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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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    Tree planting is backbreaking, competitive work – endured for wads of cash and a tight-knit sense of camaraderie. A carnal sleuth with the stench of free art opening wine on my breath, I pop a soft chocolate truffle in my mouth from the glass bowl at Jarvis Hall Gallery’s entrance. Drawing from his own three-summer streak as a tree planter after getting his MFA from Concordia, Patrick Dunford’s Difficult Terrain paints labourers as they interact with landscapes. I think of swatting massive horseflies away from my flesh and sip on my white. Classy.

    Patrick Dunford, Strangers in Carrizo Gorge, 2018, oil on canvas.

    Workers wear matching ochre or denim overalls, handle shovels in a barren, rocky gorge, carry trees to a planting site through what must be a muddy logging road, or hammer away at blank ground in the wilderness. As I roam the room, the paintings strike me as a move against the passivity of art gatherings such as this – soft conversations about your graduate programme, smooth hands greeting one another, cars in the parking lot. The contrast is refreshing, like spilled light or a joke only working-class people can get.

    Dunford’s sincerity and calm humour highlights the jollity of a different kind of togetherness: the beautiful inanity of spending bloody, sweaty months in the bush replanting 0.4% of what was de-forested. His impasto brings into focus individual elements like memories: piles of paint animate bodies holding shovels or boxes of trees, white work shirts, crags in a portrait of the sedimentary rock Kyanite. In other places, the painting is left bare, revealing its bones: pencil, gesso, nothingness. A clear sight from canvas to layered brushstroke gives transparency to the matured restraint in Dunford’s process. He takes delight in limitless shades of colour and light. Peach morphs into coral, burnt orange, then muted pomegranate. Some sections have been scraped away or are crudely and two-dimensionally outlined.

    I can see Dunford’s interest in Shuvina Ashoona’s drawings and his fascination with the land art of Michael Heizer. Dunford paints tree planters like land artists and re-forestation as land art. He uses faux-naïve, two-dimensional aerial depictions as his raw, remote, and candid language. Drawing attention to the role of the labourer and class division while providing an updated perspective on modern relationships to nature, Dunford is the carnal sleuth. He takes pleasure in shades of sediment and foliage, in being critical of, but also enchanted with a communist belief in sweating together.

    Patrick Dunford: Difficult Terrain continues until April 21.
    Jarvis Hall Gallery:
    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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  • 03/21/18--13:57: Trisha Baga at Gallery TPW
  • Perhaps it’s because I read The Republic once a year, but any time I see a cave I think of Plato. The interior of his analogical cavern corresponds with the realm of illusion, which for him meant shadows, reflections, and most art. Shifting his epistemological parallel to the present, it’s easy to see the prisoners restrained deep within, whose only knowledge of the world is based on a parade of silhouettes across an illuminated back wall, as average consumers locked to their computers screens who only interact with reality through the never-ending flow of social media, streaming services, and instant updates.

    Trisha Baga, The Voice, 2017-2018, 3D video with podium, furniture, and three 2D video projections

    The first of the two 3D video installations by Trisha Baga that recently opened at Gallery TPW as part of their Images Festival programming takes place, in part, in a cave. Department of Interior (sketch for untitled technothriller) ricochets from abstract forms and conceptual space to a shadowy cave that suggests, among other things, the ascent and descent of the freed prisoners who become put-upon philosophers in Plato’s authoritarian Republic. Linking the ancient Greek’s Utopian politics to the American artist’s identity politics is a stretch (she is fixated on crossing lines while he only wants to police them), but their shared investigation into real, imaginary and ideal things is front and centre care of an actual bucket and pebbles, magnified granules of dust that seem to float just out of reach, and layers of mediation as the projected cave extends past the gallery wall but overlaps a living room or a studio that somehow occupies the same place. Plus there’s a cute puppy roaming around as well! Flashlight beams swing past assorted figures engaged in creative exercises that have no clear outcome, but the immersive experience invites an interrogation of visual culture that is equally head-scratching and eye-popping.

    Trisha Baga, The Voice, 2017-2018, 3D video with podium, furniture, and three 2D video projections

    Baga’s larger installation The Voice is far more (purposefully) fragmented, though less in-your-face. Instead it situates the 3D effect in a classroom setting and turns the screen into a multilayered surface of shifting texts. One of the many themes that churn throughout the twenty-five minute video concerns the vicissitudes of language and translation. In the exhibition text (a wonderful interview with Images Festival Head of Programming Aily Nash that is well worth reading to get a sense of Baga’s idiosyncratic thinking processes), the artist describes the experience of having her mother’s friends make fun of her in dialects she couldn’t understand. Language, as she point out, becomes material when it means nothing. This in turn becomes the stuff of her art and relates not just to language per se, but also her queer identity and her Filipino heritage. Like all great artists, she doesn’t fit in and this consistent condition of being at odds with the world makes her an expert at revealing ruptures and uncertainties. She points to her use of consumer-grade electronics as a formal instance of this breakdown. This quality of technology creates the illusion while also critiquing it. From shadow puppets to virtual reality, that inherent contradiction in representation is something we have always wrestled with: how much of what we see do we believe? Plato thought we were dummies for the most part and blamed artists for duping us. If only he had experienced art like Baga’s that uses illusions to get to truths, then he wouldn’t have been such a grouch.

    Trisha Baga: Biologue continues until April 21.
    Gallery TPW:
    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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    Qui parle ? / Who Speaks? is a deceptively simple title. To answer provisionally: the artists do, as women (Jo-Anne Balcaen, Krista Belle Stewart, Moyra Davey, Suzy Lake, Isabelle Pauwels), and as men (Ian Wallace, Raymond Boisjoly). National identities might further organize these voices – there are Indigenous artists, American ex-pats, and Canadians. But these waters are productively muddied on closer examination. The works on display at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery dialogue with histories to put pressure on reductive accounts of gendered, national, ethnic, and linguistic identity.

    Krista Belle Stewart, Seraphine, Seraphine, 2014, video (photo: Paul Litherland)

    Balcaen’s video Mount Rundle speaks to a landscape painting the artist made at age twelve under a nun’s direction. As the camera zooms into the canvas, Balcean’s voice-over shuttles between press-time, after a residency at the Banff Centre in the shadow of Mount Rundle, and her childhood experience of working from a calendar photo of it. Her commentary focuses on the travails of an artist’s career, in awkward brushstrokes, in barren studios at Banff, and in the stilted language used by residents there. Krista Belle Stewart’s video Seraphine, Seraphine measures the distance between her mother Seraphine’s residential and nursing school years, presented in a 1967 CBC docudrama, and her wary recollection of them in an interview for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Male voices in the docudrama (from a blond-haired date of Seraphine’s and a residential school master) resonate troublingly with that of the off-screen interviewer for the Commission. In both works, speaking positions are hard earned, bumping up against religious, institutional, and patriarchal authority.

    The exhibition’s initial question leads to another: to whom do the artists speak? In Maquette: Suzy Lake as Francoise Sullivan, Lake speaks through an image of her peer Francoise Sullivan, and in ,OOO, Pauwels speaks through a disjointed conversation between a dominatrix and her cringe-worthy male clients. The men in the exhibition speak through others as well, and significantly through women. Boisjoly’s Author’s Preface combines freely associated text and image fragments divined from the filmmaker Maya Deren’s studies of Haitian Voodoo ritual. Speakers here are cast as interlocutors, ventriloquists, and conjurors.

