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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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    As the dialogue around the housing crisis continues to mount in Vancouver, real estate developer Ian Gillespie of Westbank Corporation decided it would be a good time to mount an exhibition to showcase his dedication to beauty. Fight for Beauty is a tent in front of the Fairmont Pacific Rim filled with various maquettes of public artworks adjacent to architectural models of Westbank’s buildings and other bourgeois trinkets. The first thing visitors see is a paragraph in neon called Manifesto by Claudia Cristovao. The first sentence earnestly asks, “When did we say yes to beauty being discarded, deleted and demeaned?” But this object is unironically confused: the text espouses beauty as some lost cause, yet the work itself embodies a dry conceptual art trope.

    Stan Douglas, Abbott & Cordova, 7 Aug 1971, 2008, installation view

    The audio guide, narrated by Gillespie himself, is the tissue that connects each display to his messiah complex. He really wants you to know that real estate development isn’t a walk through the activated laneway. Gillespie refers to the contentious Woodward's redevelopment project as the “war for Woodward’s” and launches into mythologizing: “Against all odds, we had gone out and sold all 440 condominiums on the basis of a very strong message: Be part of something bigger than yourselves, be a part of the solution, be a city builder.” He then proceeds to congratulate the 440 Vancouverites that bought the condos in the pre-sale phase for “accepting that challenge.” His next description details the elaborate production of Stan Douglas’ photo mural in the atrium of the redevelopment. Abbott & Cordova, 7 Aug 1971 depicts a historic riot in Gastown marked by police brutality. According to Gillespie, this commission “perfectly represents what the Woodward’s project has always been: a fight.” In the same self congratulatory breath, selling condominiums and post-conceptual photography disclosing local history are complementary endeavours in the Fight for Beauty.

    Fight for Beauty, installation view

    Reece TerrisTriumph of the Technocrat is Gillespie’s real token self-reflexive artwork. Described as emphasizing “the unseen mechanistic process of development and land speculation impacting the surrounding community,” it is a direct formal translation of a quick placeholder figure for the possible public artwork in the initial architectural maquette for The Lauren, a 22-story market rental tower in the West End. Community voiced concern that the rental suites were not deemed affordable, but Gillespie frames this dispute as “a classic case of NIMBYISM” and that his “team was tested throughout by a small but very vocal and sometimes violent opposition.”

    The broad consensus in the art community is that this is a nightmarish marketing scheme and public sympathy generator masquerading as a philanthropic project. I encourage anyone who has to been privy to that hearsay to attend the exhibition to confirm their vitriol and see exactly how vulnerable contemporary art discourse and aesthetics (our precious critical lens!) can be to a marketing department charged with advancing real estate projects with humane flair. Westbank has claimed to have evolved into a “cultural practice” and this is as close as it gets to a twisted trophy room of site-specific artworks. Fight for Beauty definitely warrants an eyeroll, but also our informed outrage and pointed response.

    Fight for Beauty continues until December 17.
    Fairmont Pacific Rim:
    The gallery is accessible.

    Steffanie Ling's essays, criticism, and art writing have been published alongside exhibitions, in print, and online in Canada, the United States, and Europe. She is an editor of Charcuterie and co-curator at VIVO Media Arts Centre. Her books are Nascar (Blank Cheque, 2016) and Cuts of Thin Meat (Spare Room, 2015). She is Akimblog’s Vancouver correspondent and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram @steffbao.

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    “Girls! Girls! Girls!” exclaims the sign outside the burlesque show. “Girls! Girls! Girls!” sings Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe. “Girls! Girls! Girls!” says the Elvis Presley movie poster. Each time it’s a call to attention and an emphatic, palilogic reminder of the object of that attention: the bodies of young women. Those four letters and one punctuation point repeated three times add up to a condensed equation for the male gaze, a shorthand expression for the ways in which women are objectified, sexualized, and simplified. However, like all reductive language, it is ripe for reclamation or, at least, recontextualization.

    Dana Holst, The Watchers, 2017, oil on panel

    The Girls! Girls! Girls! of Dana Holst’s exhibition at Christopher Cutts Gallery– the first at that venue for the Edmonton-based, mid-career painter – aren’t simple. Their bodies are on display, but not for easy consumption. They are precariously balanced and tensely contorted. Despite their frilly or feminine fashions, they twist and turn away from the viewer. Or, in the case of The Watchers, participate in a complex geometry of speculation that places the viewer’s stand-in hidden amongst the shadows and equally unstable in disposition. Those of us in the gallery are implicated at every turn and more than a few of the portraits stare right back. Sartre pointed out that we don’t like to be looked at when we’re looking. Our self-consciousness is the first step in our consciousness of self, which is enlightening as much as it is unsettling. Even if you aren’t there to objectify an Other, your complicity in a visual culture that has turned women into things for centuries is something that you might just have to mull over for a moment or three.

    Dana Holst, installation view

    How else is one to respond to Night Time is the Right Time where a faceless and presumably male nude figure leads a faceless female nude figure out of the light and into the bushes? The answer is in the angle of arms and shoulders, but the intent – be it gracious or malevolent – remains frustratingly ambivalent. Amidst all this regarding and returning of gazes, the insurmountable gap between you and everyone else is asserted again and again. Holst’s subjects are femme fatales in that they are seductive but resistant. They dare you to assume an understanding that will never be provided and in doing so remain perpetually intriguing. Arrayed salon style across three walls, her oil paintings on paper forgo the highly crafted realism of her colour works and use less labour intensive monochrome washes to multiply the variety of gestures, expressions, and characters. The result is an album of snapshots that suggests the triplet of the exhibition title, but makes it ring hollow when you see how inadequate a summation it actually provides.

    Dana Holst: Girls! Girls! Girls! continues until November 18.
    Christopher Cutts Gallery:
    The gallery is accessible.

    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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    Creatures hang off the wall or lie on the grey concrete. Soft, colourful presences manifest as many-tentacled mop-headed organisms, deflated bagpipes, and curiously feathered wings. Jade Yumang’s Thumb Through at TRUCK Contemporary Art reincarnates the pages of the queer erotic magazine My-O-My Volume II, a 32-page publication obtained by police during a raid of the Action Auction bookstore in New Jersey in 1972. Each page of the magazine – gifted to Yumang by Evan Garza, Director of Public Art at Rice University – has been printed on one-yard lengths of cotton and sewn into long, titillating pencil-shapes and fingers that interweave with collected textiles specific to the 1970s. Flashes of tube sock fabrics and baseball cap mesh, yellow ochre, rust, and avocado green clad the printed matter and wrap around the base of these long phalluses. Faces and flesh appear on the tubes and recall Hannah Doerksen’s pleasure collages in Nothing Back Here Looks Aliveshown earlier this year: daintily cut faces in ecstasy and plants sculpted out of her vintage porn magazine collection.

    Jade Yumang, Page 15, 2016, scanned gay erotic page printed with archival ink on cotton, polyurethane foam, vinyl, faux fur, buttons, zipper, and high-density foam

    My-O-My Volume II was described in court as featuring “nude males making love to one another.” It is an accusation of tenderness: two people treasuring one another. Yumang plays on this obscenified softness and confiscated lovemaking. Zippers and pink football jersey mesh, a skewed set of Dazed and Confused costumes, awkwardly obscure the paper shapes. Faux-fur, satin rope, silky fringe, leather, plaid – a fanfare of textiles almost like feathered battle decorations, a strangely soft armour – welcomes rather than obstructs the opponent. The little monsters ask to be touched and caressed. I reach down and stroke the furry top of one. His tube-legs hold on to a rectangular, seventies briefcase-style torso, attached by pleather buttons. Yumang’s textile objects, although printed with archival ink, carry an expiration date with them: fabric, thread, and paper already degrading humidity by humidity. His act of resuscitation calls erased histories back into memory for a time and, once his meditation has fallen to pieces, let them too be reincarnated. May villainized love stories be cut free from the network of the judicial system.

    Jade Yumang: Thumb Through continues until December 9.
    TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary:
    The gallery is partially accessible.

