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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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    An Edward Burtynsky photograph of a rusting steel scrap heap hangs alongside Tom Thomson’s The Birch Grove, Autumn; Suzy Lake smashes a wall while a saint rips open his ribcage in meticulously explicit oil paint. Art for a Century collapses centuries and styles to celebrate the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s centenary with 100 works from the permanent collection. Favourites like Alex Colville’s Horse and Train and William Kurulek’s This is the Nemesis tangle with the seldom-seen in smart combinations that reveal the contemporary in the historical, the timelessness of even their most recent acquisitions. 

    Tyler Tekatch, Terrors of the Breakfast Table, 2014, video still

    One of the AGH’s best-known treasures, Kim Adams’ ever-expanding Bruegel-Bosch Bus, has grown noticeably larger for One for the Road, a sprawling retrospective of boundless kinetic energy despite its scarcity of moving parts. The joyfully childlike abundance of bikes and miniatures, balanced against the adult gleam of fetishized automotive parts, suspends the best of his work on a rubber band of anticipation, a whim away from take-off.

    Tyler Tekatch’s Terrors of the Breakfast Table is a fantastic first accomplishment of the AGH’s Interactive Digital Media Incubator that wrings haunting atmosphere from the Hamilton settings that appear in Tekatch’s film. A dining table invites the viewer to sit before the immersive video projection and, when the strange prism at the table glows a deep orange, to blow into its centre. Far from extinguishing this lantern, the viewer’s breath enacts startlingly intimate transformations within the film’s narrative of a young boy’s encounter with death – a gust of wind whips faster through an attic room, nightmares flicker across the boy’s disturbed sleep. In the context of the AGH’s centenary, this local artist’s work at the threshold of new technologies and immortal themes speaks to the best of what a public art gallery can deliver to the hundred years yet to come.

    Art Gallery of Hamilton:
    Kim Adams: One for the Road continues until May 4.
    Tyler Tekatch: Terrors of the Breakfast Table continues until May 25.

    Stephanie Vegh is a Hamilton-based visual artist and writer whose criticism has appeared in Scotland's Map Magazine, Canadian Art, C Magazine, and Hamilton Arts & Letters, in addition to her own blog. Her drawings and installations have shown most recently at the upArt Contemporary Art Fair and Nathaniel Hughson Gallery in Hamilton. She is the Executive Director of the Hamilton Arts Council and a member of the Curatorial Committee for Hamilton's annual Supercrawl. She is also Akimblog's Hamilton correspondent and can be followed @Stephanie_Vegh on Twitter.

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    The 2014 Governor General’s Laureates in the Visual and Media Arts are being celebrated at the National Gallery of Canada. At a ceremony at Rideau Hall on March 26, David Johnston continued a tradition started by John Buchan in 1936. Famous for writing the Thirty-Nine Steps, Buchan was the first Governor General to give out awards for artistic merit (for literature). If you’ve seen Hitchcock’s 1935 film adaptation of the novel, you’ll remember that the character Mr. Memory reveals the Thirty Nine Steps to be an organization of spies. On this occasion, the ring of associates numbers eight, and they are being recognized for the extraordinary outcomes of their specially classified investigations.

    Rhiannon Vogl, Curatorial Assistant of Contemporary Art at the NGC, had the challenging task of putting together an exhibition with a limited footprint that would highlight not only the careers of the laureates but also the holdings of the gallery’s permanent collection. With economical grace, Vogl selected, in collaboration with the artists, one or a few works by each to represent their accomplishments metonymically, or as Mr. Memory might prefer, mnemonically.

    Kim Adams, Minnow Lure, 2004, galvanized steel and mixed media (courtesy: National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; photo © NGC)


    By concentrating on the thematic relationships established by Vogel, one can discern how each artist in the exhibition manipulates or creates objects that act as devices for knowledge or memory transmission: The sculptor Kim Adams’ miniature and life-size contraptions stimulate reveries of DIY modifications to improve our own lives; the photographer Angela Grauerholz commemorates the books (and their contents) that she lost in a fire; the painter Carol Wainio combines figures digested from manuscripts, storybooks and mass media to create fragmented images suggesting the logic of a dream rebus; the weaver Sandra Brownlee uses her loom as a writing machine in order to bear witness to life; the media artist Jayce Salloum also bears witness, and gives a voice to persecuted peoples, through installations that act as a record of his explorations of conflict zones; the multidisciplinary artist Max Dean’s photographic series Objects Waiting dramatizes his interactions with objects that evoke moments from his childhood and his early career as an artist; and the installation artist Raymond Gervais imagines an afterworld on earth where Samuel Beckett plays the last of the six sonatas never completed by Debussy. Like the elements of Gervais’ Finir [Finish], such as a sheet with the word “flute” printed on it displayed on a music stand, the works in the exhibition conjure up more than their own presence, especially if they trigger a memory or incite curiosity in the mind of the viewer. I was inspired to find out even more about the artists, and to explore their works and the world they circumscribe further.