    A third question suggests itself: from what historical location do the artists speak? The most moving replies come from Davey’s video Fifty Minutes and Wallace’s Magazine Piece. Davey roves through her New York apartment, physically and mentally gathering books, photographs, appliances, and other objects of value. She speaks reluctantly through these aides-memoire to an absent male psychoanalyst “Dr. Y,” circling back to his “priggishness” and ineptitude to dismantle the tradition on which his authority is based. This symbolic “death of the father” is set against the backdrop of life after 9/11 in New York. In reckoning with the loss of these totems (the analyst and the Twin Towers), Davey leads us line by line through the works of little-known female authors who describe a 20th Century “age of uncertainty” that echoes her own.

    Ian Wallace, Magazine Piece (Time Magazine, December 18, 2017), 1970-2018, magazine pages, tape (photo: Paul Litherland)

    Wallace’s shape-shifting piece presents grid-layouts of a 1970 issue of Look Magazine and TIME’s 2017 Person of the Year issue honouring the “silence-breakers” of the “techno-feminist” movement. Zeitgeists captured in the two issues begin to communicate across a fifty-year gap. Odd correspondences pop up in the Look layout, between a picture of a man with his head plunged into the toothy smile of a killer whale, and one of a coiffed middle-aged woman’s mug emerging from a mink scarf. These snapshots of the 1970s “me” generation contrast with the dignified portraits of “me-too” activists in the TIME issue. The key to the work, Wallace’s Magazine Piece Schema, hangs nearby, its empty boxes marking out spaces to be filled by curatorial fiat. By Wallace’s description the work alludes to an exhausted high-modernist moment of abstract painting and its collision with the “psychic residues” of history as they are presented in the illustrated press.

    Each September I ask my first-year students to think of important historical events that have impacted the way they write and make art. Overwhelmingly they answer: the internet. The question comes after a discussion about Emily Carr’s musings on more clear-cut events like the World Wars, or the death of the Queen. My answers are 9/11 and the Egyptian Revolution, and on the less epochal side, the advent of MTV and Kurt Cobain’s suicide. What makes the students’ response so frustrating is its patent truth and its lack of a definite beginning, middle, and end. We’re in it. I wondered how long it would take for 9/11 and the Egyptian Revolution to appear in artworks. In both cases, immediately after seemed way too soon. The artists in Qui parle ? / Who Speaks? maintain a sage-like distance from the major and minor historical events they speak to and through. In the gaps, they leave plenty of room for us to listen.

    Qui parle ? / Who Speaks? continues until April 21.
    Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery:
    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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    Sébastien Aubin’s no brighter in the middle at the University of Manitoba School of Art Gallery follows in the tradition of re-presenting found (and inherited) things as art. Included in his assortment of seemingly disparate objects are also fabricated works like a reflective piece that shows you the ground beneath your feet and a scroll of wall-mounted, all caps text written in syllabics that translates to “THE TRUTH.” Seeing as Aubin is a designer by trade who seeks to make objects for specific uses, his artworks are abstracted by the sheer fact that they don’t do what they were destined to; instead, they are arranged in frames, vacuumed sealed, disguised as something else, or sometimes just sit on the gallery floor as though awaiting another potential life. Usefulness here is redirected towards alternate, possibly undefined, ends.

    Sébastien Aubin

    Artists who embrace ready-mades (at least those with constructive approaches) do so with a critical eye towards the historical matrices that the chosen objects occupy, and then they push them out of their respective contextual frameworks onto newer avenues. Aubin continues this idea by weaving in an autobiographical historization of his collected objects. Discarded moccasins and moose antlers sourced from his reserve are vacuumed formed and framed to resemble relief sculptures that are protectively shrink-wrapped to form autonomous shapes. Resting casually on the floor is an animation projection with a sigil-like drawing (one Aubin was encouraged to keep drawing in his teens by his elders) that disappears into airy bits and reappears in a loop with a soundtrack that swirls to the moving image.

    For Aubin, autobiography is inseparable from collective and community. He liberally relinquishes authorship in the objects he presents and, instead, opts for a collaborative approach, relying on fabricators and other community members to create and contextualize. An unassuming piece that is essentially a wall-high stack of gloves that were gathered with aid of community members indicates the implied experiences and legacies in utilitarian objects. Two totemic-sized industrial air ducts centered in the middle of the gallery not only emphasize this same notion, they pulsate with uncanny energy and make us sharply cognizant of our bodies and our relation to them as we move through the space Aubin has reconfigured.

    In a culture where stuff is ubiquitous and ephemeral, imparting personal depth, affect, or alternative narratives is necessary for meaningful objects to live in our collective imagination. Aubin’s collected works are not mere metaphors for embodied histories, biography, or even the figure; rather, they exist parallel to it.

    Sébastien Aubin: no brighter in the middle continues until April 13.
    University of Manitoba School of Art Gallery:
    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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    The FOMO I long harboured after missing last year’s Venice Biennale (and every other year, for that matter) was swiftly mitigated by the arrival of The Power Plant’s winter 2018 exhibitions featuring two Biennale alumni: Kader Attia’s sprawling installation The Field of Emotion and Emeka Ogboh’s The Song of the Germans. I had overheard conversations about Attia (born in Paris, raised in Algeria) and his standout installation at the 57th Venice Biennale and, while I did not know much about Ogboh (based in Lagos and Berlin), I was intrigued by the premise of his ten-channel audio installation which made its debut at the 56th edition.

    There is much to say of Attia’s The Field of Emotion, which occupies the majority of the gallery’s first floor and is separated into two wings. To the right, I made my way past a series of gruesome collages (Untitled, 2018), each frame containing photographs of a disfigured man and a corresponding wooden mask, carved in his lacerated likeness. Proto-Cubist in their composition, the collages introduce and problematize the clash between modern western culture and traditional (read: African) societies, as Attia merges the results of colonization (war and trauma) on the one hand, and cultural appropriation (modernist art movements and capitalism) on the other.

    Kader Attia, J’accuse, 2016 (photo: Toni Hafkenscheid)

    I continued along the corridor, past a procession of wooden planks (Some Modernity’s Footprint, 2018) reminiscent of ships, railroads, and passageways, finally coming upon a room of seventeen towering wooden busts (the same men in the collages?) propped up on copper stilts (J’accuse, 2016). Walking through this necropolis of WWI soldiers, with Abel Gance’s antiwar film of the same title blaring in the foreground, I marked the vivacity of each bust and their seeming awareness of the film’s message: war is atrocious and relentless.

    The second wing of Attia’s exhibition is less bitter in taste, but still biting. A dark room screens Reflecting Memory (2016), which is a 45 minute video featuring mirror illusions, interviews, and profiles that are entirely too enchanting to sufficiently describe here. The exhibition continues down another corridor where there is a large empty room, cold and unwelcoming except for the fluorescent lights above that draw attention to the cold concrete floor and the small groups of people chatting amongst themselves. It took me some time to realize the metal sutures beneath my feet (Traditional Repair, Immaterial Injury, 2015), but I soon became obsessed with following these markings in the ground to their inevitable dead ends, zigzagging along a futile journey.

    Kader Attia, Traditional Repair, Immaterial Injury, 2015 (photo: Toni Hafkenscheid)

    Unfortunately, I do not have nearly as much to say about Ogboh’s The Song of the Germans, featuring a choir of African immigrants singing the German national anthem in their individual native tongues (Igbo, Yoruba, Bamoun, More, Twi, Ewondo, Sango, Douala, Kikongo, and Lingala). The concept is not complicated and quite accessible, but falls short of its goal of “addressing questions of belonging.” In fact, the work, contextually, seems more appropriate in the Arsenale di Venezia (where it represented Germany) than its current location on The Power Plant’s second floor – in the periphery of Attia’s pensive installation. The mere translation and recitation of Germany’s national anthem offers no palpable critique of colonization, nor does it engage meaningfully with questions of European immigration and globalization. As I sat on the bench listening to these voices sing of the Vaterland, I discerned only a misinformed and misplaced sense of nationalism.

