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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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    You don’t have to be that old to remember a time before smartphones, but they have become so pervasive that even a temporary glitch in their operations becomes traumatic. My iPhone recently refused to power up and I lost the ability to tell time, set an alarm, figure out what temperature to dress for, communicate with my family, do my work, listen to music, take pictures, and keep up with my reading. All that stuff used to happen in real life (aka IRL) and left barely a trace, but now it happens through myriad contracts I’ve made with faceless companies who’ve set rules of engagement that I didn’t even think about reading. In exchange for the ease with which I can do any number of things at the swipe of a finger, I’ve semi-consciously agreed to be harvested for information that is used, presumably, to improve my experience but also to direct advertising to my attention, to quantify my behaviour, to track my movements, and to make me even more reliant on the thing that I now feel naked without.

    Ronnie Clarke, READING TOGETHER

    As a reminder of all that privacy I’ve relinquished, curator Tak Pham (in partnership with the Images Festival) has assembled a virtual private network (VPN) of four artists who turn surveillance back on itself in the group exhibition VPN to IRL at Xpace. The first piece by Tommy Truong requires a QR code reader to activate it (which is one app I’ve successfully resisted), but when I accessed the associated website at home, it told me everything it knew about my laptop and then casually mentioned the camera embedded in the screen right in front of me. I’ve since stuck a piece of tape over it and suffered through a series of flashbacks to that episode of Black Mirror where the teenager is blackmailed in increasingly sadistic ways because he was caught perusing something he shouldn’t by hackers who gained control of his computer.

    The degree to which our portable devices control us physically – or, at least, influence our movement through space – is delightfully dramatized in Ronnie Clarke’s lo-fi VR piece READING TOGETHER. It is the best example of a contemporary artist using virtual reality technology I’ve experienced to date because it reduces the medium to its basics in order to reveal its essence rather than fetishize its futuristic cool factor. When you don the cardboard mask taped to a smartphone (I said it was lo-fi), you have to crane your neck and rotate your body to read the text piece within. As you dance around, you’re supposed to read the instructions aloud so whoever you’re with can perform alongside you. This communication and disconnect between the two (or more) of you is a relational piece that also functions as a performance for anyone else in the gallery to enjoy. Clarke is so smart because she makes the viewer the work and elicits a collaboration (though you could also call it a manipulation or even an exploitation depending on how you’re feeling about technology that day) that you discover as you do it.

    Elsewhere in the gallery, Sophia Oppel’s clear acrylic panels jut into and hover over spaces you’d normally move through. Texts cut in them remind you of how the public sphere has become a matrix of information gathering that relies on our peripheral awareness and presupposed acquiescence. As one piece has it: “You give consent by entering the establishment." Opposite this is a series of photographs by Marlon Kroll of people being watched taken from films about people watching. The identity of person and place has been withheld (though some might recognize scenes from paranoid classics like The Conversation and Rear Window). The message regarding visibility, invisibility, and the blurring of the two is loud and clear.

    Mehrnaz Rohbakhsh, Mapping Time: Harmonic Studies for Vera Rubin

    In the back is a separate installation by Mehrnaz Rohpakhsh with the weighty title Mapping Time: Harmonic Studies for Vera Rubin. Depending on how you feel about higher math, it challenges you to appreciate loosely hung grids of graph paper covered in dense calculations and faint pencil sketches. The mathematical phenomena illustrated here are less visual than conceptual and the appropriate receptors for them dwell in the recesses of your brain. I felt the tug on unfamiliar (perhaps absent) parts of my intellect inviting me to consider the elegance lying within these figures. The numbers were beyond me, but I found comfort in the slowly shifting drone that in some way relates to the formulae and has come to represent the fundamental dynamic of the universe: nebulous, changing, but without a centre or progression. The churchy feel of the space is apt because this is a room in which to worship the laws of physics, to appreciate the firmament that lies beyond our ken (except for the studied and adept), but which we secular types have faith in because it means there is some order to our world. That, like all church-going, provides some comfort, and after the doubts experienced in the adjoining exhibition, comfort is welcome.

    Xpace Cultural Centre:
    VPN to IRL continues until April 29
    Mehrnaz Rohbakhsh: Mapping Time: Harmonic Studies for Vera Rubin continues until April 29.

    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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    Painter Alexis Lavoie’s exhibition Faits divers at Galerie d’Art d’Outremont is disturbing and ambitious. He poses urgent questions about how images cross a threshold from virtual spaces for mere entertainment to tightly controlled ones for the promotion of national cultures. Hung in a broken line on a curved wall, the first of three series includes forty-two small paintings set side-by-side, in pairs, or clustered to read like an ECG dangerously close to flat-lining. Lavoie says the works convey “threat or menace” and a “quest for happiness.” These qualities are mingled in a painting of a smiling teenaged boy making a suicide vlog and a pair of canvases that place a clown with bulging eyes over a bound man in a black suit. The boy is taken from a Larry Clark film and the man appears in a source image with a gun held to his neck by an ISIS assassin. Lavoie leaves out these contextual details and invites us to fit together the broken parts of a whole lot of (heart)breaking news.

    Alexis Lavoie, Faits divers (installation view)

    The imagery reminds me of a story neurophysiologist Oliver Sacks tells about watching a Ronald Reagan speech with patients suffering from aphasia or agnosia. The aphasics thought Reagan was a bad actor. The patients with agnosia thought he was incoherent. Reflecting on Sacks’s anecdote, philosopher Brian Massumi attributes Reagan’s unlikely political success to a “mime-effect” that united his “gestural idiocy and verbal incoherence” in a resonant TV image. For Massumi, Reagan’s hypnotic jerks, veers, and fumbles anticipated a coming age of virtual images as affecting as they are incoherent.

    Signs of this spastic mime’s art pepper Lavoie’s world. Another American “Ronald” is pictured with his villainous sidekicks Grimace and Hamburglar. Colonel Sanders appears as a meditative floating head on a bucket. Quebec’s Carnival mascot Bonhomme and his childhood friend Santa Claus loom in several of the paintings near vulnerable women and children. Lavoie turns down the volume on these patriarchs of American cultural imperialism and Quebec folklore, and calls attention to the emotional tones of images used to sell things, to commemorate juvenile pranks, and to mark chilling expressions of cultural identity.

    In one of the exhibition’s most troubling moments, Lavoie offers a pair of trophy pictures – one based on a viral news image of a hanged gay Iranian man; the other showing a teenager beaming in front of a passed-out friend whose face is covered with Sharpie doodles. In these two paintings, humiliation is cast as an instrument of cultural politics and as a benign boyhood rite of passage. Lavoie suggests that the practice of shaming, whether at the gallows in Tehran or in suburban basements is endemic to our increasingly globalized visual culture.

    Alexis Lavoie, Station 3

    The remaining series (Station and Jardin) feature imperfectly recalled halcyon days with friends in studio or collections of objects arranged by the artist outdoors. These larger works are cautiously hopeful counterpoints to the agonized televisual or online present depicted in the smaller paintings. In Station 1 a naked couple is shown tangled up in front of a wilted plant. As with many of Lavoie’s paintings, the action and the models are ambiguous. The love-locked pair is caught somewhere between clumsy foreplay and post-copulative collapse. In Station 3 the lovers are held at a distance, blinded and feeling around for each other. One is buried under a party hat and a wreath of balloons while the other is in pieces, either emerging from or disappearing into a bruised wall. The Jardin paintings look like messy trailer park lawns or ransacked stage sets. In Jardin 3 an astronaut’s helmet sits ingloriously beside a beer bottle and a gravestone fitted with an American flag.