    Lindsay Sorell is an artist and writer who recently collaborated with the Advanced Toastmasters of Calgary for the IKG Live 1 performance festival and completed two solo exhibitions of new work: Exercises in Healing at Contemporary Calgary and Buddha, Why Am I Alone? at AVALANCHE! Institute of Contemporary Art. She is currently working on a large-scale watercolour painting of food and is the editor of Luma Quarterly. She is Akimblog's Calgary correspondent and can be followed on Instagram.

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    The extra-dimensional realm where evil lies in the Netflix series Stranger Things is called the Upside Down. It’s not actually upside down and its bad reputation is predominantly due to the resident predatory monsters, but part of its fear factor relies on it being an inversion of the everyday world. (If the main characters were nerdy grad students as opposed to nerdy teenagers, they might have dubbed it the Uncanny.) Artists have often evoked this experience in less graphically violent ways to heighten our perception of how alien(ating) the world we inhabit actually is. Rodney Graham took upside down pictures of right side up trees and Paul McCarthy flipped photos of empty rooms. Mark Lewis turns things up a notch with a high definition car ride through a city where the sky gapes below you and cracked asphalt forms a ceiling from which telephone poles and tenement housing hang precariously over the void.

    Mark Lewis, Lounge, 2017, film/video

    Other than highlighting the things we miss when we pass through a familiar space in a routine fashion, the video also elicits the sense of vertigo (ably abetted by the opening sequence that drops from high above a tall building down to street level) that accompanies the disorientation of travelling through a strange city. Travel is the motif that links all three videos at Daniel Faria Gallery– specifically the travel that happens through immigration. These works and the three still on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario comprise an extended reflection on Canada by the artist. He’s interested in particular with the politics of identity, be it patriotism or changing seasons or asserting sovereignty at the AGO, or the sense of self in transition that is inevitably felt by waves and waves of new Canadians over the years at Faria’s space. The location of two of the latter three videos is Gander, Newfoundland, home to an airport that had long been a rest stop in transatlantic flights back in the day (which isn’t actually that long ago if you consider the still living seniors who might have made those stops).

    Mark Lewis, Arrival, 2017, film/video

    Travellers are featured in Lounge and Arrival, but they aren’t the subjects of the work. Each of the three videos is instead a landscape piece focused on the built environment: one is exterior, one interior, and the third depicts a transition between the two. Lewis is best understood as an artist concerned with space and time. He draws us in and through and over and around a location in order to highlight its historic particulars and generate a reflection on the ways in which it instantiates a certain understanding of the world. Unlike the works at the AGO, which rely on individuals whose singular presence draws the viewer away from the camera’s panorama, the videos at Faria are all about place. They happen to be Canadian places, and there are a lot of reasons why, but they are also generic modern sites not tied to any one geographical location. This is because the videos are about travel, that no place between here and wherever. When you finally land, depending on how far you’ve come, the world might just feel upside down.

    Mark Lewis: Anniversary continues until January 13.
    Daniel Faria Gallery:
    The gallery is accessible.

    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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  • 11/21/17--19:44: Shards at Gallery 1C03
  • The archive as display takes historical material that is often hidden in stasis or completely forgotten, and makes it actively present. Shards, the group exhibition currently on view at Gallery 1CO3, is a clear instance of historical information being resuscitated and brought to the fore. The archive in question is a collection of ceramic works culled by curator (and former Akimblog contributor) Jenny Western in collaboration with the Manitoba Museum and the University of Winnipeg. The unearthed ceramic works here have been traced back to as far as two thousand years ago in the region now known as Manitoba. These re-presented vessels create tangible glimpses into a pre-colonial time when Indigenous peoples crafted provisional pieces of technology from the land. Having existed through generations of harsh weathers, the assembled pots and shards reveal a tenaciousness in their craft as well as with the land. The pots are known to have been made by women as utensils for feeding their families and communities. In thinking about the significance of these vessels to the women at that time, Western brings together artists Jaime Black, KC Adams, Wabiska Maengun (Niki Little), and Lita Fontaine to elaborate on these found objects. The outcome is a show that serves as a bridge between the distant past and the continuation of a lineage.

    Jaime Black and KC Adams performance at exhibition opening

    This bridging is echoed in Black and Adams’ intimate ritual performance during the exhibition’s opening. The two artists inscribe clay from the land onto their bodies and embrace in meditation as though to affirm how their collective histories and memories are entangled with these clay remnants. Black offers photo documents of an offsite water ceremonial that show her along with Adams mirroring their contemplative contact with clay, the land, and each other. In addition, Adams presents an installation in the gallery incorporating pot pieces and a video stuffed in one of the pots filled with black rice. The video is a document of a water gathering where the clay pots were fired by community members. Their vocal sounds sweep through the otherwise static gallery.

    Maengun’s contribution includes a woven sack akin to those used in moulding the found pottery. In it is a cut-out photographic image of a female figure – possibly Maengun’s – with what looks like her child in her arms. This gesture imagines a matrilineal relationship with those women who originally used these tools. To a great degree, this is a genealogical show and it is concerned with the preservation of community and culture. Fontaine’s contribution speaks to women in Indigenous communities as conduits of embodied intergenerational knowledge. She depicts the backs of seven female figures on a tipi cover with shards of crystals hanging off a beaded string. The crystals are emblematic of the implicit knowledge Indigenous women carry from generation to generation.

    In addition to its use of the archive as an informational site, Shards also considers the gravity of land – land as a personification of a distant past unparalleled to Canada 150. In doing so, the exhibition identifies and tracks histories that aren’t always visible, but also stabilizes a view toward the future.

    Shards continues until December 2.
    Gallery 1CO3:
    The gallery is accessible.

    Luther Konadu makes things such as photographs, paintings, and prints which he occasionally calls art. He self-describes as a transcriber. He contributes content to a publication called Public Parking. Most days his favourite colour is green and one of his goals in life is to never be an art brat. He is Akimblog’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed on Instagram @public_parking.

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    When I hear people scoff at abstraction in art, I ask them to consider the fascination we have with bonfires or the movement of clouds. We get lost in these natural forms, sometimes resorting to the game of guessing what other objects they might resemble, but oftentimes simply delighting in the unresolved flux that makes it difficult to ascertain any one identity. They are objects of change and, as such, events as well. Artists who attempt to capture them on canvas or film only hint at what they are like in the world. Only in rare instances can nature retain its essence when handled by a human who traps it in a space designed to hold life still.

    Xiaojing Yan, Spirit Cloud, 2017, freshwater pearl, filament, aluminum

    Xiaojing Yan’s Spirit Cloud sits at the heart of her otherworldly exhibition at the Varley Art Gallery. The complex assemblage of hundreds of suspended pearls doesn’t move, yet it somehow evokes the nebulous and fragile character of the atmospheric entity it imitates. From up close it could be a mathematical model of gaseous geometry or a pixelated animation slide of one moment in the lifespan of a puff of smoke. Just like a cloud, it dissipates when we approach and gathers itself into a distant unity the farther we stand back. As its outline comes into focus, hints of organic growth patterns become recognizable as echoes of the other unresolved materials in the gallery.

    Xiaojing Yan, Lingzhi Girl, 2016-2017, lingzhi mushrooms, woodchips, wood

    A collection of busts and a small gathering of animals around a young girl are relatively mundane sculptures except for the matter of what they’re made of and its behaviour long after the artist has completed her work. Each one was created from a mould planted with mushroom spores. Once the fungus filled the interior space and took on the shape of the sculpture, the mushrooms continued to grow, branching out in searching tendrils or forming broad flaps to decorate or deform the features of the host creature. Add to that a dusting of spores that drop from the emerging gills and the limits of the work become one with the space and potentially travel past the gallery on or in the bodies of exiting visitors.

    Yan already invaded our senses when we entered the gallery and immediately absorbed a smell that was eventually revealed to come from a landscape drawing created from pinning star anise to the walls. The references to her Chinese-Canadian past are most explicit here in the style of mountains depicted, but they wend their way through each of the pieces to link Chinese medicine and legends to contemporary concerns about the environment and the hybrid sense of identity that comes from the immigrant experience. Metamorphoses are also invoked with a staircase created from thousands of gold-painted cicada husks, but the final form is too literal to let the work transcends its elements. The inclusion of winged fairies amongst the fronds of a laser cut stainless steel willow tree makes the inverse mistake of being too whimsical to match the material force of the strongest of Yan’s work. Despite these criticisms, there is more than enough to behold here when nature enters into a collaboration with artifice and survives intact.