    Kader Attia: The Field of Emotion continues until May 13.
    Emeka Ogboh: The Song of the Germans continues until May 13.
    The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery:
    The gallery is accessible.

    Letticia Cosbert is a Toronto-based writer and editor, and is currently the Digital Content Coordinator at the Koffler Centre of the Arts. She studied Classics, earning a BA from the University of Toronto and an MA from Western University, where she specialized in erotic Latin poetry. Her writing and editorial work has been featured in Ephemera Magazine, Sophomore Magazine, The Ethnic Aisle, and publications by Katzman Contemporary, Younger Than Beyoncé Gallery, Xpace, and Trinity Square Video. She can be followed on Instagram @prettiletti.

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    I have a higher than average number of friends who were child actors or extras in the local film industry. I ask them to regale me with their stories of being on sets and standing mere paces from a household name. Trivial things become crucial excitements in these stories, in which my friends are always the main characters. In Background Actors at Catriona Jeffries, Julia Feyrer reconditions the notion of supporting roles and peripheral statues, imbedding meaning where it is usually overlooked. Her complex and playful works call attention to the new and latent identities that can be articulated through an assemblage of familiar signifiers while also drawing out the personalities of materials. Feyrer’s previous solo exhibition at POTTS in Los Angeles appears as props and a set for her new film New Pedestrians. Short takes of a woman’s face, a hand tucking hair behind her ear, and strolling feet intercut with phantasmagorical anatomy compel us to consider versions of our bodies and worlds parallel to what’s familiar and what we can identify with.

    Julia Feyrer, Background Actors, 2018, installation view

    Witnesses is a series of illuminated blown-glass heads on a variety of sticks. Smeared over the translucent faces are masks with exfoliants like lavender and Sour Baby candies suspended in dyed silicon. Despite its presentation in the vernacular of a medieval intimidation ornament, the comedic confluence of materials that hearken to naturopathic healing (spirulina) and banal consumer goods (Swiffers) spares the work from being utterly macabre. Corpse is a sculpture cast roughly from Feyrer’s own body. The materials listed include many earthly things (mineral rocks, blackberry, mugwort, soil) juxtaposed with construction or industrial material (insulation foam, aluminum armature, latex) and then knick-knacks (whistle, glass marbles, coins, gummy worms). At the end of the list, “miscellaneous materials” resonates like an ellipses that sparks speculation about what else may be wedged between marbles and gummy worms. The sculpture’s head rests on Maiden, a splayed iron mold used to cast the blown glass heads in Witnesses, which frames the head of Corpse like a pillow. Arranged as they are, these works prompt a creationist narrative about a freshly baked humanoid entity.

    From exhibition to exhibition, Feyrer’s installations are subsequently used as the sets and props for a follow-up moving image project. This model may put a lot of pressure on the artist to map out her production, but the structure of her methodology is intuitive with potential to swerve and recalibrate. Each film prolongs the lifespan of a former exhibition, placing that installation on a continuum within her practice through its presence in the film presented in the following exhibition. I guess you could call it a sequel, but that’s too simplistic. Perhaps it’s better to consider the kind of futurism at play in the idea of exhibitions as sculptural and immersive movie trailers.

    Julia Feyrer: Background Actors continues until April 21.
    Catriona Jeffries Gallery:
    The gallery is not 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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    The moment you walk up the Confederation Centre stairs and enter the cavernous, high ceilinged gallery that houses Sackville-based artist Erik Edson’s retrospective Other Stories, you are in another world. A world where shadows, shapes, reflections, diagrams, and icons offer clues and act as guides for survival. For almost two decades, he has planted these clues in prints and installations so we won’t get lost or overwhelmed in the strange lands of his creation.

    Erik Edson, ruins, 2017, hand printed and found fabric on support (photo: Ben Kinder)

    At the entrance is Edson’s immersive, large-scale installation ruins. Soft silhouettes in black on yellow of a whimsical and idealized Canadian landscape stretch from floor to ceiling. The trees, hills, and houses appear perfect and pure, but then we notice all is not well in this utopia. A ladder reaches upwards, hopefully, but without destination. Landmasses are disconnected. The trees have soft padded tongues. A door, or entrance, is cut into the landscape but leads to nowhere. On the other side of the room, Edson has placed a small platform or lookout from which the viewer can reflect on this iconic landscape, but it is blocked slightly by the placement of a rudimentary wall. We are invited to contemplate the forms, find the obscured beauty and hidden flaws, and perhaps realize that only by striving for perfection can we really discover the defects of our perception.

    This introductory installation acts as a key to unlocking the rest of the exhibition. Included amongst the plethora of works are large prints of bears and other animals overlaid with diagrams, a soft green velvet basketball court, and fabric paintings with cutout recesses. Everywhere Edson plays with the iconic, the hidden, and the obscure to point us towards re-evaluating what we find around us. This strange and beautiful world he has created is simply a guide to discovering the equally strange and beautiful world we live in every day.

    Erik Edson: Other Stories continues until May 5.
    Confederation Centre Art Gallery:
    The gallery is accessible.

    Jon Claytor is an artist living and working in Sackville, New Brunswick. He is the co-founder of Sappyfest and Thunder & Lightning Ideas Ltd.

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    Collin Brown’s Further Reductions at the Marion Nicoll Gallery strikes me as a somewhat mournful rejection of the colourfully political, portrait-saturated Internet-age. Most of the track lights point to March 3 – April 3 (31 exposures), which rests alone and off-centre on the ground. It is a mobile-looking brown dais constructed from scrap materials with carry-holes in its sides. Stationary on the box is a rectangular piece of hardwood carved to hold tightly a smaller piece of limestone. In this womb-like arrangement, the limestone and hardwood have both been coated with cyanotype precipitate every day for one month and exposed under the ambient light of the studio. Without the usual subsequent rinsing with water that turns the chemicals bright blue, the limestone and hardwood have turned a glistening black, which drips gently onto the wooden box below. I can see traces of a brush or fingers on its side. It sits oddly, like a miniature holy ark or sarcophagus awaiting its next transportation.

    Collin Brown, March 3 – April 3 (31 exposures), 2018, sculpture detail

    The second and final of the two works, two sides of the same stone, sits pristinely on a small wedge-shaped shelf low to the ground. It too centres on the fitting-together of two materials, this time using bronze and black stone. A familiar shape, something that could be a burnt cigar or a stick of dynamite or an ancient drawing tool, it is a tube of bronze cast to fit seamlessly with the ragged piece of black stone core-sample on its end. This tiny phallic pillar of power continues the black and brown dichromatic mode of the first work; they sit with a mute politic. The objects in the room call to mind the “strong and silent” “masculine” Minimalist sculptures so corporately popular in the 1960s and 1970s during the Vietnam War – except they are tiny.

    Robert Morris, a key Minimalist with a psychosexual bent, believed that detail belies intimacy and steals away the power of art, saying also that “the new sculpture” avoids relationships between materials because relationship is weakening (cf. Anna C. Chave’s Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power). If so, Brown’s Further Reductions is a rejection of power and a fascination rather with that intimacy which so weakens. Brown’s further reduction has elided scale, expense, and aggression from the Minimalist operandi, failing to perpetuate their oppressive Imperialist ideology. The scale and pathos of Brown’s works, rather, are a comedy of power. The limestone sits like a baby or a clitoris, incubated within its little pouch. Placed low to the ground, his works look up to the viewer rather than fall on them. The viewer flies above, as in Google Maps, unable to decipher between one material or another, histories, processes, and significance, without dropping themselves in.