    If anything, the exhibition should inspire you to go on to explore the contemporary art on the second floor. Another recipient of the award this year is former National Gallery of Art curator Brydon Smith, whose contribution to the arts in Canada is clearly manifested in the works acquired by the gallery during his tenure, designated by special labels for at least the duration of the exhibition. A vitrine in the exhibition displays a Maclean’s article from May 1970 exploring how Smith thought contemporary art “can change the way you see the world, and how he’s spending your money to prove it.” On the second floor, I was struck by the materiality of a textbook example of conceptual art, One and Three Tables by Joseph Kosuth, acquired by the gallery (and Smith) in 1973. Displayed side by side you see a textual definition of a table, an actual table, and a photograph of the table. It’s one thing to imagine the work, and another to have the opportunity to encounter it. (The photograph is redone each time it’s installed.) By extension, it’s a question of not only interpreting the world but also engaging with it.

    National Gallery of Canada:
    The Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts 2014 continues until July 6.


    Michael Davidge is an artist, writer, and independent curator who lives in Ottawa, Ontario. His writing on art and culture has appeared in Border Crossings, BlackFlash, and C Magazine, among other publications. He is Akimblog’s Ottawa correspondent and can be followed on Twitter @MichaelDavidge.

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    The contradiction at the heart of late 20th Century capital-A art – art as in high art, art rock, contemporary art, and so on – is that a creative endeavor so resolute in challenging its own conventions would still be in need of an audience. How to foster this audience without watering down the work has become a longstanding practical concern for those organizations that exhibit through popular media (e.g. film) and in the public service (that is, they benefit from public funds). Toronto's Images Festival has a solid history of working that divide through education and outreach efforts as well as forward-thinking programming. One example of that in the recent past has been their Live Images events where the popularity of art-pop music (music rooted in popular forms like rock or techno that has pretensions toward artistry versus art-art music, which even fewer people listen to) is exploited through collaborations with guest film and video artists. This year's closing night film makes an even more radical leap by tying the nonlinear, formally concerned, anti-television aesthetic they are known and loved for with the behemoth that is organized sports.

    Brett Kashmere, From Deep

    In From Deep, Canadian ex-pat Brett Kashmere has jammed together original footage with Hollywood films and archival material to present a history of basketball in America that drifts from autobiography into political and cultural critique all the while being driven by a love for, if not an obsession with, the sport. Once the ball gets rolling, the narrative is relatively conventional and the visuals stick to the literal. The only thing that could be considered experimental is the voice-over’s dip into the bucket of high theory with reference to contested territories of identity, game play as performance, and something called “the funky dialectic.” That sort of philosophizing sounds a bit dated and weighs down the visual impact of the game as played both by street kids and professionals at the height of their skills. This movie leaves the door open for more ambiguous and impressionistic treatments of sport on screen. Let’s hope more jocks sign up for art school.

    Jennifer Chan, Infinite Debt

    Immediately prior to From Deep’s closing night screening, the festival features a collection of short videos by Jennifer Chan, another former Canadian who mashes up the material of contemporary culture for purposes both entertaining and critical. Her medium is the internet and the wild and wooly world we inhabit there. Her onscreen performances draw on early messy iconoclasts like Karen Finley, but rather than witnessing on stage food smearing and cellophane wrapped bodies, she performs these tasks on her loved/loathed MacBook and shoots it with her phone. The trouble with making art out of the internet is that it’s always already the weirdest, most all encompassing lo-fi art video of all time. It’s hard to see what Chan adds to it. However, she does manage to skewer the boy-focused IT regime and turn pizza into a polymorphously perverse icon of repressed e-sexuality. For that, we can "like" her.

    Images Festival:
    The Images Festival 2014 continues until April 19.

    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 must admit that I always somewhat dread touring the Belgo Building (aka the "art-mall") with its stiflingly hot corridors lined with dozens of commercial galleries and artist run centres, many of which are showing work that leaves little impression on me save indifference. But this weekend I narrowed my focus to the three most promising commercial galleries (that coincidentally were each opening new exhibitions) – Galerie Nicolas Robert, Galerie Hugues Charbonneau and Galerie Donald Browne – and enjoyed all three exhibitions. Jim Verburg's exhibition Afterimage at Galerie Nicolas Robert was particularly strong, tight and playful.

    Jim Verburg, Untitled (reflected/repeated #3), 2014, Mono print, Oil based ink painted on glass - rolled, transferred and layered onto newsprint

    I've followed Verburg's work for a number of years and enjoyed witnessing the trajectory of his practice from more overtly photo-based and narrative driven work to a multidisciplinary, formally concerned practice, which always manages to maintain an intimate, minimal and poetic quality. With Afterimage, Verburg (now Toronto-based but formally residing in Montreal) has assembled a cohesive body of work loosely investigating the delicate folds and overlaps of light patterns. The spectrum of line, light and shade, from grey to black, is explored through a variety of media and the works are carefully installed in the gallery, often reflecting one another in mimicking and opposing senses. At the vernissage Verburg told me that the work in the exhibition came out of "play" in the studio, and casual playfulness with a variety of media can indeed be witnessed – from ink and roller prints on newsprint, to work with tape and charcoal, layered sheets of mylar, and more sculptural wall work investigating folded forms, including paint applied directly into a corner of the gallery with seeming spontaneity.

    Also worth checking out at the Belgo is the group exhibition Echoe 1 at Galerie Hugues Charbonneau, which shares some similar aesthetic concerns with Verburg's Afterimage. Charbonneau has brought together the work of seven artists from his roster to create an intriguing exhibition with a formal premise (the fold) and an uncanny slant. At Galerie Donald Browne, Jérôme Ruby's Save Time - Dessins features a collection of Ruby's lovely figurative drawings, spray-paint works, combined with neons and sculptural work. Happily, after seeing these three shows, I left the Belgo without a whiff of nihilism and with my energy level intact.