    Lavoie’s exhibition opens with pictures of disenchantment and ends with darkly romantic adventures in studio and carefully planted objects in post-apocalyptic gardens. His rogue’s gallery beckons from some dark place between an abyss of cheap consumer thrills and a promise of something more.

    Galerie d’Art d’Outremont:
    Alexis Lavoie: Faits divers continues until April 30.

    Tammer El-Sheikh is a writer and teacher based in Montreal. His art criticism has appeared in Parachute, Canadian Art, ETC and C Magazine.

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    For a cosmopolitan city, Toronto doesn’t have a cosmopolitan art scene. However, efforts to exhibit work that reflects the diversity of the city continue to be made. One such example is the recently opened Matter Gallery. Zack Pospieszynski, formerly chief of Morrow Avenue’s Peak Gallery, and Lara Sinclair Morton have gone all out by establishing a local gallery without any local artists. Instead, they take it upon themselves to bring the world, particularly under-represented parts of the globe, to Toronto. The irony is that the uncommon places from which their artists originate are also locales the city is most hungry to hear from and, in fact, already part of the local scene for those who traverse our internal divisions. That said, for many, visiting the gallery will be like discovering a door in a cramped apartment that opens onto a whole suite of additional rooms.

    Malekeh Nayiny, A Ruin From The Past, 2007, Chromogenic print

    Here Forward, Matter’s first exhibition, is an introduction to the stable of artists they’ve assembled. The coming year will feature solo exhibitions by each in turn so we can get a better sense of what they are all about. Tehran-born and Paris-based photographer Malekeh Nayiny will be first up with her Contact Photography Festival exhibition in May. Her slightly surreal scenarios are reminiscent of Janieta Eyre’s compositions and combine masks, patterned fabric, and vibrant colours to fold storytelling into cultural commentary in a way that feels strangely familiar.

    Turkish photographer Aydin Büyüktas plays the fantasy card as well – though with a distinctly different tone – with his Photoshopped urban landscapes that warp bird’s eye views into horizontal perspectives in the widescreen and densely detailed shots we’ve seen from Edward Burtynsky and Andreas Gursky. Büyüktas comes off a bit gimmicky and still needs to figure out why he’s shooting what he’s shooting, but the potential to match his masterful digital manipulations with the appropriate content holds a lot of promise.

    Photographs from South African artist Siwa Mgoboza are also included (and can be found in Toronto’s Wedge Collection), though they only represent part of his practice. His other skills are evident in the crazy-dense costume worn in a portrait that speaks to a playful and dramatic engagement with identity and its construction as both a camouflage and a display of power. You should mark his exhibition in October on your calendar right away.

    The Nest Collective, First Command, 2014, C-print

    You might also want to check out the exhibition in August from The Nest Collective if only to see what they end up installing. They are represented in the current exhibition by a pair of obscure photographs, but a bookwork that’s also available in the gallery might suggest something more concrete about their concerns. It details the experience of queer Kenyans (whose mere existence is so threatening that the contributors’ names have to be redacted in order to protect them). The Nairobi-based self-described “small army of makers, thinkers, and believers” works with films, visual arts, music, and fashion to express something of African identity in all its power and its privation.

    The final two artists – Gözde Ilkin from Turkey and Simon Back from Zimbabwe – are more conventional in terms of medium. She uses found fabric, embroidery, and paint to create scenes that emphasize physical contortions and bodily combinations that could illustrate a particularly disturbing children’s story. He makes large abstract paintings that reduce the landscape to basics of line, shape, and colour. I can’t be sure how much there is there, so I’m withholding judgement until I get to see some more. As with all new things, time will tell.

    Lastly, and since we’re on the topic of geography, Matter happens to be part of a northward shift in the city’s art map and one of three spaces staking their claim on the literally “wrong side of the tracks” Geary Avenue (the other two are Public Studio’s just announced new home/venue and an unconfirmed artist-run centre). Ridiculous real estate prices are obviously to blame, but such frontier-pushing relocations also serve to send the visual art community out of the city’s core and hopefully further into the outer limits of the 6ix where difference and diversity are now the new normal.

    Matter Gallery:
    Here Forward continues until April 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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    Kate MacDonald and Emma Paulson’s collaborative work as The Magic Project may happen largely in a time and space beyond the walls of galleries, but for the month of April their photos are lighting up Alteregos Café on Gottingen Street. The Magic Project Presents: A Collection of Photography is a portrait of their intersecting queer and Black communities in Halifax. The duo have brought together photographers like Joy Tagboto, Chudi Harris, and Helena Darling to document folks in large groups, pairs embracing, and solo portraits that beam out from the back wall over the crowd of coffee drinkers chattering across to one another from their separate tables.

    Joy Tagboto, from series Black Girls are Magic

    Alteregos is usually a café and hostel, but at night it turns into a dance space hosting some of the warmest and most welcoming parties in the neighbourhood. This was an important factor in choosing the venue for this exhibition. In a city rife with racial and class issues, it is one of very few businesses that has actively sought to integrate itself into the communities of the north end since opening up decades ago.

    Sunshine beams in the big windows and onto the multitude of photographs exhibited salon-style that reach up to the ceiling. Some are large, glossy prints, some are as small as Polaroids, but all are beautifully shot portraits that encapsulate the style and strength of their subjects.

    Paulson and MacDonald reinforce the integrity of marginalized communities in Halifax by presenting them in photographs and sharing the images as widely as possible. Starting with a photo shoot of Black women and femmes, they worked with their photographers and models to showcase a strong front of solidarity and visibility. The result, Black Girls are Magic, was inspired by a desire to fight the feeling of being squashed further into the fear brought on last year by Trump and his long cast shadow. Since then the duo have continued to organize photo shoots, open discussions, and dance performances aiming to amplify the presence of people of color and queers on the front lines of radical existence in Nova Scotia.

    Alteregos Café:
    The Magic Project Presents: A Collection of Photography continues until April 30.

    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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    Your gut reaction isn't necessarily the best indication of the worth of an artwork. Some people have well-calibrated guts that are almost always on the mark. Others, not so much and they learn to do the opposite of what everyone tells them: don't trust your gut. When you consult your gut about a person, you're usually concerned with ethics, that is, whether that person can be trusted. When your gut pipes up in response to a painting, you’re dealing with a matter of taste – your taste – and while you might, as the cliché goes, “know what you like,” there also comes a time when you have to explain why you like what you hate or hate what you like. Some artists invite that queasy negotiation and others stumble into it. One of the two artists currently enjoying solo exhibitions at Oakville Galleries applies the former strategy, while the other succumbs to the latter judgement.

    Sojourner Truth Parsons, Papa and the fruit (no dad), 2016, canvas, acrylic, glue, glitter, Flashe, sand on canvas (photo: Toni Hafkenscheid)

    Sojourner Truth Parsons’ paintings are hard to love and this is because there is so much blatantly lovable in them. There are poodles and bright colours, hair bows and glitter, nail polish and lavender essence. But none of that is stuff you’re supposed to like like. It’s not serious. At the same time, there’s a desultory aspect to their collective impact. Some are Pop Art, others abstract. There’s a monochrome black painting and one decorated with found objects encrusted with acrylic. Just as the content dares the viewer to experience pleasure, the formal elements resist any attempt to stake an interest. A major part of the challenge presented by these massive canvases is that they’re purposefully superficial paintings that leave you wondering how deeply you should consider them. It’s a gambit that contrarians like Jay Isaac and Elizabeth Peyton have used and it goes all the way back to Andy Warhol and Notes on Camp. You miss the point if you dismiss them as lightweight and don’t get it if you look for more than surface.