    Collin Brown: Further Reductions continues until April 13.
    Marion Nicoll Gallery:
    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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    The Assembly’s architecturally quirky storefront space is a potent site for Hamilton artist Andrea Carvalho’s sculptural interventions in Light From Two Sides. She responds to and redefines the intimate two-storey gallery with minimalist gestures like the elegant steel beam that extends from the wall, lunging outward before bending and descending to a delicately balanced point on the floor. A flying buttress flung into reverse, the form quotes cathedrals that wear their structure on the outside to maintain expansive interiors, but in this case her sculptural line drawing assertively consumes the room and suggests both wall and portal, to be circumnavigated widely or ducked beneath.

    Andrea Carvalho, On-site, 2018, ceramic

    A burst of burgundy interrupts the exhibition’s muted palette in the staging of eight tapered forms emerging from the wall like the tails of subdued whippets, while a colder aura arises from the mezzanine where Railing’s row of neon lights creates a distinct environment for two sculptures. Within this clinical yet cozy space, Contrapposto’s humanist qualities shine through stair spindles reassembled in faint figuration, flaunting a nude wood grain contrasted by the brown and copper finish on a round-edged plinth.

    Triplicate spindles bent to pointed angles from the wall footing the gallery’s stairs could be mistaken for wooden counterparts to Contrapposto, smothered beneath a gloss of white paint. When revealed as slip-cast ceramics glazed to a luminous finish, they take on a fresh fragility that instills caution in one’s footsteps. In subtle citation of the show’s title, these forms pull shadows from the expansive front window and gallery lighting alike, casting a reflexive drawing on the wall that perfectly punctuates an exhibition whose objects nimbly illuminate the spaces in between.

    Andrea Carvalho: Light From Two Sides continues until April 28.
    The Assembly:
    The gallery is not accessible.

    Stephanie Vegh is an artist and writer who has exhibited her work in the UK and Canada, and publishes art writing and criticism both locally and nationally. She maintains an active profile in regional arts advocacy, and currently serves as Manager, Media and Communications at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. She can be followed on Instagram @stephanievegh.

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    Over the past year, CSA Space has presented a diverse string of photography and photo-based exhibitions. Some worked in rhythm with the ongoing influence of local neo-conceptual picture makers, while others performed a sharp material turn towards that which so unsettled former art critic, now art historian, Michael Fried about Minimalism: theatricality. This is the quality he ascribes to artworks that precipitate an “event” (social affect) through the experience of it (rather than a closed system of meaning that Modernist artworks sustain between object and viewer). In the case of the gallery’s current exhibition, Objects of My Affection, that “event” might be love—not necessarily between the art object and the spectator, but between the subject and its display apparatus. The photo-based works by Jeff Downer and Marisa K. Holmes that are on display use unique material to cradle pictures, but are they on the verge of coddling? Is framing a protective gesture? There’s a range of emotional metaphors that take place when artists make mediums mingle.

    Marisa K. Holmes

    Visitors encounter two works by Holmes even before they enter the exhibition space. The first is installed as a sign on the street entrance. It reads “Please, PARDON OUR APPEARANCE” layered with a photograph of a graffiti tag. The second work is placed over the door of the gallery. It advertises “MOSTLY OPEN” in a stylized text framed in unpolished steel. Both can be seen and read as a twist on vernacular business signage, but they also resonate as self-deprecating warning signs for fear of intimacy.

    All of the exhibited works displace the source of affection for the art object from the viewer to the frame. Their final presentation is the culmination of a layered process of framing. Initially the image would have been framed through a viewfinder. Then, once again, within the artists’ sculptural treatments. Most predominantly in the works by Holmes, the additional layering of shapes, textures, and surfaces references public spaces and public objects. The pictures by Downer also attend to varying degrees of public space, but rather through the lens of a “side street” photographer, the street photographer’s introverted cousin, who waits patiently for the dust to settle before raising his camera.

    Jeff Downer

    As a Modernist, Fried really went down fighting for the autonomy of the art object and its ability to confront its viewer by accomplishing a kind of direct intimacy with the object. Advocating for this kind of idealized relationship seems naive and reactionary now, when we consider that the production and proliferation of images is tied to ubiquitous access to tools. So how will images be made to appear exceptional now without further emphasizing their loss of magic? None of these works are vying to be emphatically resolved (like Elad Lassry) or clearly referencing the systemics of image production (like Christopher Williams), but they collectively dispatch from an exclusively formal approach to the practice of photography, of being in the world and gathering images. To allude to the surfaces they can’t take with them is an admission of the limitations of photography, but demonstrates a funny foray into the ongoing arrangement of intimacy, confusion, recollection, and inexplicability between object and spectator.

    Objects of My Affection continues until May 12.
    CSA Space:
    The gallery is not 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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    It’s the presence that stayed with me in Echoes, the Remai Modern’s exhibition of recent acquisitions by Indigenous artists. The presence of Indigenous bodies, which a good friend once reminded me are always political. Because we are still present; we haven’t been erased.

    Duane Linklater, The place I seek to go, 2014, coyote fur, garment rack, flatscreen TV, Mac mini, HD video loop and cables

    In Duane Linklater’s The place I seek to go, the presence is his hand, shown in a video on a flatscreen leaning sideways on the floor, slowly flexing as if to say it moves, it works, I work; I have undergone but I am still here. In Raymond Boisjoly’s (And) Other Echoes, stills from the film In Exiles are reproduced, but on gray tinted glass so dark that though bodies are present, the one I noticed most was the reflection of my own. Raymond forcing me to situate myself in this space and history.

    Standing in front of Rebecca Belmore’s untitled #1 and untitled #2 (come in cielo cosi in terra), I found myself first looking down on two figures standing ankle-deep in water but holding my gaze and then, turning to the opposite wall, looking down with them at their reflections. With titles including a line from the Italian version of the Lord’s Prayer – on earth as in heaven – the works discuss the ambiguity of healing from Residential School abuses at the hands of the Catholic Church while we continue to harm our land through resource extraction. The figures are standing in water dark enough it could be oil.

    It was also between the gaze and reflection of Rebecca’s work that I was able to look up at Lori Blondeau, her body draped in red cloth and positioned as sculpture in four large, inkjet prints that comprise Asinîy Iskwew. It was here I spent the most time, trying to understand what it was I needed to learn. It came only after a long period looking over the photos, over the changing stone bases on which Lori stands. The stone is left as stone, refusing western, male traditions of needing to “make art,” of needing to assert our dominance over the land. Asinîy Iskwew references histories that aren’t canonical, that aren’t colonial, and through her presence Lori brings these histories into Remai Modern.

    Echoes, and the space it occupies, stands in stark contrast to Jimmie Durham’s much larger At the Center of the World, which basically comprises Remai Modern’s third floor. Whereas Lori’s work represents our land and our histories, too much of the discussion around Durham’s exhibition has felt like it hasn’t been meant for us.

    In a recent conversation with a Remai board member, he explained his frustration at the criticisms they receive for not better supporting local artists and that they have the imperative to show national and international art. I listened and smiled, but to be honest I’m tired of being told I need to think of international trajectories. And I guess I’m tired of having things explained to me by white men at the Remai. This is my home, and I want us to care for our land and our people. Echoes does both, and I hope more exhibitions like it – and more exhibitions curated by the considered and talented Sandra Fraser– are given space at our gallery.