    Galerie Nicolas Robert:
    Jim Verburg: Afterimage continues until May 24.

    Susannah Wesley is an artist and curator living in Montreal. She has been a member of the collaborative duo Leisure since 2004 and from 1997-2000 was part of the notorious British art collective the Leeds13. Formerly Director at Battat Contemporary in Montreal, she holds an MFA from the Glasgow School of Art and an MA in Art History from Concordia University. She is Akimblog's new Montreal correspondent and can be followed @susannahwesley1 on Twitter.

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    Staging the spectacle in sublime and remote locations, Kevin Schmidt's EDM House and High Altitude Balloon Harmless Amateur Radio Equipment present a query into the myth of displaced image making. Situated on either side of The Contemporary Art Gallery, the two works from 2013 range from a deeply luminous, richly detailed, yet ordinary photograph of the curvature of the earth to an absurdist and amateur nineties rave in the form of an abandoned haunted house in the BC interior. Paired together, Schmidt appears to offer an ongoing investigation into DIY culture via internet phenomena and asks us to look again, to look closer.

    Kevin Schmidt, EDM House

    H.A.B.H.A.R.E. appears in a darkened, immersive presentation, a nearly floor-to-ceiling projection of the photograph taken from the stratosphere of a self-launched amateur radio high altitude balloon built and launched by Schmidt with help from Sherwood Park's Balloon Experiments with Amateur Radio. As a hobbyist passion fervently shared the world over, aerial photographs from space made by amateur enthusiasts are posted across the internet in what has been dubbed as the poor man's space program. Adding a Linhof lens and a meticulously calculated shutter to create the 4 x 5 photograph, Schmidt is at once celebrating and overturning the amateurs who inspired him, accessing a professional level of dissemination and presentation through the gallery exhibition, which extends well beyond the flatness of the world wide web.

    Similarly, drawing attention to DIY internet fan psychedelia along with horror film tropes, EDM House is arguably Schmidt's most cinematic work to date. Screened at Künstlerhaus Bethanie in 2013 and screening next at Fogo Island Arts (the original commissioner of the project), EDM House pulsates as a dusk-to-dawn single unit dance party emanating from a near abandoned house. Programmed inside and out with tacky strings of Christmas lights and gel swipes, the house appears from a series of different angles, circling the house as the camera subtly pulls in and out, panning one way while zooming in the opposite direction, creating a tug and pull visual warble that keeps the house at the foreground as the background shifts in scope. Synchronized to rave music composed by Schmidt during his five months of living and working in the house, and made available to the area through a local FM radio channel, the result is an absorbing reconsideration of spectacle-making in a post-internet DIY consumer/producer culture.

    Contemporary Art Gallery:
    Kevin Schmidt continues until June 1.

    Amy Fung is a writer and organizer who publishes nationally and internationally in journals, magazines, catalogues, and monographs in print and online. Her ongoings can be found at and on Twitter @anotheramyfung. She is Akimblog's Vancouver correspondent.

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    Good thing I don't believe in the non-representational, 'cause when you come right down to it, Durham-based painter Rowena Dykins is really having none of it anyway. Oh, I know she's long been recognized as a skilled abstractionist, lumped in amongst those who might think they've overcome the issue of representation (which essentially boils down to trying to circumvent how really good we are at pattern recognition) when in fact they've done no such thing. But the work she's included in Resonance, her new exhibition currently showing at the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington in Bowmanville clearly situates her as an artist who is interestingly mucking about with the more aesthetically fecund regions of painterly representation, and making absolutely no apologies for it.

    Rowena Dykins, Toronto Island Series #1, 2011, acrylic on canvas

    Besides, her choice of titles for her paintings tends to utterly evacuate even the remotest possibility of a seeing stripped clean of representational reference and context anyway. Like Lynn River, for example. It's a landscape of both titular and visual inclination, painterly chunks of colour assembled from across the extant of the colour spectrum – cool blues to hotter oranges – compositionally cohering together as if to shape a geography seen from on high, cleft by a lazy meander that may (or may not) be the titular river. Nice.

    Or there's Toronto Island Series #1, another cartographically inclined painting with an overt representational intentionality and which forges aesthetic coherence out of a range of discrete oranges, blues and blacks organized in a splotchy arc across the canvas. Very nice.

    Okay, I'm being selective, here, to be sure, highlighting a couple of works out of a whole lot more that tend to make my point. Certainly not all of Dykins' work clings so overtly to the interpretation of landscape. Still, its imperatives are tenacious and infectious, and clearly inform her painterly aesthetic from the ground up (no pun intended).

    So I still opt to end this at the manifestly representational end of the spectrum. Up in the gallery's large third-floor loft, Dykins has situated Monarch, an installation focused at one end of the space on a diptych depicting not a landscape but the image of a Monarch butterfly (a migratory species that journeys incredible distances and knows landscapes), and before which stretches a path or road of sorts across the loft floor: a kind of blank, horizontally extended canvas comprised of one ton of salt tidily contained within the borders of a long rectangle. The salt has been carefully shaped, its surface contoured to forge a resemblance – intentional or not – to layers of thick paint trowelled and scraped along a canvas surface.