    Xiaojing Yan: Out from among the tranquil woods continues until January 7.
    Varley Art Gallery:
    The gallery is accessible.

    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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  • 11/28/17--19:40: Ingrid Bachmann at Art Mur
  • Haunted objects, images, and sounds are held together by the theme of anger in one of the exhibitions currently on display at Art Mûr. Ingrid Bachmann’s works run the gamut from kinetic sculptures to disconcertingly still ones, screen prints, gouache paintings on paper, and video. The Montreal-based artist casts anger as a force that’s not cathartically spent in the work, but alluded to as both threat and potential. She hints at two senses of her exhibition’s title: Angry Work. The works encode anger in fiery imagery, monstrous scale, or threatening twitches, and anger itself is proposed as a kind of “work” in and beyond the exhibition – for coalition building, for social justice, and for rights struggles. In a contemporary art scene that can seem exhaustingly affirmative, Bachmann’s works are unafraid to harsh all manner of mellows.

    Ingrid Bachmann, Pinocchio’s Dilemma (Tongues), 2007

    Under the din of polite vernissage conversation little mechanical sounds emanate from a couple of the pieces in the exhibition. The Angry Machine, fenced-in on three sides at the back of the gallery, whirrs every few minutes as a red projectile is drawn into its guts. Gallery goers hurry in front of the machine on its unguarded side to avoid a lashing that is never delivered. The installation Pinocchio’s Dilemma is a gauntlet with comparable threats. We pass between facing walls on which the artist has installed at head-height a row of lapping mechanical tongues and a metal bar that emerges from and shrinks back into a hole. Lean in close to hear the concealed motors of these devices and you risk lickings and injury. Critic Nancy Webb notes in the exhibition pamphlet that the polished metal nose refers to the tragic, pre-Disney character of Pinocchio who was to be hung from a tree for his fibs, and the tongues are the only works of Bachmann’s that people have tried to lick. Seductions and threats appear here in equal measure.

    Bachmann likens the exhibition’s machine-whispers to “noises in the attic” in Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre. Bertha Mason (Mrs. Rochester), a half-English, half-Jamaican “madwoman” is hidden away in the attic of aristocrat and plantation owner Edward Rochester’s home. Mason’s angry stirring and the history of exploitation and abuse it represents threaten Mr. Rochester’s plans to live happily ever after with Jane Eyre. This story of repression and the haunting it causes is taken up in the show’s images of silencing – in a screen print of sealed lips, and in bronze casts of tongues on plinths and blocks, lit with blue lights from below, or bound in red fabric. The figure of the trapped Creole Mrs. Rochester, like many of Bachmann’s works, represents seduction and threat – the seduction of righteous indignation and the threat of challenges to stolen experiences of happiness.

    Ingrid Bachmann, The Angry Machine (RED), 2017

    A video titled Smile and a pair of fourteen-foot-long metal knitting needles capture this dual sense of anger as weapon and righteous work. In the video, we follow the close-up view of a toothy smile framed by bright-red lips as it imperceptibly twists into angry, clenched teeth. And the needles are Swiftian giants that suggest the heroism and devaluation of traditionally domestic labour. Angry things in the exhibition are sometimes gendered female, sometimes male, but mostly neutral, and neutered. The Angry Machine threatens but never causes harm, the bound or eerily lit bronze tongues are isolated from the mouth, and the exhibition’s images of mouths are expressive but denied the power of speech. Anger circulates in the space as a theme and a bonding force between viewers and the works. It is an anger that is to be activated rather than judged – a functional anger displaced onto body parts and machines but never named.

    Ingrid Bachmann: Angry Work continues until December 20.
    Art Mûr:
    The gallery is accessible.

    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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    Local arts patron and long-time rich guy Jim Fleck was on CBC morning radio this week answering questions about his donation of Andy Warhol’s first Campbell Soup screenprint series to the AGO. He spoke in the straightforward manner of someone who is more accustomed to buying art than theorizing about it, which made the interview somewhat dry. The one interesting comment was his description of the work as “accessible.” He called it the kind of thing that might draw a viewer into more demanding art. That got my attention because I don’t usually think of Warhol as accessible given his radical upending of the artistic process through mechanical means, his challenges to the notion of authorship, and his use of commercial images. All of which, you’d think, would make him unlikely to appeal to neophyte gallery visitors looking for art that meets their expectations of what art should be like. On further reflection, Fleck’s response made sense because Warhol’s genius was to take all those consumer products that are familiar and available to us, and reframe them within the context of high art (while at the same time cheekily reframing everything else in the gallery within the context of commerce). Which is just to say, “It’s not the art that’s inaccessible; it’s the gallery.”

    Sel Ghebrehiwot, Melancholy, 2017, video

    A new venue for visual art in the west west end of the city explicitly addresses accessibility in its mandate. According to its website, The Margin of Eras Gallery is a space dedicated to exhibiting work by “artists who experience social, cultural, and economic marginalization, and systemic barriers.” The first part of their inclusively titled introductory exhibition Welcome to your gallery opened this week and the broad range of works on display makes it clear that diversity of media is as important as diversity of identity. From hand-painted denim jackets and jewellery made of recycled electronics to activist illustrations and poster stencils to paintings and video, the exhibition challenges conventional notions of what constitutes art while it also highlights those forms of art-making that are more likely to engage an audience rather than exclude it. Warhol is again instructive here because he understood consumption and valued it. Consumer good were not beneath him and neither were popular forms of expression.

    Street art is democratic in its use of public space as well as its emphasis on legibility, so it’s not surprising to see Queso’s stencils and Raquel Da Silva’s graffiti-inspired paintings appeal to that tradition. Sel Ghebrehiwot’s Melancholy draws on pop music and fashion videos to capture the experience of urban alienation and the feeling of not belonging. Pop art, political cartoons, public murals, and documentary drawings can also be found and while each artist has unique concerns, the unifying factor isn’t style or theme, so much as a background that precludes them from easy access to the means of exhibition.

    Shaughn Martel, Untitled, 2017, 3D pen

    Perhaps these challenges in simply getting into the gallery have an impact on the type of art that gets made. The downside to accessibility in art is when that concern shifts from artist to artwork. What happens all too often is that the unknown is sacrificed for the familiar. Of all the works at Margin of Eras, only Shaughn Martel’s strange black sculpture made with 3D pen and Ghebrehiwot’s surreal video feel out of the ordinary. The art world has celebrated the unexpected since the start of the avant-gardes, but this exhibition has little truck with that attitude. Could it be that privileging a certain level of difficulty is another form of exclusion? Probably.

    Which brings us back to Warhol. It might be a stretch to call him a marginalized figure, but he definitely worked from the periphery and hacked away at the barricades of fine art while finding inspiration in common, consumable, and popular material. He thumbed his nose at establishment restrictions and somehow became the most important artist of the last half of the 20th Century. Too bad Fleck didn’t decide to make his donation to a space that shared his interest in access.

    Welcome to your gallery continues until December 2.
    The Margins of Eras Gallery:
    The gallery is partially accessible.

    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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  • 12/06/17--08:23: Sensing Salon at Artspeak
  • Sensing Salon, a collaborative work by Valentina Desideri and Denise Ferreira da Silva at Artspeak, is presented as an index of materials that reference the array of subjects excavated in a program of events. The artists have invited long-term collaborators and local artists (Justine A. Chambers, Amalle Dublon, Stefano Harney, Mariana Marcassas, Constantina Zavitsanos, and Byron Peters) to lead study groups and workshops with allusive titles such as Elemental Panel and Poethical Readings to explore political theory, sound journeys, and the restorative qualities of study. Many of the workshops are concerned with healing practices such as astrology, Reiki, tarot, and herbal remedies. This might reflect an ongoing fascination with New Age practices in contemporary art, but it also invites a critical relationship to the personal self through these familiar modes of therapy.