    When I’ve seen them individually in the past (at the last Toronto Art Fair, for example), their appeal has always befuddled me. Gathering them en mass just steps away from this affluent lakeside suburb’s high end shopping strip might just have been a curatorial coup given that they were created, from what I hear, predominantly in Los Angeles, where water, wealth, and West Coast cool collide. It also gives you the opportunity to deal with the likes of I hate sex, Every shit you take, and Crying in California all in the same room. I wouldn’t call the experience compelling because that would imply some clear sense of purpose, and these paintings are far too coy to take up that posture. Let’s just call them intriguing and continue to maintain the sort of distance they work so craftily to elicit.

    Cosima von Bonin, left: THE BONIN/OSWALD EMPIRE’S NOTHING #05 (CVB’S SANS CLOTHING. MOST RISQUÉ. I’D BE DELIGHTED & MVO’S ORANGE HERMIT CRAB ON OFF-WHITE TABLE), 2010, Mohair velour, polyfill, styroplast, brass; right: BIKINI II (GHOST VERSION), 2011, cotton (photo: Toni Hafkenscheid)

    Whereas Parsons’ paintings left me unexpectedly and, I would argue, intentionally in a pleasantly displeasing critical lurch, the installations by Cosima von Bonin (the artist exhibiting at the other Oakville space) promised inspired intellection on the nature-culture divide but disappointed due to an underinflated conceptualism that failed to bring her soft sculptures and knick-knack clusters to the surface. There is an easy appeal in using giant stuffed sea creatures to draw out our human-centric projections on the animal kingdom, but the German artist lacks the kind of discursive friction that someone like Mike Kelley added to turn cute and cuddly into caustic and cutting. That might not be her thing, but after an afternoon spent amongst her creations, I’m not sure she even has a thing. If she does, it’s most evident in her billowing giant bikini that evokes a landscape, a face, a sailboat, a laundry line, an immense bathing suit (and the immense bather who wears it), and the list goes on. This work I like. And I like that I like it. I feel it in my gut.

    Oakville Galleries:
    Sojourner Truth Parsons: Holding Your Dog at Night continues until May 28.
    Cosima von Bonin: Who’s Exploiting Who in the Deep Sea? Continues until May 28.

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

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    One of the unlikeliest of activist organizations in this city is FLAP - the Fatal Light Awareness Program. While most injustices are intentional or obvious, the adversity these folks fight against is inadvertent and easily overlooked. Their volunteers wake before dawn each day and scour the pavement beneath Toronto's downtown towers to recover the bodies of all the birds that crash into those skyscraping glass facades at night. Each year they display the remains in a mandala made from a couple thousand corpses. There’s an unavoidable disconnect in seeing it or hearing about how common this problem is because the actual injuries are rarely witnessed. Local sculptor David Contstantino Salazar provides a remedy with his finely detailed clay sparrows frozen at the moment of impact. They are beautiful in craft and character (is there anything more poetic than a bird in flight?), but tragic in circumstance (though it’s a stupid tragedy with nothing noble about it). They are kind of perfect and remind me of Cai Guo-Qiang’s powerful taxidermy installations, but I can’t imagine having one in my house because it would break my heart each time I passed by.

    David Constantino Salazar, Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control, 2017, oil-based clay

    These broken birds unquestionably fulfill the titular mandate in Sur Gallery’s current group exhibition Strike a Chord. While their relationship to the body collectors of Bay Street might be coincidental, their impact is rooted in how they highlight the innumerable everyday losses that we can either accept as natural or do our best to resist. The four participating artists were brought together by curator Tamara Toledo in this venue dedicated to Latin American art practices with the theme of resistance to unite them. Salazar’s contribution is the most conventionally artistic, but it serves as a loud and clear metaphor for the danger in doing nothing – be it in terms of the environment, urban affairs, or global politics as a whole. If it weren’t for FLAP, we’d let the massacre of these animals go on unabated.

    Julieta Maria, Limpia, 2013, digital video

    Julieta Maria's video Embrace combines tragedy and guilt in a similar way and then throws in a bit of cruelty. Made in 2012, four years before Jonathas de Andrade’s strikingly similar video O peixe (The Fish) (now on view just down the street at The Power Plant), this single shot image of the artist holding a fish as it slowly suffocates is a stark reminder of our relationship with non-human animals, the power we wield over them, and the damage we cause. Maria's stance is intentionally ambivalent so as to invite a moral debate within the viewer rather than take up a position against them. Her other video on display, Limpia, further explores our animal nature as it depicts the artist's mother emulating the behaviour of many other species when she cleans her offspring with her tongue. There is an intimacy between the two, but it is based in obligation as much as affection. The licking is a job to be done and it’s the mother’s responsibility to do it.

    Of the remaining artists, Claudia Bernal has set up an installation of drawings, gravel, and objects that she will animate tonight (May 4) in a performance. Coco Guzman will also produce a live drawing. Without seeing them, it’s hard to say how they fit in, but given what’s already in place, I expect something that makes demands on both the heart and mind. For obvious reasons, the present feels like a moment of political crisis and it’s essential to have exhibitions like this that engage our moral being and connect us to the world we love and are at risk of ruining. It is beautiful and tragic to behold.

    Sur Gallery:
    Strike a Chord continues until June 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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    Several recent exhibitions have addressed Nanaimo as a harbour city, a nexus of resource extraction, trade and labour stories. Awi'nagwiskasu: Real Land, Marianne Nicolson’s solo-exhibition at the Nanaimo Art Gallery, adds to that trajectory with a precise handful of mixed-media works that attend to water as an essential referent in illuminating political and social geographies.

    Marianne Nicolson, Untitled, 2017, video

    Widzotłants gwayułalatł? Where Are We Going...What Is to Become of Us? from 2007 is a large etched-glass pane suspended from the ceiling that depicts plant life, animals, and humans caught in a weir. The weir is a site for controlled fishing, but it also functions philosophically as a symbol of balanced relationships and an awareness of how resources can potentially be abused if one is not mindful of how they are reaped. These pictographs form the frame for a black and white photo-transfer of elders from Nicolson’s childhood. As sunlight shines through it, the shadow of this plane is projected onto the polished concrete floor. Standing with the large glass over my head and its shadow beneath my feet evokes being under water, while the frame of the composition refers to the boundary of the weir.

    Another piece that incorporates glass is an illuminated pointed-arch window recessed into a wall in the main space titled Always the New Day Dawns. A blue light maneuvers behind the window to mimic changing water levels. It shows a young girl surrounded by the symbols of two worlds – heaven and earth, Christian and Kwakwaka’wakw worlds, historical turmoil and present resilience. This work does not bury itself in symbolism though. The complicated convergence of motifs is a resistance to historical erasure, yet Nicolson’s choice in using coloured light and sophisticated technology gives further depth to her ongoing consideration of the past within the present.

    Nanaimo Art Gallery:
    Marianne Nicolson: Awi'nagwiskasu: Real Land continues until July 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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    If anyone ever gets on your case or in your face about how arts funding is a waste of money, it’s worth pointing out that one thing artists in this country have learned to be good at is stretching a buck. From wet-behind-the-ears emerging artists to the oldest institutions in the land (and particularly those scrappy artist-run organizations that manage to survive one year to the next), the art community is (almost) always efficient, frugal, and responsible with their money. And it’s amazing what they accomplish on so little. There are long running festivals whose yearly operating budget is about the same as a single luncheon for a mega-billing consulting firm. Add in the economic return on those invested dollars and you make every other government subsidy look like grift in comparison.