    So is Dykins asserting that it's a sculptural path that leads to the high altar of the painterly? Hmm. I'd take issue, if that's the case. But what I wouldn't argue with is the notion of the end point being all that is meaningfully representational, and that makes all the difference.

    Visual Arts Centre of Clarington:
    Rowena Dykins: Resonance continues until May 11.

    Gil McElroy is a poet, artist, independent curator, and freelance art critic. He is the author of Gravity & Grace: Selected Writing on Contemporary Canadian Art, four books of poetry, and Cold Comfort: Growing Up Cold War. McElroy lives in Colborne, Ontario with his wife Heather. He is Akimblog's roving Ontario correspondent and can be followed @GilMcElroy on Twitter.

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    There are times when all I want to see is a painting, something self-contained and complete unto itself, something that doesn't require external support in the form of explanations or context (not that I'm adverse to such things, but they come after, not before, the first sighting, the all important initial impression that is all about the eyes and only subsequently addresses the heart or the brain or the spleen). A good, solid painting is one you can have a long sustained conversation with, one you get to know better as time goes by and new qualities emerge, one you might not like at first but learn to admire and respect over time, one that stays with you after you've parted, one you want to see again and, maybe even, again.

    Susanna Heller, The Owl Flies at Dusk, 2014, oil on canvas

    Susanna Heller's current exhibition at Olga Korper provides a bounty of such singular experiences. What on first glance might appear to be abstractions are quite obviously landscapes sent through the imagination of an artist who appreciates the chaotic energy of the modern urban setting and then envelopes it within the increasingly unrestrained and unpredictable tumult of the greater environment (aka the weather). I too like cities and am always up for a bit of storm chasing, but I was initially hesitant in wending my way amongst Heller's canvases large and small as they felt almost too busy (and I'm a big fan of maximalist painting). I had to dance back and forth since what I saw from a distance wasn't always there up close. And the smaller works at the entrance were crushed by their edges. It was like I was looking through a small aperture when all I wanted to do was watch from the roof of my brother's four-story walk-up in Brooklyn. The mega-paintings (and some are really big) match the scope of the vision and Heller works hard at every last inch of the surface to turn these works into epic accounts of detail and grand gesture. My eyes dart around like a country cousin come to Times Square, and as with my every visit to NYC, I just want to hang around and breathe it all in.

    Amanda Clyne, Excavating Artifice II, 2014, oil on canvas

    Serendipitously, a short walk away, one can find a portrait exhibition to match Heller's landscapes. Amanda Clyne's MFA thesis show at p|m Gallery provides a glimpse at an artist who is still trying out new things and playing with different media (photography and printmaking, in this case), but when it comes to slapping paint on canvas, she can hold her own with the best of them. Her subjects are ladies in royal gowns or haute couture, but the sitter disappears in the swirling abstraction of the fabric made multi-coloured plasma. Let loose of the anchor of identity, these images become elegant displays of balance and obscure suggestions of shape that float before my eyes. Whatever it has to do with costume culture and hierarchies of fashion is not my immediate concern; instead I'd rather linger over each splatter and brushstroke, and wonder how Clyne managed to place each in just the perfect spot.

    Olga Korper Gallery:
    Susanna Heller continues until April 26.

    p|m Gallery:
    Amanda Clyne: Excavating Artifice continues until May 3.

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

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  • 04/29/14--02:55: Russell Leng at Avalanche!
  • The day of the opening of the 2014 Whitney Biennial, art critic Matt Gleason identified an outsider aesthetic amongst arts insiders that acts "as an alias for downright sloppiness." While it's hard to tease out the variety of possible reasons, some more valid than others, for this apparent rawness (perhaps a focus on process over finish, laziness, hurriedness or an anti-establishment impulse), they all provide an apt foil for the quality of art experience you find at Avalanche! Institute of Contemporary Art. The gallery founders and directors Nate McLeod and Cassandra Paul are an energetic young pair who embody care and attention, not to mention dedication – both maintain day jobs in the cultural sector in addition to independent practices and running their space (!). From the ambitious reach of their programming (which sometimes infuses the local scene with hot young artists from Vancouver or San Francisco, the likes of which we Calgarians rarely see) to the clean and confident atmosphere of their converted office basement, it is inspiring to see their enterprise unfold with such charm and smarts.

    Russell Leng

    When I first visited their new space under Untitled Art Society, used to seeing large Calgary galleries with floor space disproportionate to the quality of work in them, I was underwhelmed at the size of the exhibition space as it was about the size of a large walk-in closet or small office. But now having seen their fifth show, I can't get over how versatile it is, as well as how stimulating an art encounter can be in spaces that flux between domestic/private and public/open sites. The more alternative the original purpose of the space, the more effort and consideration are demonstrated towards its transformation and communicative potential. The current show, Sudden Death by Vancouver artist Russell Leng, both acknowledges and creatively expands the tight quarters of the gallery. Using the simple mechanism of dipping a basketball in black paint and throwing it against the white walls, he creates a pleasing all-over pattern reminiscent of eighties era printed fabrics or wallpaper while being playful with constraints. Leng says the show explores the concept of failure in sports: a water pipe exposed in the corner of the gallery's ceiling is adorned with referee whistles that are just out of reach. But everything is noticeably silent, subtle and statuesque, almost the opposite of sportive action and bravado. A small monitor screens a looped video of the end of a boxing match, slowed during the final moments before the winner is revealed when opponents hold the referee's hands on either side, looking down in a meditative pause. The expansion of time charges the moment with a spiritual mood. On the feature wall a line of paintings articulate a Greek-like figure in contrapposto with a ball. The figure is repeated but also adorned and elaborated differently each time. There's a sense of ignoring failure, ignoring competition altogether, and just playing and celebrating the game of free will.