    Valentina Desideri and Denise Ferreira da Silva, Sensing Salon

    What is meant by “a critical relationship to the personal self”? Sensing Salon has the shell of a pedagogical structure and includes discursive formats that generate expectations for edification. However, the artists seem to advocate for anti-education, since we know the education system is the fallen prey of marketing consultants and policymakers, built on the dubious virtuosity of personal composure, logistical functionality, transparency, and efficiency. That “virtuosity” stands in opposition to the healing practices the Salon cites. These practices provide a methodology to grapple with the nature of "falling apart"– perhaps to counter the productive virtues that buttress the capitalist present.

    The personal self might be the part of us that draws us to rituals like astrology and tarot, but a critical relationship to this self might raise the question of the origins of that attraction. What is it about our material conditions that motivate our identification with these playfully prophetic engagements? In Sensing Salon, that may be enacted by this intuitive and simultaneous study of political consciousness and yes, astrology too.

    I’m still not sure what I mean by having a critical relationship to the personal self, but I take it to be a starting point for forgiving ourselves for having a body, as well as a mind fraught with critique and political consciousness. That is something that can be difficult to realize without relenting in our commitment to the non-libidinal tête-à-têtes of conventional rigor.

    Valentina Desideri & Denise Ferreira da Silva: Sensing Salon continues until December 17.
    The gallery is partially accessible.

    Steffanie Ling's essays, criticism, and art writing have been published alongside exhibitions, in print, and online in Canada, the United States, and Europe. She is an editor of Charcuterie and co-curator at VIVO Media Arts Centre. Her books are Nascar (Blank Cheque, 2016) and Cuts of Thin Meat (Spare Room, 2015). She is Akimblog’s Vancouver correspondent and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram @steffbao.

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    From landscapes to still lives, nature might be the most common subject for art. That’s nature in its uncomplicated sense: flowers, minerals, animals, wilderness. Nothing tainted by human hands. However, the moment those things becomes art, nature is tainted (which is, I admit, overlooking the problematic nature of nature as a non-problematic category – which it isn’t), so where does that leave us?

    Jennifer Murphy, The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail), 2017

    If you’re like me, you’re not that big a fan of nature anyway. In fact, you much prefer going to art galleries than going on hikes, and if you’re going to contemplate the things in the world, you know you’re already seeing them through culturally constructed lenses, so why not look through the eyes of artists engaged in a similar reflexive observation – but who do it so much better than you? Which brings us to The More I Look At These Images, a group exhibition at 8-11 Gallery that takes nature photography as its starting point then spins it through a variety of looking glasses.

    Celia Perrin Sidarous’ looping 16mm projection is the clearest statement on how artificial our art really makes things. The bottom of the film frame touches the floor, so the images on screen (on wall, actually) feel more like sculptures than paintings. Which is apropos because she arranges flowers, shells (lots of shells), ceramics, pictures, and more over and over again in still life settings like miniature sculpture gardens. Objects disappear and reappear in different places, and as the relentlessly clicking projector keeps showing them over and over, those real things lose their original (that is, natural) contexts and become increasingly abstract.

    Jennifer Murphy has always forgone the thing itself for its representation. By collaging someone else’s images of animals and plants into organic forms, she completes a different sort of loop – one that fluctuates between art and nature just as her practice fluctuates between two and three dimensions, wall and floor. A small arrangement of cut-out figures propped up on the bare ground makes a miniature mythological menagerie while actual dead flowers throw a spanner in my theorizing, but since they are the sort of thing found in a shop rather than a field, I’d argue they are overdetermined by symbolic value and fall well within the range of the ersatz.

    Christina Battle, the future is a distorted landscape, 2017

    The two videos in the exhibition add commentary on how our contribution to/place in the natural/unnatural world is marked by hypocrisy, deceit, denial, and devastation. “Culture evolved because people wanted to live in a manner as unlike an animal as possible,” says an older man in Zinnia Naqvi's Seaview. She clicks through a file of photos of a beach in Pakistan, explains what goes on outside the frame, and concludes the image doesn’t reflect the reality of her having to be accompanied there by three male adults. Between raw footage of this beach and the meta-textual analysis of the same, we travel through an electrically illuminated night market, discuss driving (the most common way to regard the landscape) and the differences between Karachi and Canada, and then enjoy an intensely weird/typical (depending on where you come from) group of musicians rock a party.

    The intensity of that scene is matched by Christina Battle’s high velocity video-slideshow of isolated objects interspersed with supersaturated monitor noise overlaid with polemical directives… “Stand still for a second and look around you.” Crystals, pomegranates, mushrooms. “Think about the future.” Satellites, sea horses, old houses. “The environment is a distorted landscape.” Helicopters, avocadoes, corn. “There is a glitch in the system.” Sandstorms, oil drums, abandoned cars, and a dried riverbed.

    Are we the glitch? The onslaught of images continues unabated, and in the close confines of the basement gallery, it is relentless. There is nothing romantic, picturesque, or sublime here. It is only assaultive, which is as honest an account of our relationship with nature as you can get these days.

    The More I Look At These Images continues until December 14.
    8-11 Gallery:
    The gallery is not accessible.

    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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  • 12/12/17--21:26: 2017 Critic's Picks
  • Amie Siegel’s Quarry opened at the Audain Gallery in January and one of my nagging regrets was missing the opportunity to generate a review or lengthier engagement with this work. Siegel’s film follows the hewing of marble from a quarry in Vermont to a showroom for backsplashes, sinks, and countertops for luxury residential suites in Manhattan. Siegel’s clinical lens relies on the images to speak to resource extraction and surplus value schemes beyond it. At times the lens’ objectivity risks flattering the manicured spaces she wants to critique, but its coldness doesn’t reign over the film completely. There is a certain quality in Siegel’s editing which generates humour just by virtue of simply showing things as they are. When a mechanical arm wrestles with moving a slab of marble, I see a slapstick last stand between machine and mineral. When the film cuts to a perfectly edged row of cloth-bound Modern Library Classics to mark the transition from site of labour to zone of exorbitant wealth, it was an edit that carried comedic timing. Siegel’s work, which was originally commissioned by Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin for the 2015 exhibition The Housing Question, has particular resonance being exhibited at what curator Amy Kazymerchyk acknowledges is a contemporary art gallery within a university housed inside a real estate development named after a mining company (The Goldthorpe Centre for the Arts). So while including it on this list doesn’t satisfy me or do it as much justice as I would have liked a year ago, Quarry is still on my mind as Vancouver’s own housing question continues to loom over cultural institutions in this city.

    Participants preparing for audio recordings at Stanley Park as part of N.O.P.E. fellow Yu Su's Fieldwork Session #1, October 15, 2017 (photo: Sungpil Yoon)

    This and many other pertinent questions are being grappled with by N.O.P.E (Notes on Permanent Education) - a collective education experiment established and facilitated by Vincent Tao, the librarian at Pollyanna Library (a research infrastructure and public reading room operating out of 221A). N.O.P.E’s fellows this semester - documentary radio journalist Josh Gabert-Doyon and composer Yu Su - extended their research processes to the public by conducting workshops, communal cataloguing, and community presentations. Yu Su led participants on field recording sessions at Stanley Park and the much beloved Aberdeen Mall. Her speculative sound archive initiative addresses the lack of attention and absence of practice for the public documentation of urban aural environments. Gabert-Doyon’s research positioned the contested Woodward’s Development as a historical and ongoing site of class struggle in Vancouver. He invited artists Brit Bachmann, Gabi Dao, and Byron Peters to commune and share research in their capacity as artists and individuals invested in unpacking art’s role in gentrification processes. Gabert-Doyon’s project, coined the W.W.A.S (Woodward’s Anti-Developer Society), has over the past few months culled fragments from civic archives, activist histories, commercial ephemera, and redacted emails to reveal, among other discoveries, reactionary exchanges between city planners demonstrating unabashed poor bashing and NIMBYISM. Recently, at the Vancouver Tenants Union Convention, W.W.A.S presented a “mid-term report” and introduced their findings to a community of organizers and renters. Through these activities, the fellows generate materials for the currently rather sparse shelves in Pollyanna Library’s collection. The empty space suggests that there is much work to be done, but the burgeoning collection is evidence that they are doing it.