    Echoes continues until October 14.
    Remai Modern:
    The gallery is accessible.

    Michael Peterson runs Saskatoon’s Void Gallery and the city’s annual Nuit Blanche festival as well as managing programs for AKA Artist-run and the Saskatchewan Craft Council. When he has time he is also a printmaker, currently serving as Artist in Residence at his old high school, Aden Bowman Collegiate. If you would like to see pictures of his friends’ dogs, you can follow him on Instagram @michaelprints

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    I once lived in a 1970s-era house with two other roommates I found on Kijiji. The walls were covered with imitation wood panelling and the carpet was a seafoam green with a wave-patterned pile. In the living room was a wide bay window facing the front lawn so we could watch our children play or our garden party progress. Theoretically.

    Vikky Alexander, Other Fantasies, 2018, installation view

    Vikky Alexander’s Other Fantasies at Trépanier Baer reminds me of that bay window and living inside another decade in another person’s utopia. As I walk into the gallery, gloriously massive vistas beckon me forward. I feel like I’m entering Minecraft – window-like perspectives created by blocks of colour and blown-up photographs run floor-to ceiling printed in vinyl, swallowing me up. The familiar shapes of hallways, rooms, and bay windows are cut out of images of natural elements and their imitations. Floral vistas, purple sunset skies, and images of treetops abut digitally manufactured wood texture, water, colour gradients, paisley, and polka dots.

    The gallery walls interject and hide one another in a jagged maze before spitting me out into the hallway where framed photographs of sleek, glossy storefronts hang. Looking into the storefront glass, reflections of the street view as well as the clean display within can be seen. I can even see myself in the glass preserving the photograph. The street population, patterns, and colours outside overlap with the controlled, well lit, pre-prepared concepts of softly coloured beauty inside, and the track lights of Trépanier Baer.

    Alexander uses design and pattern as tools with which to examine art’s relationship to class, capitalism, and the sale of utopia. Creating an epic experience for the viewer, she uses elements of design much like the storefronts she photographs – or like the imitation wood in my groovy house – to sell utopia. Like my wavy seafoam carpet, she explores nature as commodified pattern or decoration rather than as pre-existing, self-sustaining, or important in its own right. She recycles patterns as symbols of class or power, and in doing so recognizes and complicates the status and capital nature of art, selling her vinyls as lifelong custom re-prints for $9000 each, and prints on canvas for $25 – 30K. An established artist who has been making work for nearly four decades, Alexander continues to puzzle over the ideal, to be self-aware and self-critical. As someone who hopes to sustain art making for the rest of my life as well, she is an inspiration.

    Vikky Alexander: Other Fantasies continues until May 5.
    Trépanier Baer:
    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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    Anyone who has ever set foot in the Dufferin Mall would balk at the notion that this west end edifice could also double as a temple, yet this is precisely the portrayal of Gulf shopping malls Qatari-American polymath Sophia Al Maria presents in Black Friday, her solo exhibition currently on view at Mercer Union. For the past decade, Al Maria has explored various facets of Gulf culture, specifically its rapid transformation from a region rooted in ancient tradition to one of extreme wealth and capitalism. In Black Friday, she locates the Gulf’s mistrust of western values and its seemingly contradictory adoption of American-style consumerism in a shopping mall – undoubtedly one of Dante’s lost circles of hell.

    I entered the gallery, seeing it as I never have: shrouded in darkness and walls painted black. Unidentifiable sounds, loud and reverberant, lead me to a room where the titular single-channel video installation plays. Black Friday begins with its title transliterated into Greek (ΒΛΑΧΚ ΦΡΙΔΑΨ) as two moving walkways traveling in opposite directions appear. A man stands beside a cart filled with plastic bags. A woman (his wife?) is nearby. They both stare off into the distance, equally depressed. We are then transported to another wing of the mall. A woman wearing a niqab glides across the marble floor. I can only make out her gel manicured nails (OPI?) and her glinting silver rings. Later, when she reappears unveiled (though, her face is blurred), her lips are painted a glossy hot pink (was it MAC Cosmetics?) as she applies something to her cheeks (Glossier?) – no doubt spoils from her recent plunder. Though contextualized as a double consciousness, Al Maria leaves no opportunity to misinterpret this critique of capitalism, consumption, and industry.

    Sophia Al Maria, Black Friday, 2016, digital video

    It is difficult to discern the video’s narrative: various people appear and reappear, mannequins and massage chairs materialize then vanish, the images dissolve, the audio reverberates louder, the images put themselves back together. A voice (Sam Neill) recites what sounds like a poem, but is in fact a text penned by the artist herself. I can only make out one line – “this is where evil is born” – as the video glows with oranges and pinks, as the sky breaks through marble spiral staircases, as black robed bodies lay splattered on the ground. Black Friday has no difficulty reproducing the “dazzling and disorienting effects of labyrinthine shopping malls,” as described by the father of the modern shopping mall Victor Gruen, whose theory inspired Al Maria’s work. Oh, and the title? Nabila Abdel Nabi’s accompanying exhibition essay (which is excellent) notes that it is both a nod to the post-Thanksgiving shopping holiday and to Fridays in general, which are typically reserved for prayer and rest, interspersed with visits to the mall, in the Muslim world. I assure you, Black Friday will make you a repentant capitalist, if only for the sixteen minutes it takes you to view the work.

    Sophia Al Maria, Black Friday, 2016, digital video

    Reluctantly, I peeled myself away to view the accompanying two channel video work The Future was Desert, Parts 1 & 2, which purports to explore the desert as a harsh fictional landscape and an impending site for human civilization after, perhaps, Ibn Khaldun. Though I must admit I could not bring myself to focus on this particular work while Black Friday’s audio trickled (purposefully) into this space, reminding me that I don’t actually hate Mondays; I hate capitalism.

    Sophia Al Maria: Black Friday continues until June 2.
    Mercer Union:
    The gallery is accessible.

    Letticia Cosbert is a Toronto-based writer and editor, and is currently the Digital Content Coordinator at the Koffler Centre of the Arts. She studied Classics, earning a B.A. from the University of Toronto, and an M.A. from Western University, where she specialized in erotic Latin poetry. Her writing and editorial work has been featured in Ephemera Magazine, Sophomore Magazine, The Ethnic Aisle, and publications by Katzman Contemporary, Younger Than Beyonce Gallery, Xpace, and Trinity Square Video. She can be followed on Instagram @prettiletti.

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  • 05/09/18--12:02: Ai Ikeda at Calaboose
  • Chris Kraus opens her book Where Art Belongs with an account of a short-lived LA recording studio cum gallery called Tiny Creatures. She pauses on a manifesto penned by its founder in which the gallery is described as an “instrument of communication” that “refuses to be big, aiming instead for change in tiny ways.” Danica Pinteric and Garrett Lockhart, founders of the even tinier Calaboose,share this conviction about where art belongs. For Les temps mutants, their exhibition of Ai Ikeda’s paintings and ceramics, the space reads more like a habitat than a gallery.

    Ai Ikeda, Mutated Apple, 2018, glazed earthenware (photo: Edwin Isford)

    With the garage door opened on a rainy day, Ikeda’s brightly coloured salamanders, frogs, and fungi are at home on the gallery’s sweaty concrete walls – a rejoinder to the deadening sterility of bigger museum spaces. With the door closed, the gallery looks sinister, like a bunker or a creepy tinkerer’s hideout, and Ikeda’s works reveal their darker side. The mushrooms and salamanders are locked in a death-stare across the room, and there are greedy stacks of “radiated” ceramic coins, mutant apples, and vaguely phallic sculptures lurking in corners, in a boarded-up window, and overhead in a ceiling hole.