    Russell Leng: Sudden Death continues until May 24.

    Andrea Williamson is a Calgary-based writer and artist. Her reviews have appeared in C magazine, Swerve, Color magazine, esse arts and opinion and FFWD. In January 2013 she initiated a critical theory reading group that meets monthly in a collective attempt to approach academic texts in peripheral and humble ways. She can be followed on Twitter @andreawillsamin.

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    It's not surprising that Paul Butler is now a curator– in addition to being an artist and a former gallerist– because so much, if not all, of his work is about selection and framing. The foundation for his process is collage, and I recently heard Micah Lexier call Butler's famous collage parties an incredibly liberating experience. There is something about gathering pre-existing materials and rearranging them on the page that gives everyone the permission to be creative. When an artist limits himself to a programmatic and uniform erasure and combination of certain elements – as Butler does (no Wangechi Mutu advanced class cut'n'paste mastery here) – it can leave the impression that anyone can do this. Running this risk is a game of discipline and stubbornness.

    Paul Butler, Untitled, 2014, inkjet print

    Looking through his new works on display at Division Gallery's Toronto venue, I kept thinking about Richard Prince (not simply because I had just read the text of this lecture about his seminal Spiritual America piece). Both artists have a vampiric relationship with visual culture whereby they claim their victims with yet another anyone-can-do-this technique: re-photography. By taking a picture of their only slightly manipulated images, they make a claim of authorship while also opening up a conduit (a transfusion line?) to the rest of the world. While this might on first glance seem radical and transgressive, they are just more upfront about acknowledging their suppliers. And whereas Prince trains his unblinking eye on the various people in his images (eg. a preteen Brooke Shields), Butler edits the ostensible subject out, leaving only the background, which, truth be told, is just another, and in fact the first, frame.

    As for this current exhibition, I found it clever and formulaic (which is more of a description than a judgment), but there was no sense of struggle and in the end it left me cold. His series of Artforum gallery ads with the texts cleanly removed may end up as quirky geometric abstractions, but are too much tied to the insularity of the art world to be anything other than navel gazing, which, I'll admit, can be a turn on if this is the kind of navel you're into. And while his emptied out and layered silhouette portraits populate urban streets with fading phantoms that engage for the moment, all I really want to see are his duct taped landscapes of yesteryear.

    Iain Baxter&, Rebecca's Bagged Place, Raven Row, 2013, C-print (photo: Marcus J. Leith)

    A curatorial impulse also unites the artists in Corrie Jackson's Master of Visual Studies exhibition Communicating Vessels at the University of Toronto's Blackwood Gallery; however, these four Canadians are focused on selecting objects instead of images. The homegrown godfather to this Conceptual feint is Iain Baxter& (he of the appropriated landscape) and his contribution is photo-documentation of apartments with every item and every surface sealed in plastic and then offered up for viewing. This framing of the real is bookended by Roula Partheniou's slightly less than real cabinet of everyday objects that also represent the things in the world – particularly those found in the realm of domesticity. Her objects are objects as objects rather than functional goods that fulfill their purpose. As such they serve as signs for themselves, like building blocks for a banal existence. Similarly banal objects are theorized up the ying-yang in two video works by Judy Radul that try too hard to do what Partheniou does with ease. And then Luis Jacob treads a middle ground with an actual collection of vessels that manages the clever trick of demanding interpretation by hardly saying anything. That they are part of a ho-hum performance with naked folk, which is also documented in photographs, diminishes their intrigue somewhat. However, I'm adept at forgetting what I'm supposed to see and generally manage to find my way on my own. Good thing.

    Division Gallery:
    Paul Butler: Still Active continues until May 29.

    Blackwood Gallery:
    Communicating Vessels continues until May 11.

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

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    I couldn't hide my bookworm proclivities even if I tried, nor my equally nerdy enjoyment of robots and automata, so I was already inclined to adore Robyn Moody's current installation at Hamilton Artists Inc., but it was even more gratifying to uncover the subtle, experiential murmurs that enlarge Butterflies: Species at Risk at the Edge of Reason beyond my first rush of unchecked delight.

    Robyn Moody, Butterflies: Species at Risk at the Edge of Reason, installation view

    Heavy black curtains sequester the Inc.'s Cannon St. Gallery as a darkened sanctuary for six open books that rest delicately at the apex of welded steel perches. At the base of each, an elegant motor system controls steel cables that coax the books into subtle animation – opening and closing in a gentle pattern that uncannily mimics butterflies at rest. Configured to lend an organic irregularity to these movements, the motors are nearly as mesmerizing as the books themselves. The low hiss of gliding wheels and cables fills the gallery with a soft hush of white noise that recalls the distant din of grasshoppers, a rustle of wind in sun-crisped fields, or a faint chirp that is perhaps too metallic and plaintive to pass as birdsong.