    Undertaking alternative or unofficial field work is the ongoing concern of artists, because what they do, framed as art, can potentially find ways to circumvent the rules and regulations of the dominant discourses it interrogates. Over the course of three days this past summer at the Western Front, film scholars and editors Leo Goldsmith and Rachael Rakes presented English filmmaker Peter WatkinsThe Journey - a 14-hour film from 1987 projected in 16mm. The film was shot on several continents between 1982 and 1985 as it undertook a global survey of perspectives on the nuclear arms race from individuals, families, and communities impacted by its presence in their local economies and natural environments. The film showed at TIFF in 1987 and was partially funded by the NFB, but it has rarely been publicly accessed or screened since. This is not necessarily because of its duration. Watkins edited the overall film into 45-minute sections with the hope that it could become a teaching tool for building consciousness. He wanted to exchange perspectives on nuclear military armament on the scale of all humanity, rather than privilege its effects in the American or European context. At the time, because of the film’s partisanship against nuclear armament, it was suppressed by prevailing conservative attitudes in media studies and the broader education system’s preference for neutrality. In June, it was a bit of a hard sell to invite rain-wearied Vancouverites to sit in the dark and contemplate a durational non-narrative film set against the anxious backdrop of nuclear armament. As film events go, it was the equivalent of a comet that takes all weekend to traverse the sky, barely noticed, yet more indelible than that.

    Steffanie Ling's essays, criticism, and art writing have been published alongside exhibitions, in print, and online in Canada, the United States, and Europe. She is an editor of Charcuterie and co-curator at VIVO Media Arts Centre. Her books are Nascar (Blank Cheque, 2016) and Cuts of Thin Meat (Spare Room, 2015). She is Akimblog’s Vancouver correspondent and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram @steffbao.

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  • 12/12/17--21:33: 2017 Critic's Picks
  • Bronze bronco-bucking-cowboys and chubby-upset-businessmen sculptures pass by as the gaping division between Calgary’s colonial corporate arts and its actual arts becomes glaringly evident. Fraudulent rip-offs of the Fringe Festival brochure, flippant hundreds of thousands of dollars, continued evidence of a permeating detachment from the local Indigenous history and the culture of its rightful people – it is an understatement to say this has been a tough year.

    Calgary’s Public Art Program aims to acquire “great public art that impacts Calgary’s urban landscape and transforms the way Calgarians see, think, and experience the city around them.” If this is true, we need fewer sculptures of shapeless blobs and white dudes riding stallions, and more help from the thriving and diverse community of actual artists and writers who are a part of this city. To ethically represent the city’s culture, the corporate arts and the actual arts need to be sutured.

    Here are my top three stitches for 2017:

    1. I propose that a list of all the Calgary artists who exhibit work in the year 2018 be compiled. Each artist is asked to submit a public artwork idea under $75 000 and be a member of the Public Art Panel 2018. Once formed, the panel selects ten of their own public art ideas to present to the public and passes them along as a pamphlet to the door of every residence in Calgary. Each person selects three favoured artworks from the list and mails their selection back in an attached stamped envelope (subsidized by The City, of course). Alternatively, the person can make their selection – and view more information and other language translations – via web-poll (link provided on pamphlet). The committee of artists then tallies the vote and commissions the most-voted-for artist to complete the work.

    New York artist Del Geist’s The Bowfort Towers installed along the Trans Canada Highway elicited immediate criticism from the Indigenous community

    2. As a somewhat easier option, I propose that every citizen of Calgary apply to be a Public Art Selection Panel member. You can join as an artist or as a community member. Each public art panel is made up of only seven people: three community members, one city employee from the commissioning business unit, and three arts professionals – so each voice would be very important.

    3. The Stoney Nakoda Nation – Bearspaw, Wesley, and Chiniki bands – submitted an official application to the Alberta Geographical Names Program in October to change 160 place-names back to the traditional names given them by the Stoney Nakoda people. This would be a crucial step in the preservation of the Stoney Nakoda culture and language, as well as a method for describing the origins and stories of our landscape and dismantling a colonial consciousness. I propose that artists, curators, and administrators only be allowed to introduce their art opening, reading, or screening by acknowledging their presence on Treaty 7 land on the condition that they write a letter to their counsellor arguing for Calgary to go back to its original name: Wichispa Oyade (loosely translates to “elbow town” or the gathering of places and cultures at the elbow). They must write a letter every time they introduce something until it happens.

    Lindsay Sorell is an artist and writer who recently collaborated with the Advanced Toastmasters of Calgary for the IKG Live 1 performance festival and completed two solo exhibitions of new work: Exercises in Healing at Contemporary Calgary and Buddha, Why Am I Alone? at AVALANCHE! Institute of Contemporary Art. She is currently working on a large-scale watercolour painting of food and is the editor of Luma Quarterly. She is Akimblog's Calgary correspondent and can be followed on Instagram.

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  • 12/12/17--21:39: 2017 Critic's Picks
  • In a year of women’s marches, solar eclipses, fake news, “celebrations” of Canada’s 150th anniversary of settler colonialism, Documenta, Venice, Skulptur Projekte, and other cultural spectacles, I was in mostly in Winnipeg savoring the city’s somewhat in-flux of the arts. Whenever December rolls around every year, it always feels like the last eleven months flew right past me. But as I comb through and take inventory of the highs and lows, I start to realize how long 365 days really is. This time around though, being in Winnipeg felt like an adequate supplement to my otherwise mainly URL arts and cultural consumption.

    Often times, you do feel the drought in on-goings around the city; however, as I began to backtrack, it became harder to pick only three highpoints. So before I give my top picks, here are my honorable mentions: first, seeing my roommate’s face when we went to visit Fred Sandback’s overwhelmingly spare yarn works at Plug In ICA; later in the summer at the same place seeing Chris Kraus read an excerpt of her book on Kathy Acker months before it was published; getting to shake Ann Hamilton’s hands after her talk at the WAG; reading Steven Leyden Cochrane’s profile in Canadian Art; being giddy about Divya Mehra’s Sobey nomination; seeing Rebecca Belmore’s work at Platform; walking past Walter Scott’s Blinky is Reading vinyl installation all summer; seeing WUFF take off; Tau Lewis’ talk and Maya Ben David’s performance lecture at Plug In ICA; later in the fall, at the same place, being surrounded by the unyielding works of Lori Blondeau, Rebecca Horn, Ana Mendieta, Xaviera Simmons, and Maria Hupfield (to name a few) as part of Entering the Landscape; hearing AK Burns at Plug In ICA talk about her world-building ambitions; seeing Lisa Kehler Art + Projects end their conventional gallery run for a more looser ad hoc alternative; Ming Hon’s incredible Hotel Room performance at Forth Projects/Wall-to-Wall; witnessing Patrick Cruz’s performative walk-through in Tagalog or rather Taglish as he later described it and thinking about a future where other languages interrupt the predominately English (or French) art spaces; listening to FASTWÜRMS talk two hours as they chronicled their amassed poly-directional work; and lastly, being increasingly assured by the vibrant work Winnipeg’s emerging artists like Mariana Muñoz Gomez, Hannah Doucet, Kristin Flattery, John Patterson, and Katrina Mendoza are respectively asserting.

    Pablo Bronstein (co-choreographed by Rosalie Wahlfrid), Peony Unfurling at Various Speed in Shopping Mall

    For the first top pick, I almost reflexively jumped onto Plug In ICA’s performance and sculpture-centered inaugural Biennale: STAGES: Drawing the Curtain. (Full disclosure: I worked at the gallery for two months this year.) It resonates because it allowed me to move through the city and be pleasantly surprised by the criticality and form the various interventions had in public spaces. From intention to execution STAGES seemed effortless. It illustrated that the conventional gallery space isn’t sufficient for contemporary art today and that ideas can flourish in public space. From Ron Tram to Federico Herrero to Pablo Bronstein to Krista Belle Stewart to Erica Eyres to Kara Hamilton to Abbas Akhavan to Toril Johannessen to Divya Mehra, all nine participants understood the idea of the “stage” from diverging and considered points of contacts illuminating the various sites they situated as stages. My personal high marks included Johannessen’s immersive audio play, Bronstein’s baroque-leaning court gesturing number, and Stewart’s transporting performance with Jeneen Frei Njootli and violinist Laura Ortman, which took place in the basement at the Hudson’s Bay.