    Ikeda’s works respond to a rich history of Japanese art, with references to manga caricatures from 12th and 13th Century scrolls, the experimental films of Shuji Terayama, the genital gardens of Neo-Dadaist Tetsumi Kudo, and the “superflat” aesthetic of Takashi Murakami. More urgently, the exhibition relays the aftershock of a history of Japanese nuclear disasters from Nagasaki and Hiroshima to the Fukushima meltdown of 2011. For Ikeda, who emigrated to Canada from her hometown of Nara a few years later in 2013, “nuclear anxiety” is the motive force behind the show. Her works are imaginative projections into the gaps left by “three invisibilities of Japanese nuclear culture”: the invisibility of radiation, the invisibility of its impacts resulting from state secrecy laws, and the invisibility of Japan’s mass-denial of the extent of Fukushima’s damage. The figure/ground toggling in her paintings restores a depth of meaning to the surfaces of Japanese visual and political culture in the post-Fukushima era.

    Ai Ikeda, Mutation Series #4, 2017, acrylic on canvas (photo: Edwin Isford)

    In Mutation Series #1 we are introduced to the reluctant heroine of Ikeda’s narrative. An axolotl or Mexican salamander is shown peering out of an orb with beady eyes. The tiny neotenic creature is well chosen for Ikeda’s world, evoking the cuteness of the kawaii style and the menace of congenital disorders caused by radiation. Unique among salamanders for remaining gilled and aquatic and not undergoing metamorphosis, the axolotl is a symbol of arrested development. As it lurches forward, ahead of a receding Earth and a smudged yellow moon, planetary and embryonic scales are merged to convey the scope of Ikeda’s environmental concern. In the show’s next paintings, the creature reappears in a hermaphroditic origin myth, resolved finally under the sign of the female. In Mutation Series #3 and #4 the axolotl encounters a pair of mammals with goofy sex organs for noses in a mountain-scape, and then morphs into a mature amphibian in a pink and green acrylic dreamscape at the front of the gallery. A tally of gendered signs in this picture (the egg cradled in the salamander’s tail, its fallopian tube-shaped legs, and a yawning clam shell in front of its nose), and in a facing one of a manga frog hoisting a bent nail into a vaginal opening on the horizon, tips the exhibition’s phallocentric balance. For the moment, the powers of care and nurturing win out over those of industry and violence. Nevertheless, one gets the sense that this fight is not over, and the aesthetic resolution Ikeda achieves is harder to find in a wider world marked by shrinking ice caps, population explosion, mass extinctions, and petrochemical and nuclear waste.

    Ikeda’s rendering of an age of environmental disasters coincides with the so-called “Anthropocene epoch,” beginning with Hiroshima and Nagasaki and marching forward into our increasingly uncertain times. According to theorist Heather Davis, one thing art can do under these circumstances is challenge the catastrophic belief that natural and cultural objects are "distinct from their processes of emergence and decay.” Galleries can help with this too. After just under a year and only three shows, Calaboose is set to close at the end of May. The space will be turned into an industrial fridge for a new St. Henri restaurant. As Pinteric and Lockhart consider its next shape, their exhibition of Ikeda’s paean to mutants is especially fitting.

    Ai Ikeda: Les temps mutants continues until May 24.
    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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    The landscape photography of North America has historically been about showing what is present: abundant natural resources and pristine, seemingly vacant, land up for grabs. It also does well in depicting what is not there: Indigenous inhabitants. This truncated view is continuously re-pictured and advertised. Photography becomes a screen onto which romantic projections of the “empty” landscape are layered. In doing so, representations of the land become an act of concealing what it leaves out.

    Logan MacDonald

    In The Lay of the Land, his solo exhibition at aceartinc., Logan MacDonald inserts himself into the conventions of landscape photography and in the process meanders contrary to that tradition. Sourcing from his own amalgamated pool of images and found objects collected from time spent traveling and actively engaging in a spectrum of Indigenous communities across Canada, MacDonald re-presents an intimate archive that intervenes with deceptively sublime stock images of the Canadian landscape that have long been circulated in collective archives. This collective archive (in the Foucaultian sense) is the authoritative one that governs what is allowed to be said and what is generally accepted as the truth and of value. The collective archive is also an ambient one that seems to float around everywhere, but is intangible at the same time. It collects what we all see and become used to, so much so it holds firmly our assumptions and discernments.

    It is through this dominant context that MacDonald presents a set of personal concerns. As a means of sussing out his own complicated Indigeneity, being white-presenting and raised in settler Newfoundland, he offers an interwoven spatial collage of sculptural photos, paintings, drawings, and found objects. All together, they resist any snappy overarching storyline the viewer might try to frame.

    Logan MacDonald

    As visitors enter the gallery they are first met with three photo panels atop concrete blocks. All three depict the ground from different locations; one panel has NATIVE LAND written in all caps. What follows are a series of towering armatures holding up patchwork photos that drape onto the floor. They were taken at sites across the country. Printed on paper, fabric, and panel, in a variety of sizes, the photographs readily assert their materiality, often breaking their illusory smooth surface. The way they are displayed keeps you from being sucked into the images they contain. Instead, we are made aware of the gridded seams that hold the photos together and the threads that make up the fabric photo. Any pretence to representation is dissolved; instead, a suggestion of something uncertain within the photo is merely highlighted.

    A pile of earplugs in the corner of the gallery, Félix González-Torres-style, references MacDonald’s own queer identity, which like his indigenous identity is a point of contention and deciphering. A painting of the artist holding his status card is another vested gesture of recording and decoding the politics entangled within his identities. Elsewhere in the installation, we see photos with their reflected doubles implicating one to pause and look again with sustained contemplation. Scattered through the exhibition are a number of brazen DIY signpost-like photo-sculptures that also depict the ground – this time with the shadow of a figure (likely MacDonald’s) or his feet on the ground. More references and images of collected signage are laid on a bed-like platform that includes a diaristic motley of objects and other juxtaposed detritus. The majority of this signage marks and names the land or territory they stand on. This is a way some the communities MacDonald visited protect the integrity of their land and cultural identity.

    Macdonald walks a tightrope through his own self-examination. There’s an underlying push-pull in how he measures the parts of his identity that for him are conflicting and uneasy to parse. There’s barely any presence of a figure in these images. The few glimmers are impressionistic and unresolved. Macdonald enters the landscape with a critical distance, knowing very well the testy implications of doing so. But for him, there doesn’t seem to be an option to look the other way. “If I do that,” he asked in the exhibition walkthrough, “does it mean colonialism wins?” As a photographer, Macdonald is not a passive witness to the land. He is intimately tangled in the images he is constructing and cognizant of photography’s tendency to subjugate its subject. Above all, his montages and fragmented assemblages rupture a clean visual whole or an essentialized narrative. Instead, they present an elastic viewing and reading of space.