    This air of sacred fragility is suited to the particular books that Moody has appropriated for his flock. From Copernicus and Darwin to Salman Rushdie and Naguib Mahfouz, each book is a survivor of efforts to suppress and silence their contents. While some of the sciences in these pages have had their day in the sun, Moody deftly throws them all into doubt in his shadowy chapel of ideas where reason is as endangered as the bound paper volumes that convey its message.

    Hamilton Artists Inc:
    Robyn Moody: Butterflies: Species at Risk at the Edge of Reason continues until May 16.

    Stephanie Vegh is a Hamilton-based visual artist and writer whose criticism has appeared in Scotland's Map Magazine, Canadian Art, C Magazine, and Hamilton Arts & Letters, in addition to her own blog. Her drawings and installations have shown most recently at the upArt Contemporary Art Fair and Nathaniel Hughson Gallery in Hamilton. She is the Executive Director of the Hamilton Arts Council and a member of the Curatorial Committee for Hamilton's annual Supercrawl. She is also Akimblog's Hamilton correspondent and can be followed @Stephanie_Vegh on Twitter.

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    Olympic performance, celebration, media coverage, construction, and nationally/communally driven physical endeavors – these are just some of the subjects brought together in susan pui san lok's sumptuous five-channel work currently screening at the MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels). Commissioned by the British Film Institute, leading up to the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Summer Olympics, Faster, Higher is comprised of archival and documentary footage, as well as video captured by the artist. Filmically rich visuals appear and disappear across the screens; the imagery synching and diverging in a gentle, lyrical, consideration of the various forms of nationalism symbolized through physical sport and prowess. The "politically neutral" bubble of the Olympic games blends against the ideologically driven exercises in the Republic of China: from communal calisthenics to flag planting on mountaintops.

    susan pui san lok, Faster, Higher, 2008

    Faster, Higher also depicts an intriguing psychological juxtaposition between the exterior display of these events and the interior stress of the individuals involved. Iconic imagery of athletes performing their sport, mass performance choreography, balloons, fireworks and light displays are mixed with close-ups of athletes on the side lines wringing their hands while watching their peers and out-takes of a British media correspondent flubbing his lines again and again and again.

    Lok's own footage comprises a small part of Faster, Higher and depicts the building site for the London 2012 Olympics: tracks of ugly blue fencing winding its way along a London waterway. As a UK citizen of Chinese decent, this imagery is her everyday reality. The material that forms most of this work, of China and historical clips of the Olympics, can then be seen as research and perhaps in some ways occupies a space of other-worldliness or fantasy, flawed as it may be. The unanswered question (at the time of production) then remains – framed by the multiculturalism and nationalism inherent to the Olympic Games – what do the London Olympics bring to the UK in terms of its inscription and projection of national identity? What complexities will it have agitated?

    susan pui san lok: Faster, Higher continues until May 10.

    Susannah Wesley is an artist and curator living in Montreal. She has been a member of the collaborative duo Leisure since 2004 and from 1997-2000 was part of the notorious British art collective the Leeds13. Formerly Director at Battat Contemporary in Montreal, she holds an MFA from the Glasgow School of Art and an MA in Art History from Concordia University. She is Akimblog's new Montreal correspondent and can be followed @susannahwesley1 on Twitter.

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    If you consider the kingpins of Vancouver Photoconceptualism, Jeff Wall is engaged with art history and Rodney Graham dabbles in historical marginalia, whereas Stan Douglas is concerned with history straight up. He, like many artists who preceded him, is a history painter – except he works with film, video, and photography. This, in my humble opinion, is what makes him the greater artist: greater in that his subject matter is more expansive and inclusive, and his potential audience – given half a chance – could be larger and more intensely affected. How anyone could ever measure this is too ridiculous to consider, but it's the kind of argument I'm always hoping to get into at a dinner party of people who care about this sort of thing. Suffice to say, I have yet to have the opportunity to make my case.

    Stan Douglas, McLeod's Books, Vancouver, 2006, laserchrome print

    However, now would be the most opportune time for such a party to happen, given the convenience of the Ryerson Image Centre's small-scale retrospective of Douglas's photography. I, like many others, relegated his still images to the category of research (and a cheaper entry into collecting his work for those who can't afford a large scale installation) back in the day, but changed my tune around the time of Le Detroit when it became clearer that the historical transitions he was dramatizing in his films and videos were also being documented in plein air on a single piece of paper. In the last half decade he's taken up a method that, through proximity, most often gets pegged to his neighbour Wall, whereby he makes use of the whole apparatus of film – casting, sets, lighting, direction – to create still images that evoke the narratives of Modernism in crisis that are his bread and butter.

    The Ryerson exhibition provides a smattering of Douglas's full range, from set shots of his film Der Sandmann to the panoptic prison of his Cuban series to a devastating epic titled Ballantyne Pier, 18 June 1935 that depicts in a stark and unambiguous way the forces that crushed workers movements of the time. There are also two photos from his recent Disco Angola reconstruction that will have you pining for more, and three from his new Corrupt Files series that will have you wondering, "Why bother?"

    I was going to add in some comments about the overactive artist's just released app for iPad Circa 1948 (did I mention he also premiered a theatre work this season?), but I got motion sick from navigating its computer generated haunts of old Vancouver, so you'll have to wait until I score some Gravol. The one exhibition is more than enough to keep you occupied.