    Next on my list is Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Insurgence/Resurgence. After what seemed like a continuously arid stream of showings by the gallery, this exhibition was a much needed and long awaited change as it presented audiences with an eclectic group of Indigenous voices asserting culturally and politically critical conversations through their various practices. The curation by Jamie Isaac and Julie Nagam brought forward works by emerging and established creatives like Amy Malbeuf, Dayna Danger, Kenneth Lavallee, Joseph Tisiga, Ts̲ēma Igharas, KC Adams, Ursula Johnson, Casey Koyczan, and Duane and Tanya Linklater, just to name a few. Some of my personal favourites included Frank Shebageget’s exquisitely pulsating sculptural work and Joi T Arcand’s neon language-based work that washes the gallery floors with its luminance.

    Lastly, I discovered artist book library and shop Also As Well Too accidentally earlier in summer when they launched Frank Livingston’s book Journal: A Field Guide of Metropolitan Discovery. The nomadic artist’s bookshop, which had its humble beginnings in the living room of founder Alexis Kinloch, revived its way into a new spacious location with a plethora of artist’s books and additional one-off programs. This gem of a find not only expanded my peripheral grasp of these portable art objects, but it was nice to know that outside conventional spaces for exhibition, there was a place in the city championing alternate ways one can intimately be engaged in any piece of artwork.

    If any of the cultural contributions and people I’ve name-dropped is any indication, then I’ll conclude by saying 2017 was above average for Winnipeg’s art scene. Let’s cross our fingers and hope it’s a signal toward an even more formidable 2018.

    Luther Konadu makes things such as photographs, paintings, and prints which he occasionally calls art. He self-describes as a transcriber. He contributes content to a publication called Public Parking. Most days his favourite colour is green and one of his goals in life is to never be an art brat. He is Akimblog’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed on Instagram @public_parking.

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  • 12/12/17--21:44: 2017 Critic's Picks
  • Instead of offering up a commentary on our times, this year’s exhibitions provided escape in the form of nostalgia. For example, Saskatchewan spent 2017 reliving its glory days as a hotbed of Modernism. Picasso bridged the 400 kilometer gap between Saskatoon’s Remai Modern, home to the world’s largest collection of Picasso linocuts, and the oil patch border town of Estevan, where curator Alex King built a show around a phrase Picasso used to compare painting to poetry – Plastic Rhymes– and an irreverent new generation of artists wrestling with the legacy of Modernism.

    Elvira Finnigan, Reception, 2017, installation (photo: Don Hall)

    Elvira Finnegan’s Reception at the Dunlop Art Gallery reclaimed another relic of the prairie past: a tea reception, the remains of which the artist doused in brine. Over time, lacy ruffs of salt crystals dyed with tea, coffee and punch dregs rose and spilled over the lips of china cups. Remaining dainties were frosted with glittering saline. The exhibition was incredibly popular, perhaps because we’d all like to see a happy scene so prettily pickled and time halted.

    A jolt away from the dreamy comfort of the past came from unexpected quarters – the MacKenzie Art Gallery’s vault. (Full disclosure: I have worked at the gallery since July, but I couldn’t omit this exhibition because it’s honestly one of the best things I’ve seen all year.) Critic and psychiatrist Jeanne Randolph applied her signature fictocriticism to the assembled works in My Claustrophobic Happiness. Andy Warhol’s fuchsia and acid yellow portrait of Queen Elizabeth II reveals the appeal of superficiality: “The outside of Queen Elizabeth is so glamorous and grand there’s no room for an inside.” The thesis of Randolph’s abundant and feverish writings is ultimately anti-Capitalist.

    If I could add one more thing, @shitfireplace, created by local artist Eric Hill and musician Jeff Meldrum, is an Instagram advent calendar modeled on the Shaw Fire Log crossed with the loopy insight of a horoscope. Each day a regrettable item – a round of artisan bread consumed by mould, a wooden bedpost, a romance novel – becomes an immaterial puff of smoke. Consumption and nostalgia won’t last long around here.

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

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  • 12/20/17--05:23: 2017 Critic's Picks
  • The past twelve months saw speakers, performers, and curators shine lights on the many barriers built into the mainstream arts and force a focus on the brilliant work that has been taking place beyond those walls for generations. It was a year of building safer spaces for play and thoughtful transformations.

    Heather Igloliorte’s curation of SakKijâjuk: Art and Craft from Nunatsiavut remains one of the most beautiful exhibitions to visit the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. The work of four generations of artists from Nunatsiavut, Labrador was a pleasure to walk through and a testimonial to the political and cultural importance of craft within the fine arts.

    Recent Graduates of NSCAD U Jade Byard Peek and Shya Ishaq were an indispensable duo in Halifax’s ongoing integration of social justice into the art scene. Byard Peek is an artist, curator, and leader in the student movement. Her performance Fried palpably translated her relationship to hair within the violence of white beauty standards. Ishaq’s residency at The Khyber, Black Libraries Matter, created a space of combined wisdom by building a library of readings recommended by members of the Black community and donated by the North Memorial Library. Peek and Ishaq’s joint effort leading the Black Lives Matter Reading Group extended their unshakable intelligence and patience to groups of participants in a collective learning classroom. The sessions expanded on the BLM Syllabus, specializing it to Nova Scotia’s troubled race dynamics. The tremendous energy they have put into this community reaches ever outward and will shape this city for many years to come, no matter where they move forward in their careers.

    Helah Cooper, Switches + Links (photo: Helah Cooper, performer: Calen Sack)

    Helah Cooper’s exhibition Switches + Links was a modular performance interface built in the Anna Leonowens Gallery. At set times in the day teams of performers improvised with platforms, steps, and tiny objects. Visitors witnessed the queer dynamics of each group as they built and deconstructed tiny worlds out of odd objects. Cooper’s experimental playground perfectly illustrated how we are able to reconfigure culture when we work together and make way for varying perspectives. The exuberance of play and ferocity of activism at work in 2017 was all encompassing and deeply humbling to participate in.

    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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  • 12/20/17--06:48: 2017 Critic's Picks
  • The New York Times’s most-read stories of 2017 are, in descending order: the Las Vegas shooting, the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight, and Hurricane Irma. The Mirror’s list of famous 2017 deaths includes a whole lot of men of the music industry and the silver screen. Erin Moran from Happy Days and Mary Tyler Moore were among the seriously outnumbered women on the list. There were pop star suicides too: US rapper Lil Peep (aged 21) and K-Pop star Kim Jong-Hyun (aged 27). At the darkest reaches of this rabbit hole I found a site called 2017 Sucks, then scratched my way out with lighter fare from the CTV News list: “Toronto man builds park stairs for $550, irking city after $65,000 estimate”; “Canadian missing since 2012 found in Amazon rainforest”; “Epic fight between moose and wolf captured by drone.”

    This past fall Ed Atkins led us deeper into trivia for the end-of-days. For his solo show Modern Piano Music at DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art he took a 2013 headline as a point of departure: “A loud crash, then nothing: Sinkhole swallows Florida man.” The works in the exhibition follow the artist’s HD avatar (versions of a beleaguered white guy, save for one chimp) as he falls through the floor of his home, languishes in smoky bars, drinks down his melancholia, braves invasive security-screenings at airports, and finally straps himself in for a doomed British Airways flight. The works are operatic, and in case we need the reminder, Atkins’s score for the final video is Ravel’s Bolero. The artist calls his character a “middle class white male in a horrible looping nowhere who nevertheless demands our empathy.” Looking back on this after a year of rising or falling irredeemable men in the media makes the empathy Atkins’s avatar demands hard to summon. It also makes his work just right for the occasion.

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

    It’s been difficult to look away from ugly news this year, even as it dulled the senses, corrupted the story-form, and chipped away at our faith in humanity. Chloë Lum and Yannick Desranleau’s Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black at CIRCA Art Actuel was a port in the storm. Split between a two-channel video installation featuring contemporary dancers in ten sketches and a room full of their wearable sculptures, the exhibition was like a dream that sends you back into waking life with heightened awareness, deepened sensitivity, and an appreciation for the intelligence of the body, whether able or infirm. The show’s slowed-down videos included quiet narratives about illness, pain and anxiety, and about finding respite from all that in “queer things” and “feminine things” – names for the wonderfully inventive objects with which the dancers improvised. The empathy one finds hard to offer Atkins’s character comes easy in Lum and Desranleau’s work.