    Krista Belle Stewart, Sim-real/very, 2015, jacquard weaving with Ruth Scheuing (photo: Yuula Benivolski)

    It’s not just the publicly funded operatives that demonstrate this financial acumen. There is a long tradition of exhibition venues too new or little or independent or whatever to dip into the taxpayer’s pocket and so they go it alone. Or, in the case of Toronto’s fresh-faced Franz Kaka project space, they… or rather, he (as in gallery director Aryen Hoekstra) does it by partnering up with another equally inspired visionary – in this case, Kevin Boothe’s Towards Gallery– and they alternate months to present the artists they deem worthy of presenting.

    Nestled in the basement of a studio building near the railway tracks just west of Lansdowne, this modest venue is reminiscent of any number of equally unlikely spaces that crop up over the years in a healthy city of culture. Some survive for a while; others disappear after one exhibition. There have been barren upper floors on King that now house tech companies. There have been ramshackle houses in Parkdale that are now worth ridiculous amounts. There were gallery apartments, garages, windows, and satchels. They blur into a fever dream of vague memories that make them all the more magical. And despite the apocalyptic cost of living in this city, there are even more places than usual popping up like saplings pushing through the concrete.

    Krista Belle Stewart, Land

    Franz Kaka is well situated to present compact exhibitions by senior emerging artists like their current resident Krista Belle Stewart. Rather than cram a big show in a small space, Hoekstra has isolated two works (maybe three) in a concise summary of the Vancouver-based artist’s range. The major work is a weaving that replicates a photograph of Aboriginal leaders dressed in traditional garb. The original image caught Stewart’s eye because it includes a female figure. After some research she also discovered that an Indigenous figure in European dress had been cropped out. She had the weaver add a section that included him, but strange circumstances kept it from rejoining the other panels. Sensing something significant in this, the artist displays this missing part in the shipping tube where it remains sealed.

    Alongside this layered work of colonial history, there is a bucket of dirt from Stewart’s home in the Okanagan Nation. Land, home, space, ownership, and the politics of place aren’t only the concern of the art community, and this collection of earth that the artist carries from place to place – and, in this exhibition, creates a minimal wall drawing with – conveys the weight of that relationship and anchors it in the ground that lies forever beneath our feet.

    Franz Kaka:
    Krista Belle Stewart: Eye Eye continues until May 27.

    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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  • 05/10/17--15:50: Ed Atkins at DHC/ART
  • The CNN headline reads: “A loud crash, then nothing: Sinkhole swallows Florida man.” Jeff Bush was buried alive with his bed, dresser, and TV under his Hillsborough County home in 2013. Modern Piano Music, media artist Ed Atkins’s exhibition at DHC/ART and his first exhibition in Canada, recasts this tragedy as an HD captivity narrative. The artist’s ur-gadget is a motion capture camera that transmits Atkins’s facial expressions and gestures to various hyper-realistic avatars or “surrogates”: a smiling monkey, a tattooed barfly, and a tormented middle-class everyman. From a scrap pile of dead metaphors, twitching body parts, and stubborn markers of gendered, racialized, and class-specific identity, Atkins excavates a battered figure of the 21st Century man.

    Ed Atkins, Even Pricks, 2013, video

    Atkins’s best-known protagonist is a strangely sympathetic character. Something compels us to look past his sniveling, rehearsed apology for an unspecified offense and his painfully lonely jerk-off session with a deck of Rorschach cards. Perhaps we forgive him because we know his days are numbered. In Hisser, his room starts to rumble before collapsing in on itself. In Happy Birthday!! we catch a glimpse of a forehead tattoo that reads “1950 – 2009.” The artist describes this character as a “middle-class, white male in a horrible looping nowhere, who nevertheless demands your empathy.”

    In Even Pricks, a sad-looking chimp starts to beam against a powder-pink background. A phallic thumb deflates and inflates, turning from the ubiquitous “like” to the less common “unlike” position, before diving into a soft belly or rising slowly into a nostril. Generic movie trailer titles come at us through clouds, in flames, or from behind broken glass to steer the reading of the pictures. One assures us that there is “almost always a thing to grip,” while another pleads, “we just got home from work” before a view of Jeff Bush’s disappeared room.

    The operatic multichannel video installations Ribbons and Safe Conduct lead us into the darkest corners of taken-for-granted spaces like a smoky bar or an airport security check, where personal identity is lost and sought, stripped away then reclaimed in pieces, or rehearsed in crocodile tears and desperate soliloquies. The first features a shirtless tough guy soften, collapse, and pull himself together again behind a long line of empty pint glasses. With a cigarette dangling from his mouth, he sings tenderly about “overflowing human kindness,” launches into a few bars of Bach’s Erbarme dich, Mein Gott, and then apologizes for his loss of emotional control. If our empathy isn’t inspired by this performance, our pity is commanded by more movie trailer titles, this time alerting us to the character’s “lack” and “desperate search for love.”

    Ed Atkins, Safe Conduct, 2016, video

    Safe Conduct is the show’s most riveting piece. This time a middle-class traveller in a sweat suit is unloading vital organs, a gun, a laptop, and other precious belongings into buckets for an airport security check, or bound and buckled-over in what looks like an interrogation room, or strapped into a seat on a British Airways flight that will eventually be blown out of the sky. The muscular textures of Ravel’s Bolero march the story forward to this chilling conclusion. The atmosphere of the work is disturbingly familiar in our post-9/11 era of constant surveillance, routine x-ray scans, and racial profiling at airports. Atkins’s motion capture technology is perfectly grafted to this paranoid moment and the installation is haunted by what he calls the “bad science of phrenology” and various disciplinary technologies for inscribing moral uprightness or degeneracy upon the body’s surface.

    Too often new media work is caught in a perpetual present. By contrast, Atkins recalls pop culture caricatures of the past. From Uncle Tom and Charlie Chaplin to Speedy Gonzales and a litany of “hand-wringing Jews, gesticulating Italians, and hot tempered Greeks” in Hollywood films, “animatedness,” as literary scholar Sianne Ngai notes, has long functioned as a marker of racialized, gendered, and class-based otherness. Modern Piano Music bravely folds its “captured,” “ripped,” and “rendered” protagonists into this sordid but important history of animation.

    Ed Atkins: Modern Piano Music continues until September 3.

    Tammer El-Sheikh is a writer and teacher based in Montreal. His art criticism has appeared in Parachute, Canadian Art, ETC and C Magazine.

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    Progressing from the violence of the internet-connected paintball gun that made him famous, Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal's solo exhibition at the Dunlop Art Gallery consists of two poetic and constructive bodies of work on loss, both personal (his brother was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq) and institutional. The eponymous title of the exhibition, 168:01, is also the literal and symbolic heart of this show. Evenly spaced and standing straight as pickets in a fence, the books ranged along this installation’s monumental shelves are blank, inside and out. Knowledge is also a victim of war, Bilal reminds us. The numbers in the title reference a 13th Century invasion of Baghdad when books from the Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) were tossed into the river to form a bridge for an invading army. Ink bled from the pages for 168 hours.

    Wafaa Bilal, 168:01, 2016, installation (photo: Frank Piccolo)

    More than a pale gravestone marking recent instances of the destruction of cultural property, the artist is using this work to rebuild the library of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad. Visitors can purchase a new book from the university's wish list on and receive one of Bilal's white volumes in return.

