt cup, the aforesaid yam) undercuts the pretension to mastery and leaves the artist as just another striver trying to make his materials behave.

    Clint Roenisch Gallery:
    Kristan Horton & David Armstrong Six: If By Dull Rhymes continues until December 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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  • 11/23/16--07:10: Hybrid Objects at L'Inconnue
  • With the loss of Donald Browne Gallery and the emptying out of the tired Belgo building, it’s nice to see a new generation of commercial galleries popping up around Montreal. Amongst the presently notorious restaurants and cafes of a gentrifying St Henri, L’Inconnue, run by Leila Greiche, just opened its shop-front space on rue Notre Dame. Hybrid Objects is Greiche’s inaugural exhibition and features a collection of works by Canadian artists who are based outside of the country and whose practices all loosely play with the concept of painting.

    Corin Sworn, Meditation Generators (courtesy: Koppe Astner & the artist)

    The exhibition as a whole looks great in the space. The works are a combination of sculpture and painting, and vary in style and approach. Adrianne Rubenstein’s colourful and roughly painted broccoli florets are the antithesis of Hanna Hur’s gentle and delicate diamond grid on linen. Similarly Hur’s copper floorwork Venus, schlumped with a conflicted air of tenderness and carelessness on the floor, contrasts nicely against Alex Morrison’s more structured and playful sculptures. Chris Dorland’s dark and densely layered digital Scanner paintings explore ideas of the sublime in a completely different way than Zin Taylor, who approaches the same idea through a dreamy painting series titled A Stripe of Thought Navigating a Void of Haze made by pressing pigments and misting diluted inks through and on cotton screens. From another part of the room Corin Sworn’s monochrome paintings made with silk and natural dye lac resonate back to Taylor’s paintings since both series are based on how the materials used react and “converse” with one another.

    Hybrid Objects sits lightly and cohesively within this new space, but occupies a broad and ranging spectrum of approach, both formal and conceptual. It’s definitely worth refreshing your circuit and adding L’Inconnue to the list of galleries worth checking out in Little Burgundy and St Henri.

    Hybrid Objects continues until December 17.

    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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    Since September, the Western Front’s former box office and reading room has been transformed into a temporary exhibition space for TERMINAL, a series of four installations each addressing a single-user interface or device that artists have taken up in their material vocabularies. The first iteration looked at poetry written with and for the computer. The second installation is now on display and it positions the Commodore Amiga, one of the first home computers with graphic and sound capabilities, as instrumental in beginning to see the computer as a tool for creative output.

    Mark Pelligrino, G.I.R.L., 2012

    A digital painting by Barry Doupé, animation by Mark Pellegrino, and Marisa Olson’s “gilded” Amiga from her Time Capsuleseries are shown in the small physical space. Olson’s “Midas touch” treatment of an actual Amiga 500 expresses both adulation for and the death of a once useful object. The Amiga was the turning point for attitudes around the “personal computer” and Pellegrino’s G.I.R.L. shows how personal a computer can become by portraying a BBS community whose sexual perversities thrived on the anonymity provided by this early instance of social media.

    Videos by Amy Lockhart and Doupé are viewable online. All the animations in TERMINAL 2.0 transmit a quality of strangeness when you see what exactly can be done with such limited processing capacity. Lockhart’s Amiga Shorts are a succession of scatological and surreal vignettes. All of their rich bizarreness is gained from the quaint graphics. Doupé fifteen-second Vhery approaches the visual bounce of Oskar Fischinger, but is updated to suit the distracted gaze of a contemporary computer user.

    Beyond an appeal to techno-nostalgia, this series provides a highly concentrated viewing experience of work made with humble technological means. However, users aren’t inclined to slow down our capacity to intake as much information as possible. Billed as a “multi-media” machine, Amiga may have been the first step towards generations of multitaskers and technocratic go-getters. By focusing on single-user interfaces and low-fi technologies, Terminal pushes softly against our feeble attention spans and overly ambitious “processing capabilities.”

    Western Front:
    TERMINAL 2.0: Graphical User Interface continues until January 7.

    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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