    Alexis Lavoie’s Faits divers at Galerie d’Art d’Outremont struck a balance between cynicism and hope, with small canvases of shameful moments grabbed from various media sources and larger paintings of shameless moments of debauched love. His images are humanely blurred to protect us from the glare of their tragedy, or to suggest that in their original mass-media contexts they are broadcast to be forgotten and replaced with newer, more harrowing ones. Stills of teen suicides, kidnappings, and executions are treated indifferently with the painter’s signature blur. A long line of these pictures led to a brighter corner in the exhibition featuring large, spare, and finely composed paintings of mostly-naked revelers, lovers, and ghosts in ill-fitting party hats or gas masks, carrying balloons, or cozying up with piñatas and various party favors. The work reminds us to keep a squinty-eye on the disasters of our time whilst celebrating like fools at the end of the world.

    Happy New Year!

    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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  • 12/20/17--11:40: 2017 Critic's Picks
  • Tumultuous might be too gentle a descriptor for this past year. It began with soul searching about the American election and ended with a lesson for my daughter about how power corrupts. She is reading Animal Farm and my wife started a doctorate in Environmental Studies with a focus on how beauty can provide hope in an age of environmental despair. When Trump was elected, I reserved my greatest dread for how much damage he would inflict on the planet. Tax cuts come and go, but the Earth is drastically close to a state beyond recovery. The sinking feeling that we have already sunk past this point is one we all manage too well to ignore. Our complicity in a global mass homicide-suicide pact is so much part of the zeitgeist that I saw two exhibitions this year with two different artists who dramatized it in the same way. Both cut right to the bone. Julieta Maria’s Embrace at Sur Gallery and Jonathas de Andrade’s O peixe (The Fish) at The Power Plant depict fish slowly suffocating as they are cradled in human arms. In the former (and earlier) instance, it is the artist, while the latter features fishermen in a faux documentary setting. The wordless reserve of the handlers and the reflexively gaping mouth of the sacrifice are as disturbing as anything I imagine was included in the Guggenheim’s controversial Art and China After 1989 exhibition. Maybe shock art is what’s needed to shake us out of our self-destructive stupor. Maybe these two videos should be permanently installed on the Jumbotrons of Dundas Square.

    Siwa Mgoboza, The Department of Afrocorrectional Services II, 2016, inkjet on Hahnemule photo rag

    After decrying the doomed state of the world, it helps to remember how wonderful it can be. Art has always been a window onto that wonder and the spring launch of Matter Gallery opened that window a little larger for those of us who don’t get out of the country much. The local gallery without any local artists established a northern bulwark on the formerly warehouse and rehearsal studio-dominated Geary Avenue, which is now in the coffee shop and art gallery phase of gentrification. Dedicated to exhibiting artists from unrepresented regions of the planet (that is, not Europe and North America), gallerists Lara Morton and Zack Pospiezynski have already brought guests from Iran, Turkey, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and South Africa to Toronto. In addition to the art on the walls, the cultural exchange that comes from their artists’ performances, public talks, and studio visits can only inject some much needed international variety into the Canadian art scene.

    As for the individual works from this past year that continue to stick with me, I’d flag Public Studio’s quad-as-riot-site proposal for The Art Museum’s Making Models exhibition as an appropriately angry response to the present political moment, Derya Akay’s lath installation/intervention in HERE at the Aga Khan Museum as an example of an imagination in overdrive, Amanda Boulos at Richard Rhodes Dupont Projects as a reminder of how powerful painting can be, and Maggie Groat’s installation in Illusion of Process at the AGYU as an instance of my favourite kind of maximalism.

    Ronnie Clarke, READING TOGETHER

    After pessimism and optimism comes one suggestion for the coming year: artists and curators, stop including so many words in your exhibitions. I am saying this as a writer who loves visual art: too much writing overdetermines your work and leaves the viewer reading when they should be looking. For example, Ydessa Hendeles’ solo exhibition at The Power Plant with its voluminous footnotes, Every. Now. Then. at the AGO with its intrusive wall texts, and the 2017 University of Toronto MVS Studio Program Graduating Exhibition at The Art Museum with its book-length text-works: each one was chock full of things to see, but weighted down by verbiage. Some of it is explanatory and some is art made with words – neither of which I’m opposed to entirely. However, the shift toward writing needs a corrective, so I’m hoping to see more visuals in my visual art next year. I can read at home and prefer to search out contextualization rather than have it thrust in my face.

    Of course, rules always include exceptions and I’d be the first to eat my words if you pointed to Deanna Bowen’s multi-layered script-based project at Mercer Union and Ronnie Clarke’s ingenious cardboard and iPhone VR text piece READING TOGETHER. But in general, have faith in pictures and leave the words to me.

    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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    With over one million objects, documents, photographs, and artworks in its collection, Glenbow Museum has the opportunity to be a transcultural, inter-chronological, institutional beacon for Wichispa Oyade (Calgary). However, caught between contemporizing their exhibits and showing previously developed permanent collections, the Museum remains in a purgatory of oddly disjointed, shoulder-to-shoulder contradictions. Each exhibit makes sense isolated thematically, but side-by-side they upend each other’s meaning, neutralizing the overall relevance of the institution. If you’ve been to the Glenbow, you know the most painful manifestation of this action is the Museum’s tucked-away Niitsitapiisinni: Our Way of Life upstairs, and the prominently positioned and poorly contextualized Picturing the Northwest: Historical Art from Glenbow’s Collection below.

    Glenbow Museum

    Brightly lit and freshly re-branded with fun gold and black curly-cue Western font didactics, Picturing the Northwest– Glenbow’s permanent collection of colonial, early 1900s plains oil painting – celebrates white settler painters Frederick Arthur Verner, Cornelius Krieghoff, Frances Anne Hopkins, and others. Armed with the brief, self-aware caveat that First Nations people were indeed “devastated by disease and deprived of their sources of sustenance” and “confined to reserves and provided with inadequate rations and no means of subsistence,” paintings and sculptures depict white people churning the earth, Hudson’s Bay officials getting into a canoe, an Indigenous woman carrying moccasins to sell, and four cowboys, pistols in the air, on horses.

    Meanwhile, upstairs in the now seventeen-year-old Niitsitapiisinni: Our Way of Life exhibit, museum labels are falling off their wall glue, interactive displays are worn out, and poor lighting guides the viewer through what should be the most cared-for exhibit in the building. Co-curated with Blackfoot Elders, Niitsitapiisinni is a generous and thoughtful re-writing of North American history, documenting intricate pre-colonial Indigenous mapping systems, Indigenous relationships to the land, animals, textiles, and the cultural vibrancy of the Blackfoot. Simultaneously, it chronicles the devastation of European diseases to Indigenous people, the horrific abuse at Residential Schools (1880-1996, the last school closing only five years prior to this exhibition launch), and the continued loss and trauma resulting from the colonizing of the West.

    Niitsitapiisinni is unquestionably the most important project in the Museum, and its disrepair needs to be addressed. The exhibit would benefit from a complete overhaul in collaboration with Blackfoot Elders, accommodating for technological and user-experience advancements in the past seventeen years, thoughtful toward Indigenous Futures, and inclusive of contemporary Indigenous thinkers and makers. While other interesting programs like the tour of Textiles from Glenbow’s Indigenous Studies collection with Indigenous Studies Curator Joanne Schmidt, and the current inter-cultural textile show Eye of the Needle are great advancements for the Museum, the curly-cued jollification of Western colonization apparent in Picturing the Northwest and elsewhere is unacceptable and frankly appalling. Although Picturing makes it clear that colonizing the West was once romanticized, there is absolutely no reason for that romanticization to be further perpetuated. Why not collaborate with Blackfoot Elders in curating that too?

    Glenbow Museum:
    The gallery is accessible.

    Lindsay Sorell is an artist and writer who recently collaborated with the Advanced Toastmasters of Calgary for the IKG Live 1 performance festival and completed two solo exhibitions of new work: Exercises in Healing at Contemporary Calgary and Buddha, Why Am I Alone? at AVALANCHE! Institute of Contemporary Art. She is currently working on a large-scale watercolour painting of food and is the editor of Luma Quarterly. She is Akimblog's Calgary correspondent and can be followed on Instagram.