    Logan MacDonald: The Lay of the Land closed on May 4.
    The gallery is not 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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    Seeing the human body in unusual positions usually results in a confluence of amazement and discomfort. New Arrangements, Adad Hannah’s solo exhibition at Equinox Gallery, features a series of photographic, video, and sculptural works that allow you to linger over trials of balance and optical tension. Stripes Case Study is a series of photographs that depicts a contortionist balancing an assortment of citrus on her person. The backdrop, plinth, and her outfit are uniformly striped to create a layered and flattened optic effect that's subtly disorienting. Where the stripes on the model’s body meet the backdrop at organic angles, an optical variance is created that gives the series its formally experimental quality. When her stripes are perpendicular to the backdrop, it can be straining, but the citrus provides visual respite. To secure two pomelos in position for the photograph, New Arrangements (Stripes Case Study) 7, the model employs her forehead against the surface of the plinth. In An Arrangement (Stripes Case Study) 8, the bottom of her foot bearing a lime and satsuma becomes the highest surface of the composition – a plinth in its own right. These inversions of anatomical hierarchy are a subtle departure from the classical appreciation of the figure.

    Adad Hannah, New Arrangements (Stripes Case Study) 3, 2018

    The sculptural aspect of these pictures resides between the figure and the fruits, which have an interchangable quality of softness and objecthood. The stripes exercise experiments in abstract, formal possibility, but there are considerations of portraiture and still life operating in the frame as well. Though it employs a few simple elements, this series of photographs operates like a variety show of visual canons and art historical entry points. Other works in the exhibition, such as Handheld Case Study, make a formal study similar to Stripes, but the role of contortionist and citrus is replaced by hands that clasp and balance little blue, white, and orange balls between limb-like fingers. This is apparently a “nod to Baldessari.” There are also videos in dialogue with Rodin, but the tipping of his hat to other artists doesn't add much to the critical reception of this work.

    Mentioned briefly in the press release is a reference to a less broadly accessible historical moment: Hannah’s tour of Europe with his family in the 1970s as part of an experimental theatre troupe. A childhood steeped in optical wizardry in the service of theatre, drama, magic, or entertainment – the arenas where we consent to be deceived for the purpose of eliciting joy or happiness – distilled into the production of photographic studies for contemporary art audiences is a trajectory that would enliven the consideration of how these works usher in that spirit of amusement and amazement. The inclination that drives many contemporary art audiences to deconstruct and identify the conceptual traditions that fortify what we’re looking at arises from a kind of trained criticality. If we happen to enjoy ourselves in the process, well, that’s still considered a bonus.

    Adad Hannah: New Arrangements continues until May 19.
    Equinox Gallery:
    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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  • 05/15/18--22:37: Trevor Paglen at Prefix ICA
  • There is a type of subterfuge that is best described as hiding in plain sight. Governments gravitate to this strategy because it means they can’t be accused of covering anything up. All the evidence is there; unfortunately, it’s a chore – or a bore – to get to the truth. You can see this in bureaucracies that generate documents so long, so dense, and so tedious as to turn off everyone except the most diligent of investigators. Many of those rare and obsessive souls have found a home in the realm of journalism, but a few take their research and turn it into art. Mark Lombardi, for example, made a tragically short career out of converting incriminating information into drawings. If he has an heir, it is Trevor Paglen, who is well on his way to distinguishing himself as the premiere artist of the metadata age.

    Trevor Paglen, 89 Landscapes, 2016, video

    The general public might be more familiar with Paglen’s images through their inclusion in Citizenfour, the 2014 documentary about Edward Snowden. The expanded awareness of the surveillance state that the latter’s whistleblowing brought to the planet is the necessary historical context for the production and reception of the former’s art. The centrepiece of his exhibition at Prefix ICA is a video diptych titled 89 Landscapes that resembles the structural films/videos of James Benning or the conceptual documents of Ed Ruscha. The settings in this case are often barren desert-bound buildings with no clear purpose or satellite fields on seaside plains. They are seen in gorgeous high definition wide shots that cut closer and closer to focus on details that turn ghostly in the rising heat or pixelate as the resolution breaks down. What unites these places is that they make visible the architecture of government surveillance. This is where the organizations with the familiar (and some not so familiar) acronyms listen, record, and store all those texts, emails, and phone conversations that we obliviously make available every time we communicate electronically. They are contrasted with footage of busy highways, dense apartment complexes, and views of the mega-cities that assemble and isolate all those people who are swept up in the gathering of data for the sake of security.

    Before you assess the ethics of that breach of the public/private divide, you have to wrap your head around the technology of interpretation. Unlike previous eras of espionage when individuals or groups were targeted for observation, now everyone is under the net. The proliferation of electronic communication and the ever-increasing rate of processing speed and volume of digital memory have made this possible. The chilling implication of Paglen’s project for those of us not currently involved in terrorist activities is the ease with which that same technology can be exploited for further political and commercial ends. The revelation that masses of personal data were used by Cambridge Analytica to target voters with campaign advertising is just one example of how the digital landscape – the parallel world of our online identities, the homes we build there, and the relationships we construct – is being mined for resource extraction. The valuable material to be sold is us.

    Trevor Paglen, Columbia-Florida Subsea Fiber (CFX-1) NSA/GCHQ – Tapped Undersea Cable, 2013, digital c-print

    Photos of clouds with a pinprick drone or murky sub-oceanic depths with a seemingly innocuous cable rising out of the darkness enact the crucial gesture that turns these images from boring pictures of nothing to artworks suffused with dread. A reverse dematerialization is engendered by the artist as he makes the things we have become used to thinking of as metaphors – cloud computing, wireless everything, the world wide web – and focuses our attention on their material foundations. These are the cables that contain our communications and have been tapped by the NSA. These are the buildings that contain the servers that hold all the conversations that we’ve long forgotten. Our ambivalence to how much we give up every time we sign off on a user agreement, download a new app, activate our phone’s location services, and participate in an online survey, is in truth our voluntary abdication of our private selves. And, for the most part, we’re okay with that. Or, at least, we’re willing to sacrifice it for the convenience the technology provides. And who cares if my daily travels and Google searches end up being processed for metadata? I have nothing to hide.

    This is where Paglen steps in to point out that we needn’t be worried about our own secrets. The hiding that should keep us up at night concerns the activities of our governments and telecommunications organizations. Their secretive ways, their covert operations, their shadow worlds are what we shouldn’t overlook because they work in our name and justify their actions as necessary means to ensure our safety or make our lives better. Yet the means by which they claim to protect our freedom are shrouded in black sites and obscured beneath redacted texts. Something is being hidden and, while we will likely never find out what it is (and odds are that much of it doesn’t matter), the photographs and videos in this exhibition assert the importance of knowing the hiding spots.

    Trevor Paglen: Surveillance States continues until June 16.
    Prefix ICA:
    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 him on Twitter @TerenceDick.

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    There is a heart-shaped Jacuzzi floating in blackness, complete with romantically lit candle standing up on its own, a lip-like plump red rim, and steam emanating in a peculiarly angular blob. A bar of cotton candy-pink soap and a liquid dispenser rest on the tub’s edge next to a super shiny chrome faucet; a fuzzy pink rug waits for my feet on the ground. Ah, the holidays!

    Jacob Dutton, Mintcondition, 2018 (photo: Kaitlin Moerman)

    Jacob Dutton’s Mintcondition– a memorable three-painting exhibition currently on display at Five Art & Merchandise– caricaturizes familiar objects beyond nostalgic response. Sketches of what could be real-life encounters become surreal as they are rendered in pop colours, pastels, and perfect gradients, or reduced to flat patterns. Angularity and stoic parallel lines are subjected to a wildly intuitive squiggly mark in each painting. Dutton’s theatrical and humorous scenes create ambiguous narratives that point toward a non-gendered actor in the scene. After a while, I realize I am that actor.