    The austerity of 168:01 contrasts with the accompanying photographs of barren public spaces and ravaged opulence in The Ashes Series. Light streams dramatically into these scenes from holes in walls and ceilings or through windows and arched doorways. Objects and buildings are thickly dusted with grey ash – twenty-one grams of human ash, the label explains. Close examination reveals something uncanny: the improbably coarse weave of a striped pillowcase or the clumsy proportions of crystals trimming a chandelier present too great an accretion of detail. Created in miniature, these scenes are at once creepily unreal and alluring. Bilal, like the patient of a child psychologist, enacts his trauma through dollhouse play. Bereavement is depicted indirectly, just as the weight of the human spirit, said to be twenty-one grams, can only be weighed indirectly.

    Dunlop Art Gallery:
    Wafaa Bilal: 168:01 continues until June 25.

    Sandee Moore is a nationally exhibited artist, arts administrator, and occasional art writer. She can be followed on Twitter @SandeeMoore.

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    Speculative fiction is such a better term than science fiction because it emphasizes all the ways in which the genre entertains possibilities – major and minor, scientific and not – about what we could be and who we are now. Speculating suggests something beyond what we know, something we can only imagine (though it also implies, in financial contexts, risk and the likelihood of loss). Perhaps it’s redundant to pair it with “fiction” since all storytelling is already speculative in some way; however, when it does get thrown into the mix – as in the curatorial statement accompanying the exhibition What does one do with such a clairvoyant image?– there is a giddy sense that the ground is dropping out from under you and the things you thought you knew will be thrown into disarray. In this sense, “speculative” might be an improvement on “experimental” when describing certain arts, but we only called it that when we were talking about form, and that kind of experimentation maxed out its impact a while back. What we care about now is content (even when we address its delivery) and this is why it’s important to identify the fiction that enacts the speculation.

    Kapwani Kiwanga, The Secretary’s Suite, 2016, video and mixed media installation

    Despite the futuristic overtones of speculation combined with fiction, the genre is equally adept at addressing the past. Curators Leila Timmins, cheyanne turions, and Jayne Wilkinson refer to this as "alternative history," but instead of the American-centric anxiety of The Man in the High Castle, their exhibition features three First Nations artists rewriting or writing over colonial history. Tania Willard makes a literal obstruction of an existing historical document by projecting an ethnographic film from 1928 titled The Shuswap Indians of British Columbia through a selenite crystal. The credited materials include photons, which leaves one to assume that the passage of light through Willard’s lens converts the anthropologist’s gaze into something empowering.

    Dana Claxton and Dylan Miner use found photographs as references for a colonial-settler past, but intervene on their surfaces to bring a First Nations perspective into the visual field. Claxton blends colourful images of Lakota beadwork into the washed-out snapshots of a white camper to shift his analogue mementos into a pixelated array. Miner scars the images of North American landscapes with text or black and red blotches that turn the sightseeing sites into violent reminders of the continent’s recent past.

    Stephanie Comilang, Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (Come to Me, Paradise), 2016, video

    In addition to the three artists at Gallery 44, there works by Stephanie Comilang, Kapwani Kiwanga, and Martine Syms at Trinity Square Video. Kiwanga also addresses the past through a collection of images, but instead of adding her marks to them, she assembles them in a forensic narrative that attempts to solve the mystery of former United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld’s death in a plane crash. Her video works through clues taken from a photograph of his office, but in doing so she maps a network of secret histories that links power to relations of exchange.

    Syms tells a story from the opposite end of the hierarchy with an audio-play titled Most Days that can be heard through headphones on a vinyl recording. Her characters populate a Los Angeles thirty years from now, yet they experience a range of anxieties and everyday challenges familiar to many in the present. Her wall text The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto brings Black science fiction tropes down to earth and questions the escapism that obscures Black Diasporic reality. While that might turn us off Sun Ra and George Clinton, it also draws our attention to the disorienting sense of the present as a confluence of dreamlike promise and an inescapable past.

    Comilang’s video Come to Me, Paradise lands in this exact place by forgoing found footage to relay a story shot amongst the community of Filipina workers in Hong Kong. The architecture, technology, and general sense of being apart from the nature take the setting out of time. The interactions between characters and their phones become the central metaphor for possible transcendence. Rather than taking us into outer space, this speculation brings us face-to-face with the world we have. It doesn’t take a genius to know the future never happens; we are only ever always already in the present.

    Note: On May 23 at 6:30pm, Dylan Miner will lead a walking tour from Gallery 44 to the former home of Emma Goldman.

    Gallery 44:
    Trinity Square Video:
    What does one do with such a clairvoyant image? continues until June 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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    Identity has always been contested territory, though nowadays dissenting voices are more easily heard. Conflicts play out in the realm of representation and artists have always been at the frontlines of how we see ourselves and others. You would have had to be living under a rock to miss recent skirmishes in the Canadian literary world about the ways in which writers should and should not write about people unlike themselves. When I teach my writing classes, I emphasize that authors need to be true to their characters; they have to treat them seriously. Doing so imbues the creations with an authenticity that gives the writer the authority to tell their stories. At the same time, those stories are soaked, to varying degrees, in ambiguity. That is what makes the words literary and open to interpretation.

    Sandra Brewster, Blur, 2016, photo-based gel transfer on wall

    Currently exhibitiing at Georgia Scherman Projects, Sandra Brewster is a photo-based artist from Toronto who uses her medium to create portraits that trade in ambiguity. Her subjects are caught in motion so their features blur. They stand, one per image, visible from the chest up against a white backdrop as if they were getting their passport picture taken, but none of these would ever be acceptable for that document we use to identify ourselves when crossing boarders. Brewster’s inspiration was her parents and their generation of immigrants from Guyana. Moving to Toronto from another place doesn’t just displace you geographically; it affects who you are, rattles your stability, and dissolves many of the expectations that would have otherwise determined your life’s path.

    The photographs also illustrate movement through time. They aren’t old photographs, but the process the artist uses to create them reproduces the effects of age and allows them to be read as emerging from the past. When I reviewed her thesis exhibition at the University of Toronto in March, I mistakenly referred to them as faded photographs, but Brewster corrected me and explained they are photo-transfers that imprint the original image on a surface such as, for this exhibition, paper or a wall. To reveal the print, the transfer needs to be scrubbed away. The necessary friction deteriorates the end product so it acquires all sorts of marks and damage. Not only does it suggest the kind of old photographs that are increasingly uncommon in the age of digital reproduction, but it dramatizes the journey of those precious pieces of paper over time, through hands, from parent to child. Those mementos are fragile yet resilient. They are weathered but still retain their original magic.

    Sandra Brewster, Blur 3, 2016, gel transfer on paper

    The tears and scratches in Brewster’s work also evoke a kind of violence and I see it in her figures as they shake their heads and turn away from the camera. They don’t want to be shot. Or, at least, that could be what’s happening. Maybe they’re dancing or just moving on. She’s an artist of colour and her bio states her work is about race, but I wonder if it’s some bias on my part that sees these portraits flinching because they are targeted in some way. I also end up wondering whether I would ever write about the exhibition a couple doors down at Birch Contemporary – Nicholas Pye’s bleached out and overexposed self-portraits – in terms of that artist’s whiteness.