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  • 01/10/18--19:32: Dave Dyment at MKG127
  • Having spent an inordinate amount of time over the holidays watching Netflix, I find that Dave Dyment’s exhibition at MKG127 makes a lot of sense to me. His diverse range of media – including a video, a sound piece, a bookwork, a drawing, a photo series, and some x-rays – is accompanied by a single-minded focus on pop culture (with one exception). My binge-watch of choice these days is Bojack Horseman and that animated series relies on a similarly singular obsession (in its case: the minutiae of American celebrity culture). It is a creative work created out of previous creative work. What makes it more than your standard po-mo bricolage is the creators’ underlying sentimentality for junk culture. Artifice is a source of not only entertainment and humour, but also of personal significance. Our most meaningful experiences can come from television (or movies or pop songs) as much as they can from real life.

    Dave Dyment, ‘Ere Long Done Do Does Did, 2018, inkjet on archival paper

    The central project of the exhibition, ‘Ere Long Done Do Does Did, aptly demonstrates and enacts this dynamic of creation begetting creation. Harold Bloom’s book The Anxiety of Influence provides a possible context for this practice, though the artist here would be better suited to the title The Embrace of Influence. In his bookwork with accompanying wall display, photographs, and flowers, Dyment has assembled a text derived from the texts that inspired lyrics by the 1980s British rock band The Smiths. “Plagiarized” might be a more appropriate description (as would “appropriated”) of the wholesale borrowing by the band’s lyricist Morrissey. He was never covert about his influences and part of his appeal as a pop star was the way in which he shared an idiosyncratic personal library of precedents for his listeners to discover. His inspiration became our inspiration and a love of the band wasn’t simply a matter of listening to their records, but immersing oneself in their world of inspiration. Dyment continues the cycle of art inspiring art by making art inspired by the art that inspired art. His incredible labour in this endeavor is to structure his book through the page numbers of the appropriated texts: each page of his 128-page book is numbered in sequence according to the digits from the source text. This additional restriction turns a simple research project into a five-year-long performance of obsession.

    Dave Dyment with Stephanie Cormier, Eavesdrop, 2018, vintage bakelite phone, vintage iPhone, 90 minute audio loop

    The queasiness that accompanies such self-absorption is at the heart of the sound piece Eavesdrop. Pick up the phone at the back of the gallery and you’ll be privy to conversations taken from old movies depicting interactions with bugged phones. Often the characters know or suspect they are being recorded and change their manner or comment on the need to watch what they say. Self-awareness turns us all into actors playing a character based on ourselves. Our understanding of how that character is constructed is tied to our familiarity with our formative influences. Dyment’s drawing of a homemade cassette cover with a list of bands whose names are derived from the lyrics of previous bands foregrounds that lineage. Even his video composition of an action sequence located at the Hearn generating station, assembled from footage taken from movies shot in that location, turns something real – in this case an actual abandoned power station – into a funhouse of possible identities.

    The one exception in the exhibition has nothing to do with other artists' art but it is also based on found material. The series of x-ray images that make up A Dollar and Two Crowns are taken from images of the insides of individuals who have swallowed coins and teeth. The alien elements literally become part of the person. When they are viewed, they are seen as solid white shapes within the murky blur of our bodies. Their presence is undeniable. The person will pass away; what will remain is the art.

    Dave Dyment: Stop Me If You’ve Heard It continues until February 3.
    The gallery is partially accessible.

    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 kept an eye out for Leonard Cohen near his Plateau-Mont-Royal home when I first moved to the neighborhood over ten years ago. At first, I just saw traces. A little brunch spot called Bagel Etc. proudly displays photos of the staff arm-in-arm with Cohen behind the counter, and his deep-lined face floated around the city on t-shirts, in murals, and on posters. Then, one blessed day, I saw him strolling, a little hunched and pensive, down St. Laurent Street near his Montreal home. Others had better stories – about spotting Cohen on his doorstep composing poems and songs, or being wooed by him near the gazebo at Parc de Portugal.

    Kota Ezawa, Cohen 21, 2017

    A little over a year after the iconic poet/musician’s death, sightings are no longer possible but commemorations abound. CBC offers “a mobile, location-aware audio walking tour of Leonard Cohen’s Montreal” and the Musée d’art contemporain has organized what curator John Zeppetelli calls one of the museum’s “most ambitious” exhibitions ever. The blockbuster show includes commissioned works by over forty artists, musicians, filmmakers, and performers across six galleries. In keeping with a curatorial trend for big museums these days, the exhibition is chock full of immersive and virtual experiences to capture Cohen’s music, his times, and the various public, private and institutional spaces he moved through. The ambulatory concept for this show is introduced in its first pieces. After a psychedelic listen to Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” in Ari Folman’s Depression Chamber, visitors gather in a large room for a documentary film montage by George Fok called Passing Through. Fok projects concert clips from Cohen’s decades-long career onto three walls for an enveloping, if conventional, second-hand experience of the artist’s greatest performances.

    Kota Ezawa’s Cohen 21, a short, looped 16mm film re-animation of a 1965 NFB documentary, moves the exhibition into more challenging territory. In it, Cohen tells a story about getting lost while visiting a friend at a psychiatric hospital. En route to the hospital’s cafeteria Cohen takes a wrong turn and finds himself in a large room with doors on all sides, confronted by a couple of bullies in white jumpsuits who take him for an escaped patient. His negotiation with the guards is comical, and a little dark too, as a futile argument with institutional authority. This work sets up the higher critical aims of the exhibition. Outside the viewing room for Ezawa’s animation, visitors are faced with something that looks a lot like the hospital labyrinth Cohen describes. A pedestrian crossing sign by Thomas Demand titled Stoplight hangs in the middle of an open room; its flashing red-hand and green walker directing viewers cryptically to small galleries behind closed doors. Behind the doors, religion and politics, the subjects we’re told should never be brought up in polite conversation, are the focus of the most arresting works in the exhibition.

    Candice Breitz, I’m Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen), 2017

    Candice Breitz’s 19-channel video installation I’m Your Man (A Portrait of Leonard Cohen) shows die-hard male fans singing songs from the 1988 comeback album of the same name. The performers’ identification with Cohen is total. Cohen is very much ‘their man.” A group portrait of what the curators call Cohen’s “late-masculinity and style” emerges in an oddball chorus of shaky voices and awkward dance moves. To hold the centre, backing vocals are provided by an all-male choir from the Westmount synagogue to which Cohen belonged – a note on Cohen’s enduring religious commitments that is repeated in Kara Blake’s multichannel video The Offerings in the next room.

    The most challenging work in the exhibition might be Michael Rakowitz’s multimedia installation titled I’m Good at Love, I’m Good at Hate, It’s in Between I Freeze. It tells a story about the artist’s conflicted feelings after discovering details of Cohen’s brushes with Middle-East politics. The work includes a vitrine displaying old photos and a letter Rakowitz wrote to Cohen on the poet’s own Olivetti typewriter. In an accompanying video, Rakowitz reads the letter while a Cohen-doppelganger is shown wandering through the narrow streets of Ramallah. The narrative in the video circles around an archival photograph of Cohen playing for Israeli troops during the Yom Kippur War, a complicity that for Rakowitz undermines the “humanism” of Cohen’s work. The piece is poignant, brave, and silly by turns. A choppy animated bit halfway through the video adds some levity to what is intended as a serious protest. Rakowitz imagines a cheery congress of Arabs and Israelis under the banner of music in a short sequence showing cut-out photos of Cohen and the iconic Egyptian singer Om Kalthoum floating in halved watermelons whose red flesh, green skin, and black seeds echo the design of the Palestinian flag.

    Zeppetelli calls the exhibition a “critical celebration” and a “loving tribute” to Cohen. It’s more of a love-fest than a critique of Cohen’s career for sure. At its worst, the show is a predictable celebration of one of Montreal’s greatest cultural treasures – which is not at all a bad low point. But at its best, the show leads viewers into little-known corners of the artist’s biography that reflect his complexity and contradictions, and our own as well.

    Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything continues until April 9.
    Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal:
    The gallery is accessible.

    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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