    Nadia Belerique, The Archer 2, 2014, inkjet photograph mounted to aluminum and plexi glass

    I didn't think it was possible, but Nadia Belerique takes the notion of re-photography (considered last week in my review of Paul Butler and thoughts on Richard Prince) one step further by foregrounding the materiality of made pictures in her current exhibition at Daniel Faria Gallery. The title, Have You Seen This Man, isn't the only clue that you have to be a detective to engage with her work. Footprints mark the floor and fingerprints are all over the images that are often simply representations of themselves: sheets of mylar or scraps of photographic paper suspended against a charcoal grey background that reflects the viewer's puzzled expression. It's all residue and remains, but from what? My guess is that in an age where you can do just about anything visually, the challenge is to make something non-obvious without it being nothing. Belerique tiptoes that fine line and draws us into the vacuum with the promise of something more. There are hints of it, but you have to be satisfied with hints, because that's all you're going to get.

    Ryerson Image Centre:
    Stan Douglas: Scotiabank Photography Award continues until June1.

    Daniel Faria Gallery:
    Nadia Belerique: Have You Seen This Man continues until June 7.

    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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    As both featured artist and guest curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Myfanwy MacLeod has organized two exhibitions dovetailing into one that present her audience with a bold and brave cynicism that is absolutely rewarding. The conceptual segues flowing through her exhibition Myfanwy MacLeod, Or There and Back Again and Cock and Bull, her curatorial project with Grant Arnold, demonstrate an intuitive collusion of conscious and unconscious contrasts that is at once scathing, generative, and alarming. The selection of an all male cast of artists to compare and contrast with her solo show is not lost on anybody, and the implications of both respect and exclusion from the old boys club create an art world fugue that is at once arresting, albeit, disheartening.

    Myfanwy MacLeod, Stack

    MacLeod continues her razor sharp incision into the barriers between high culture and mass entertainment by investigating power structures and social dynamics with a cool handed wit. Led Zeppelin appear as a reoccurring theme throughout the exhibition, and MacLeod's new works include Stack, a wall-sized grid of screen prints re-creating the Marshall stacks that first appeared on stage in 1965 as a literal "wall of sound" in blistering arena rock shows (aka cock rock shows). It appears as a backdrop to a dominating floor piece by the late Anthony Caro and faces off against a Peter Doig, which is adjacent to William Marlow's 19th Century painting of the mysterious erection of Stonehenge. Verticality and sexual innuendo reverberate throughout, and run the gamut from teenage desire to an acceptance of our limited mortality.

    To begin and end the exhibition, a series of Bruce Nauman's 1970 Studies for Holograms sit across from a lone drum kit. By including the elder American conceptualist, Macleod reveals her hand, telling us and not telling us how she treats meaning, and asks us to consider the information presented as experience rather than form and concept alone.

    Vancouver Art Gallery:
    Myfanwy MacLeod, Or There and Back Again & Cock and Bull continue until June 8.

    Amy Fung is a writer and organizer who publishes nationally and internationally in journals, magazines, catalogues, and monographs in print and online. Her ongoings can be found at and on Twitter @anotheramyfung. She is Akimblog's Vancouver correspondent.

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    Katie Belcher, Director of Eyelevel Gallery, has been on the road for a month, visiting artist-run centres and galleries throughout the Atlantic provinces. Packed in the back of her bright red rental car is the gallery's latest exhibition: Eyelevel Reshelving Initiative Six: Labour & Leisure.

    Andrew Maize & Kara Highfield, Burger Queen

    The exhibition, featuring the work of nearly forty artists, asks us to consider the distinction between labour and leisure. The collection of work is diverse, and includes everything from stickers and "magic coins" to ceramics, zines, and mixtapes. Elise Graham shares a series of swimsuits titled Vacation Cancelled, Will Robinson includes a study of Brutalist architecture, and Kate Walchuk presents a series of Artists' Graves. Many of the works in the show are available for purchase, some are free to take, and others are up for trade.

    Belcher told me about the generosity of the people she's met and the wonderful conversations that have happened "in those accidental moments: over dinner, while making coffee, walking to the galleries, or (impossibly) while flossing." Somehow the most valuable moments always seem to happen when you're not seeking them out; too often we forget that life exists in the in-between.

    The tour has hosted artist talks and performances along the way, including a dinner performance by Andrew Maize and Kara Highfield titled Burger Queen. Itself a performance, the tour has blurred the line between road trip and administrative duties while asking the viewer to consider artistic practices that defy and/or critique the ever-fashionable cult of productivity.

    Eyelevel Gallery:
    Reshelving Initiative Six: Labour & Leisure continues until May 31.

    Daniel Higham works in a butcher shop where he'll talk to you about about art, food, and life. He'll probably sell you a roast. Daniel writes for Visual Arts News and is Akimblog's Halifax correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @HighamDaniel.

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    The weighty tome that is the Contact Photography Festival's catalogue is a testament to how many of the city's walls are occupied with photographs this month. Suffice to say, it's almost every one. Given this dominance, it's odd that a local gallery would program a painting or drawing exhibition in May, but that is just what Susan Hobbs and Georgia Scherman have done. If only for their contrariness, they should be recognized, but both shows are worth seeing on their own merits as well.