    It’s my job to interpret art and I don’t always see what the artist intended. The blurring of Brewster’s subjects throws their meaning into question and opens up the possibility that they – both the people and the works – will be misjudged. That’s one step away from being misrepresented, but it’s not the same as a writer or an artist creating a character. I don’t do that, but I do impose my reading on the work of others, and I wonder how much responsibility I have there. When I make the wrong interpretation (yes, it happens), am I accountable in the same way the artist is? Where does that leave the necessary ambiguity? It’s hard enough dealing with aesthetics, let alone ethics, but none of us are above the law in the sense that our expressions – be they words or pictures – have an impact. I haven’t figured out my position yet and the faces in Brewster’s pictures maintain a similar irresolution.

    Georgia Scherman Projects:
    Sandra Brewster: It’s all a blur… continues until June 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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  • 05/31/17--07:39: Derek Brunen at Duplex
  • Derek Brunen’s short video Loving-Kindness, currently on view at Duplex, features an older gentleman who is working on himself. He enters a vehicle parked on the street and meticulously adjusts the interior to his preference. He is groomed, dressed, and accessorized with an awkwardly fashionable leather clutch and a bracelet of wooden beads. Then he inserts a CD to commence his five-minute audio meditation on Loving-Kindness and heads out on the road.

    Derek Brunen, Loving-Kindness

    Loving-Kindness, known in Buddhism as Mettā, cultivates benevolence through a discourse of love based on acts of goodwill. The voice on the recording is like that of a female yoga-instructor. Her kill-you-softly tone makes it unclear whether the CD is relaxing him or torturing him. We see the camera focus on his hands as they tighten their grip on a section of the passenger seat. The camera also rests on the knot of his tie and his breathing. He honks once on the way to his destination: one of many possible beaches in the city.

    When he arrives, he gets out and looks toward the water. The camera frames him from behind through the windshield as rain hits and slides down the incline of the glass. He gets back in the car and starts the five-minute meditation again. While he drives through a recognizable Vancouver cityscape, the script for Loving-Kindness provides the score for an afflicted aging urbanite practicing mindfulness. However, we are not shown much practice. We are only given facile instructions for the kind of debased pseudo-spiritual routine that elite workaholics subscribe to.

    When I describe Brunen’s video to a friend, he imparts an anecdote: he witnessed a car cut off a group of pedestrians who had the right of way at a crosswalk. One of the group kicked the passing car in response to the driver’s reckless disregard for life. What destination could be so important that lives could be lost on the way there? Following the kick, the driver pulled over, got out of his car, and was furious at he who put shoe to vehicle. My response to this anecdote was that the driver should try listening to five minutes of Loving-Kindness, and my friend replied, that he probably was when he cut off those pedestrians. He was probably “working on himself” too.

    Derek Brunen: Loving-Kindness continues until June 12.

    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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    The camera circles the fracas with a steady gaze. The video begins moments after the police line is broken, so it’s difficult to discern whose side anyone is on. There’s a sidewalk and a grassy area beyond it. Men in suits rush across the street and attack another group. The police are caught in the middle. The camera keeps moving, only revealing glimpses of fists being thrown or bodies being pushed back. To make any sense of it, you have to watch the short segment over and over. Eventually you can identify certain figures, realize a bunch of the suits push down a woman and kick her, see the man who later wanders by with a bloody head first get punched. There isn’t any commentary, just a collection of bodies in motion, crashing together, punctuated by violent gestures and then physical restraint. The first time I see this footage of Turkish President Erdogan’s bodyguards attack protestors outside the Turkish embassy in Washington, DC, the comment thread immediately compares it to Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave. There’s something about the visuals that turns the incident into more than a random skirmish, something that makes it into art.

    Annie MacDonell, Untitled collage, 2017, paper collage on board

    Toronto-based artist Annie MacDonell’s solo exhibition The Levellers, currently on display at the Art Gallery of Mississauga, is also concerned with protests. Her series of collages splice together photographs of public demonstrations with Op Art insertions, taking these frozen moments of struggle out of their particular political contexts to draw them into the realm of historical painting. Her multi-channel video Holding Still/Holding Together makes a similar transition through a group of dancers who work out a choreography inspired by documentary images of those moments in a demonstration when the bodies of the protestors go limp and have to be lugged away by police. It’s a strange instance of agreed resistance where both sides acknowledge the other’s opposition. The protestor becomes passive and relies on gravity and their limp limbs to communicate their dissent as they allow the law officers to do their job. In the more humane demonstrations depicted here, the cops don’t beat up the protestors, they don’t attack them, but contain, restrain, and remove them. This carefully administered state violence (unlike the explicit violence of the Turkish government thugs) is isolated at points of contact in MacDonell’s casts of body parts being held back by disembodied hands. They only add to the sense of forensic analysis that is evoked by the exhibition as a whole. The Levellers is reminiscent of J.G. Ballard’s step-by-step dissections of car accidents and political assassinations. The artist takes on the clinical distance of the scientist and turns a tumultuous clash into a series of discrete interactions.

    Annie MacDonell, The Levellers, 2017, gypsum cement

    In doing so, MacDonell turns current events into art history. Her framing of these interactions at critical points of conflict evokes similar scenes that appear in paintings of battles from the past. Deller’s recreation of a 1980s miner’s riot by a historical recreation society that usually deals with much older war stories is a good reference point here as well. He put his players (many of whom had participated in the original strike) in the context of a longer tradition of resistance and, in doing so, validates their actions as part of history. MacDonell takes a more general approach (though the specific reference in her exhibition title is worth noting) and heightens our appreciation of the meaning of these moments of social discontent. By removing them from the immediate context (a strategy that can be problematic as Sam Durant recently found out), she doesn’t merely aestheticize them; she makes them iconic. A protest is a demonstration of freedom as much as it is an expression of belief. It should be isolated, analyzed, understood, and celebrated.

    Art Gallery of Mississauga:
    Annie MacDonell: The Levellers continues until June 18.

    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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    In Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black, Chloë Lum and Yannick Desranleau describe the predicament of being in and with our bodies. Their exhibition at CIRCA Art Actuel includes a two-channel video featuring contemporary dancers in ten sketches and a gallery for the video’s surreal backdrops and fleshy, wearable sculptures. These elements present as “organs without bodies” or “bodies without organs” – illustrations of post-humanist philosophies with which the artists are deeply engaged. In quietly eloquent sketches Lum, Desranleau, and their collaborators show how bodies become conspicuous and known precisely when we are betrayed by them.

    Chloë Lum and Yannick Desranleau, Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black, 2016-2017, two channel 4K digital video with sound (103 minutes)

    Toward the end of Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections, an aging patriarch suffering from Parkinson’s searches in vain for a belt buckle to remove his soiled pants. In this frustrated moment, Alfred Lambert is “a person in two dimensions seeking freedom in a third.” The description is apt for Lum and Desranleau’s work as well. The video’s first sketch, titled It, follows dancer Winnie Ho as she lowers herself onto one hand and knee under the weight of a baggy white and flesh-coloured polymer vest. Somewhere between a space-aged poncho, a shedding synthetic skin, and a girdle for giants, the vest wobbles and falls over the dancer in slow motion. A disembodied voice breaks through the droning soundtrack to describe a “connected” but troubled relationship to It: “too personal to share…its value surpasses measures… people say be careful with it (but) it doesn’t need preciousness… I know it because I messed with it.”