    The bright orange plastic water/juice cooler of my childhood makes an appearance, but I barely recognize it. Rendered in clean lines and surfaces, it is smooth like a Photoshop texture rather than covered in the rough ridges I used to run my hands along for a massage that gave me a shiver. Scribbles on the cooler that could indicate hair, closed eyes, and a nose in relation to the mouth-spout look like they were done with an iPhone pen tool.

    Finally, not instantly recognizable either, is a view from the window-seat of an airplane. I survey a meal tray with a napkin, sliced cucumber, and bottle of water on it. The netted pouch containing an airline brochure on the seat in front of me, and a window, textured with cartoonish lines of clouds, is to the left. It’s a cheaper flight so obviously they upholstered the whole plane in the same recycled 1980s laser-patterned carpet that always lines Greyhound buses.

    Painted using a mix of oil, acrylic, and housepaint, Mintcondition is pointedly flawful. Dutton challenges mediums to rub up on each other, making it clear where he taped what edge, and where paint has bled over its boundary. It appears that Dutton doesn’t care about – or doesn’t believe in – the illusion of the perfected image. He is after something tied to the personal hand –the intertwining of memory and object design, and identifying difficulties in tearing identity away from commercialized object. Dutton offers us tearaways.

    Jacob Dutton: Mintcondition continues until June 3.
    Five Art & Merchandise:
    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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    After dropping out of school and relocating to Portland in the mid-90s, Miranda July immersed herself in the DIY art scene as a performance artist and initiated a free film distribution system for women moviemakers. It was a way for her to create a feminist art community and connect with like-minded women. To do this, she used the postal service as an intermediary between her and those she’d later connect with to create the collaborative short film Joanie 4 Jackie. This back and forth collaboration continued for years. July is in a long line of artists, including the likes of Moyra Davey, who have used the postal service to reach artists, friends, and other relations to participate in shared artworks, but with today’s ever-progressing communication tools and the continued exit of snail mail, the glory days of mail art might be fading.

    Lauren Lavery and Stephanie Ng

    The collaborative exhibition ( ) to ( )/place to place by Stephanie Ng and Lauren Lavery at aceartinc.'s Flux Gallery makes a different case for correspondence via the postal service. Since technology hasn’t caught up with alternate ways of moving sculptures from one place to the other, these two artists are left with using the mail as a bridge for their creative relationship. Ng, who lives in Hong Kong, and Lavery, who is in Guelph, correspond in a series of cadavre exquis pieces that take the form of modest yet idiosyncratic abstract assemblages and works on paper.

    Accumulated over the last eight or so months, the humble results first scan as off-kilter fragments by a playful six-year-old working with a measured logic. Each piece is deceivingly textured and intricate, with a homemade charm that begs to be touched. They rest on the floors and lean on the walls without being physically imposing. In fact, they barely take up any space. Even with their colourful pallet, they are unassuming yet layered with found dollar-store detritus the artists passed back and forth to each other. The supporting drawings read like adlibbed skeletal markings that may as well be an encrypted language between the two.

    Somewhere in the corner accompanying these forms is a towering stack of shoe-size boxes with postage labels, surcharges, customs imprints, and other official stamps that are part of the circumstances by which these seemingly inconsequential sculptures came to be. They record not only the intimate exchanges between Lavery and Ng, but also they serve as manifestations of the places and agents they travel in-between.

    Lauren Lavery and Stephanie Ng

    In the context of transit, Lavery and Ng’s mild-mannered formations also take on the specific value required by the postal service for customs clearance and in case of damage/lost goods. This value is somehow altered in the context of the well-lit gallery presentation. What is at first read as an indexing of a social and creative interrelationship later surfaces as a politic to value. It highlights the ways in which galleries and museums continually confirm and prop up the authority of art, the significance of the display on the way art objects are understood, and the ways in which art objects shift between meanings.

    In what was inherently an experimental project to work antithetically across borders, Lavery and Ng fell back to an age old interpersonal movement and, in doing so, inadvertently hinted at perspectives Louise Lawler would likely nod to and Ray Johnson would never have imagined.

    Lauren Lavery & Stephanie Ng: ( ) to ( )/place to place was on display from May 11 to 18.
    Flux Gallery:
    The gallery is not 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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    From the moment I arrived at the splashy York University subway station, it was pretty clear that the Art Gallery of York University’s current exhibition, Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca, was going to be outstanding. Why, you ask? Well, because the TTC supervisor on duty told me so. He was totally right, by the way, and I haven’t been able to forget about our preluding conversation, nor separate it from my experience of the show. Naturally, on my way back from the gallery, we found each other at the entrance to the subway station and spoke about the show in more detail. He had never been to the AGYU before, and not only wondered how I knew about it, but how he could learn more about other galleries in the city. We talked about many things, but what we didn’t (need to) talk about is at the root of why we both loved this show so much: we’re both from the diaspora.

    Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca, SET TO GO, 2015

    In spite of the spoilers I received at the subway station, I still wasn’t totally clear on what kind of exhibition I was about to walk into, aside from the fact that both artists are Brazilian (and still live in the country’s northeast). I took a pamphlet, turned a corner, and was met by a wall of framed photographs (Mestres de Cerimônias/Masters of Ceremonies, 2016). Costume chains, braids, low top fades, Nike fitteds, shorter than short shorts, slingback wedges, and Kawasaki motorcycles set the scene and remind me of Kingston, JA parties in the early 2000s. The images are from music videos of brega MCs, a genre popularized in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s and 60s, and a response to bossa nova. Wagner documents these “poor but glamorous people from the slums” as they portray the social, cultural, and economic realities of their lives in return for visibility and celebrity.

    The profile of brega MCs continues in the next room in the form of a co-directed sixteen-minute short video titled Estás Vendo Coisas/You Are Seeing Things (2016) that follows a young duo on their journey to brega stardom, beginning in the recording studio and ending on set of their own music video. Exit this screening room and there is another wall of framed photographs (A Procura do 5°/In the Search of the 5th Element, 2017) – a selection of portraits of over 300 young MCs who were shortlisted for a national funk competition. My personal favourite work is a video installation found at the very end of the gallery: a “video essay” titled Faz Que Vai/SET TO GO (2015) featuring four dancers: Ryan Neves, Edson Vogue, Bhrunno Henryque, and Eduarda Lemos (Tchanna). The music is jazzy and funky, and the costumes are a clear ode to Carnivals across the Americas. There are high kicks, backbends, en-pointe footwork, dutty wining – always with a smile and sometimes while taking a selfie.

    Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca, A Procura do 5°/In the Search of the 5th Element, 2017

    Layered beneath (and over) this celebration of music, dance, and fashion is the traumatic cultural and social history of Brazil, namely its legacy as the largest participant in the Atlantic slave trade and the lasting economic effects it has had on its Black population, which is also the largest African diaspora in the world. Wagner and de Burca have woven these historical realities into the various narratives of the exhibition or, rather, they are fundamental to the understanding and this particular consumption of Brazilian popular culture.

    Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca continues until June 24.
    The Art Gallery of York University:
    The gallery is accessible.

    Letticia Cosbert is a Toronto based writer and editor, and is currently the Digital Content Coordinator at the Koffler Centre of the Arts. Letticia studied Classics, earning a B.A. from the University of Toronto, and an M.A. from Western University, where she specialized in erotic Latin poetry. Her writing and editorial work has been featured in Ephemera Magazine, Sophomore Magazine, The Ethnic Aisle, and publications by Katzman Contemporary, Younger Than Beyonce Gallery, Xpace, and Trinity Square Video. She can be followed on Instagram @prettiletti

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