    In another sketch, dancer Anouk Theriault brings this obscure knowledge of the body to bear on a protagonist named Julie. Her story is given in a fragmentary narrative that is part-medical case history and part-personal journal. As we hear about Julie’s abdominal pain Theriault churns in an off-white spandex tube with three red sleeves – two for the arms and one for a phantom limb. While “pain killers don’t work,” objects “pressed against the body” or extending it into space provide some relief. Theriault’s spandex suit and other curiosities are retrieved from the folds of a pale tarp hanging on the wall behind her. Held open by a bright-pink element in the shape of a blindfold, the tarp and its contents take on the character of a dreamer or an insomniac. Significantly, this is the only sketch in which a character is named. If it can’t be fully redeemed, Julie’s pain at least harbours an individuating power.

    In Gatherer human/non-human relationships are described as a kinship among “things.” Dancer Leelee Davis paces back and forth across the set surveying its hanging sculptures before fixing on a shiny black body suit. She approaches it slowly with the trepidation and curiosity that attend any new encounter. Closing her eyes, she brings the suit to rest against her torso and then lets it slide off her arms to the floor. As though a Sisyphean burden had been laid down, Davis pauses for a moment over the sculpture’s pink inner surface to trace its voids ritualistically. The narrator provides some insight into the dancer’s game of catch-and-release: “There is something right and satisfying about taking things… feminine things, queer things, every-thing.”

    Chloë Lum and Yannick Desranleau, exhibition view (from left to right): Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black (Stretching Figure), 2017, and Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black (Elements), 2016-2017

    For this work and an earlier iteration of it, the artists cast non-binary or femme-identified dancers and people of colour. The dancers’ interactions with mostly black, white and flesh-coloured sculptures read as a kind of role-play with culturally coded materials. Where Deborah Dunn, a fair-skinned dancer seems to draw fortitude from a heavy black body suit, the multi-racial Davis collapses under its weight. We are invited to consider these differences and the politics of visibility they reveal within and beyond the dance milieu. The artists question a strictly biological or functionalist view of the body and a constructivist view of the body as marked by signs of class, race, and gender. Both views advance able-bodiedness and visibility as the most important aspects of personal identity. By contrast Lum’s and Desranleau’s view of the body, of people, and of things is non-normative and fluid. They explore the indiscipline and messiness of the body, its groping and leaking, its failings and infirmity, but also its resilience. Critical disability scholar Michael Davidson suggests a program for this in his book on differently-abled experiences of art titled Concerto for the Left Hand. Like Lum and Desranleau, he urges us to think of more inclusive and empathetic approaches to the humanities that might begin with “an armless Venus de Milo, a crippled Oedipus,” or the phantom double of Leonardo’s Vitruvian man: “a figure who after all has four arms and four legs.”

    CIRCA Art Actuel:
    Chloë Lum and Yannick Desranleau: Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black continues until June 17.

    Tammer El-Sheikh is a writer and teacher based in Montreal. His art criticism has appeared in Parachute, Canadian Art, ETC and C Magazine.

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    Assemblage is the biggest con of the art world, and any artist presenting some arrangement of scavenged refuse (or store-bought goods) as their own should, at least, be prepared to weather that accusation. You think it's bad enough being told your post-painterly abstraction could be done by a six year old with a protractor and some non-toxic acrylic? Wait until someone tells you their cat drags in random doodads covered in dirt and asks, “Would you like to put that in your gallery?” Even the Simpsons have yanked this chain with an episode where Homer accidentally becomes a celebrated junk artist for a brief time. If debris is your medium, you need to accept this ridicule. Recognition might one day be your reward, but before that comes the possible response that your work is garbage.

    Bjorn Copeland, Compress/Sustain 13', 2017, mixed media

    For its current exhibition, Cooper Cole Gallery has paired two artists who scavenge for inspiration. Bjorn Copeland is the brattier of the two with his clunky medium-large industrial/commercial waste combos that dare you to ask, "Is that it?" When they work, like with his row of metal containers suspended between wall and column with a horizontally deployed car jack, he repurposes the overlooked to poetic ends and literally elevates base goods to new heights. However, when he crumples up a discarded advertising tarp with grommets, all you get is a crumpled tarp with grommets. Nothing to see here, as they say. Which is apropos given the works on paper included in the show begin life in the dark as drawings before Copeland turns on the light to add a smattering of cut-out food flyer features. It’s easy to be sceptical about such seemingly careless efforts, but it helps to remember Copeland initially made his mark with the noise band Black Dice, so a degree of negative aesthetic backpedalling is in order.

    Nikki Woolsey, Gressive, 2017, glass, embroidered elastic, greasy shammy

    Down in the gallery’s recessed space, Nikki Woolsey’s compact and delicate objets trouvés sit and hang in stark contrast to Copeland’s bombastic statements. Where he uses metal, she relies on glass to serve as her foundational material. This shift, along with the reduction of scale, draws the viewer closer to create an intimacy that invites connection. Her liquid forms have frozen around personal effects that hint at the longer stories we’re often reluctant to tell. The presentation is cleaner – these things have been forgotten in attics and junk drawers rather than back alleys and ravines – so they feel less like a comment on consumption and our wasteful ways and more like a evocation of how we imbue objects with meaning and then cherish them because they act as talismans for future use. Woolsey redeems her knick-knacks by giving them a new, albeit fictional, life. In the language of sanitation collection, I believe that’s called “upcycling.”

    Cooper Cole Gallery:
    Bjorn Copeland: Extra Medium continues until July 8.
    Nikki Woolsey: Daily Luge continues until July 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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    “The Barista Doesn't Have A Crush On You” reads a black and white comic panel hanging on the wall of Seven Bays Café. Soft Fail is Mollie Cronin’s first show as Art Brat Comics. Using her analog design skills and a projector, she blew up pictures from her sketchbook into poster-sized drawings, and then traced and inked them. They are images that have been filling my social media feed, and feeding my little underwaged soul, for at least a year strong. Her unabashed wit takes aim at small-city/big-town life, media-based dating trends, and freelance work/life balance, but the strongest read I get from her work is about being a woman in an art scene that is 70% femmes who are still wrestling power and platforms from the 30% cis-male population that we graduate with.

    Mollie Cronin, The Barista Doesn’t Have A Crush On You & Other Ego Busting Revelations (photo: Kate Ashwood)

    Exhibiting at the same time is Elise Boudreau Graham’s Some New Landscape Paintings at Lost and Found just around the corner. Boudreau Graham’s work consists of large hanging banners of screen-printed text. The one-to-two meter black fabric textiles are obviously not landscape paintings. One of her tapestries reads: “The expectation of a long life is a privilege.” It hangs next to a soft silk, hand-dyed textile hooked by one corner to the wall so you have to stretch it out to see it all. This piece is printed with a quote that was directed at the artist when she was working her side gig as a barista. It is an unnecessarily long explanation from a customer on why he does not tip service workers.

    In communication these two shows reinforce one another as expressions of femme experience claiming spaces that are alternatives to the standard gallery setting. Both artists speak directly to all women, queers, and femmes searching for humour and good stories while surviving within capitalist patriarchy. Both artists are born in the Maritimes and they continue the legacy of side-hustling by generations of under-waged Nova Scotians in a suffering economy on unceded Mi’kmiq land. Deep self awareness of the privilege inherent in access to work rides alongside a need for self sufficiency, access to food/housing, and – if we dare – the fulfilment of working for pay in the industry we are trained to work in.

    Seven Bays Café:
    Mollie Cronin: Soft Fail continues until July 6.

    Lost and Found Shop & Gallery:
    Elise Boudreau Graham: Some New Landscape Paintings continues until June 22.

    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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    Toronto, I love you but you continue to fail to live up to your potential. You’re a classic underachiever, which makes it so frustrating to walk your streets. A really great building will catch my eye and I'll imagine a city full of such buildings, only to turn the corner and see cookie-cutter condos stretched out to the horizon. Or some visionary will propose a park that’s not “just like the High Line,” but then everyone who should get behind it will talk about starting a biennial like it’s the 1990s all over again. And the most frustrating thing – which also happens to be the most hopeful thing – is that you still have artists proposing wild and woolly public art, there are still architects finding adventurous developers to build their ingenious towers, and imaginative urban planning advocates continue to swim upstream against bureaucracy to PowerPoint their dreams of something better. As long as that keeps happening, we can still hope to live in a place that uplifts rather than numbs us.

    Eric Anthony Charron, Skylights, 2017, LED lights, recycled plastic bottles

    Dyan Marie is one of those people who stubbornly manage to inveigle their way into the public sphere in an official capacity and bring a coterie of creatives along for the ride. To wit, she is an artist with a vision. Her current proposal involves including public art and gardens in the redevelopment of the Galleria mall and its surrounding area. Long accepted as the Tdot's grimmest shopping concourse, the site at Dupont and Dufferin has been swept up in the gentrification that moves ever outward from the downtown core as real estate prices surge. Artists play an undeniable role in that transition, but they are also effective in fighting to maintain something of the original character of a place or at least help create the kind of neighbourhood that makes a million dollar condo worthwhile.

    TIMEANDDESIRE, Experience Changes, 2017, mixed medium

    The maquettes on display in the pop-up space Marie has curated are bewildering in their variety, but inspiring in their bewilderment. The late Noel Harding’s rotating tree plot in a silver teapot is reminiscent of his unforgettable water filtration bioforms in the Don Valley. Edward Burtynsky’s foray into sculpture would make a suitably horrific memorial for the elephants that were mutilated for its materials. Heather Nicol’s gum and glass tower takes a turn for the light-hearted, as does the duo called TIMEANDDESIRE with their instructive (and, I would argue, grammatically problematic) street sign. Taken together, they manage to balance the needs of the public with the criticality of art that aspires to more than just decoration.

    Marie isn’t interested in the inert as her inclusion of gardens make clear. There are instructions for creating “spot gardens” throughout the city and a workshop this Saturday (June 17) to create way-finders for navigating the city on foot. The optimism of such endeavours is contrasted with the claustrophobic Earth Room Wormhole installation by Interspatial (aka Natalie Bakaeva and Mark Francis). The small lights that are supposed to be found in the blackened void of this small room were burnt out when I visited, so I think I missed something positive that I will have to return to experience. Without those lights, navigating this space of enveloping darkness was intense and disorienting, heightening my senses while deadening my sense of independence. As a lesson in what we have to be thankful for, living in relative harmony in this moderately dense city of ours, it was a harsh but necessary one. Toronto, I love you, but no more nightmares. Let’s keep dreaming.

    Re-Imagine Galleria:
    Civic Studies:
    Place and Placement continues until July 15.

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

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  • 06/21/17--20:37: Alison Yip at Monte Clark
  • Four paintings by Alison Yip are flying under the radar at Monte Clark Gallery. The gallery’s press release explains that her exhibition’s title, Hagazussa, comes from the ancient High German word for “fence rider,” which later evolved to refer to witches. Further etymological investigation leads to meanings such as hag, hex, witches, or magic spells. A fence rider, described as “a figure who moves fluidly between the realms of nature and civilization,” resonates less damningly and more intrepidly than “witch.”

    Alison Yip

    In three new smaller works, the artist employs a latticed fence pattern to imply a threshold between the viewer and a world in the depths of the picture plane. This same motif was the foundation for her site-specific installation in the Vancouver Art Gallery’s rotunda for last winter’s large group exhibition Vancouver Special: Ambivalent Pleasures. There, she made portals out of the architecture. Here, her works resonate like clandestine trap doors. Untitled (trellis glow study) formally privileges the fence with its marble-like rendering of the wood grain. Through its thin strips, it surpasses the supernatural botanicals strewn around it. The picture plane is much deeper in the cloak-and-dagger evoking Recipe, where a pale blue hand extends (judging by the scale and colour) a post-it note to our side of the fence. Here the fence, though its texture is equally considered, provokes the eye towards the floral elements. Even when they gaze from behind the diamond-shaped gaps, they stand as sentinels.

    Witches are a much caricaturized figure who have managed to transcend folklore and successfully enter popular consciousness, especially in the nineties. Yip’s The Craft from 2016 refers to the 1996 cult classic wherein a group of high school girls start practicing witchcraft. This painting also features the lattice fence, but here it is done quickly and painterly. It emerges less as a structure and more like a pattern that seems to give shape to a figure’s head, neck, shoulders, and bust. Yip draws lines towards two diamonds of negative space and forms a simple bra worn by a figure with a pink bob and severe mid-part. Perhaps it’s a portrait of a young aspiring fence rider, newly subscribed to the cult of the film.

    Monte Clark Gallery:
    Alison Yip: Hagazussa continues until July 1.

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

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    The last time I was in Germany was almost twenty years ago. As I visited the public galleries in all the cities we travelled through, I noticed that each one had at least one work by each member of the post-war Fab Four of the German art scene: a Richter, a Kippenberger, a Polke, and a Kiefer. I was reminded of the latter artist and his earthy accounts of the heavens as I rotated in place and took in Patterson Ewen’s solo exhibition currently on display at Olga Korper.

    Patterson Ewen, Milky Way in Stone, 1997, roofing tar, granite, marble on planed and routed plywood

    This realization crystalized after I approached his imposing vision of the Milky Way rendered in roofing tar, granite, and chips of marble. The construction materials ably served to represent the enveloping darkness of space and the twinkling dots that push through the black, while also being the very same stuff that makes up our concrete universe, while also serving a metaphorical function by evoking the shattered immensity and sticky sense of our own insignificance that transforms the night as the night transforms us. Kiefer trades in a similar version of the sublime and he also uses workaday matter to get to that place (though, admittedly, on a far grander scale). Ewen, on the other hand, in attempting the impossible task of tracing the outline of the galaxy in which we reside, falters. His approximation of this shape lacks the gravity of the celestial spheres he is justifiably better known for. His single mostly-circular creations are so uniform as to be practically formulaic, but the slight variations in colour, composition, and circumference make each one a unique entry in his collected constellation.

    Patterson Ewen, Caged Sunset, 1997, fencing and acrylic paint on plywood

    Cataloguing the ways in which he constructs his individual works (which are far more sculptural than painterly, even though they hang on the walls like canvases) or listing the metal hardware that decorate their surfaces would be as interesting as itemizing the time signatures on a Ramones album. It would also be beside the point. Explanations are unnecessary when you’re looking up at the sky, because everyone sees the same sky. What makes a difference is how you make sense of it and artists are the best teachers we have to tell us how to see. When the stars are aligned, they give us a section of the cosmos caught in time and ready to be installed inside a gallery or a home. Ewen was particularly accomplished at this. There’s a universality to the appeal of his orbs, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised to find as many Ewens in regional museum holdings from Newfoundland to the Yukon as Kiefers appear from Karlsruhe to Berlin. On the cusp of the season when urban Canadians are most likely to leave their light-polluting cities and momentarily experience what the night sky can really look like, it’s a blessing to have this late Canadian artist refresh our memories as to the wonders out and up there.

    Olga Korper Gallery:
    Patterson Ewen continues until July 15.

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

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