    Shirley Wiitasalo, Dark Mirror H2, 2013, acrylic on canvas (photo: Toni Hafkenscheid)

    Shirley Wiitasalo has always been a painter's painter in that the pleasure of her work is its play with the limitless range of what one can do with canvas, brush, and pigment. Visiting her exhibition at Susan Hobbs Gallery on the first spring-like day of the year made for a happy confluence of warm weather and her bright pastel coloured abstractions on clean white canvas. Whereas I tend to gravitate to artists who pile on the layers, she remains very much in the realm of sparsity and translucence. Her work also gives the impression of not being labored in execution. For example, the first couple consist of a constellation of circular prints like she dipped a ball in paint and bounced it off the canvas. She continues to play around with the faintest of gestures by arranging indistinct irregular shapes with pleasing contrasts in colour and lots of empty spaces. Maybe it's been grey outside for too long, but the pastels are a bit too much for me. However, I find solace upstairs amongst a suite of silver grey and black images that buzz like noise from an old TV set (the kind you never see anymore). Having grown up in a household without cable, I spent a lot of time contemplating the static of channels I couldn't get. These paintings make me nostalgic for the first abstract images I ever knew.

    Kelly Wallace, Cauldron, 2014, lead, paper on panel

    Kelly Wallace's exhibition at Georgia Scherman Projects is the opposite end of the spectrum from Wiitasalo's ground floor: no colour and insanely intricate detail in super busy large works that are all about the illusion of depth and perspective. He has painstakingly executed thousand of shards embroiled in the most systematically executed allover sprawl imaginable. Could this be the dawn of abstract photorealism? That precision is even more in evidence in the smaller works, which retain the level of detail but compress it so much the gallery offers a magnifying glass in order to see what's there. Two depict house interiors torn to shreds, like flashbacks from a hurricane hitting a farmhouse. You can get lost in their depths. Finding no centre or bottom, you're left floating in space, which is a trippy experience, but in the end the draftsmanship and play on perception reminds me of M.C. Escher and leaves a queasy taste as if it's all about the eye and the head but lacking in heart.

    Susan Hobbs Gallery:
    Shirley Wiitasalo continues until May 24.

    Georgian Scherman Projects:
    Kelly Wallace: Leaden continues until May 24.

    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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    As the flagship exhibition in the 2014 Contact Photography Festival, Material Self: Performing the Other Within at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art combines two recent (as in the last half century) strands of photographic art. The first – and one the festival has dealt with before in this forum – is the documentary aspect of camera work: capturing on film the real of the world as it happens. The second is the studio tradition whereby an image is constructed à la theatre or film. The inescapable figure who rules – though she didn't invent – this trajectory is Cindy Sherman. One of her scary clown portraits (as well as a tribute to her by Yasumasa Morimura) is included in a parallel exhibition titled In Character: Self-Portrait of the Artist as Another drawn from the collection of the National Gallery. Together the two present a handy argument for the self – at least represented through art and, to varying degrees, occurring in everyday life – as a fabrication. All the world, as they say, is a stage.

    Meryl McMaster, Wind Play, 2012

    One trick, among many, that Sherman has managed is not to make her portraits self-portraits despite the fact they almost always feature her self. Other than Charles Fréger's striking portraits of nightmarishly costumed "wild men" from a variety of cultural heritages that all seem to hone in on the uncanny thrill of making the animalistic human (and thus celebrate the brute within each of us), most of the artists appear as themselves or through a stand-in. The "other" they perform is one they find within and this conflict is depicted in their work. David Favrod explores his combined Japanese and Swiss heritage through a cluster of images that don't always work in their heavy-handedness. Meryl McMaster does a better job with a series of stills from performances that are clearly rooted in her First Nations background, but alter the expected tropes through gestures that are best described as artistic; art becomes the place exorcise her other. Namsa Leuba throws down a slew of conflicting referents from fashion photography to National Geographic while challenging any preconceptions of authenticity. And then Dominique Rey takes us back to the alien inside by sculpting her body with masses of cotton and pantyhose. Her best works – and this goes for everyone in both shows – are those where the artist disappears in limits of the familiar.

    Monica Tap, Paseo I, 2014, oil on canvas

    Despite being a painter in the most unambiguous sense of the vocation, Monica Tap is not completely unconnected to photography. Her recent work has been based on stills grabbed from video footage shot from moving vehicles. She captures the full spectrum of nature in the rush of a glimpse from the highway. This current exhibition at MKG127 centres on a suite of monochrome paintings that aren't in motion and look like they've had the colour drained out of them through an option on Photoshop. In the absence of her characteristic palette of greens and other less likely colours (a couple examples of which are in the front room), the noise (which is definitely not a bad thing) of her work is foregrounded and it takes a lot of maneuvering to see what she's painted. Even straight on and from a distance, it's hard to make out the layers of shadow in her overgrown grove. I found I saw things at an angle that I didn't see directly, and then all objectivity disappeared in the skillfully dense calligraphic abstractions when I got close up. At first I thought it was a memorial to trees killed in the ice storm, but it happens to be based on photographs taken from a walking path in Spain. In contrast to the artists at the MOCCA, there is nothing here but an invitation to relinquish the self and not find oneself in the mirror but lose the ego in something far greater – the universe. This art isn't theatre; it's metaphysics.

    Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art:
    Material Self: Performing the Other Within continues until June 1.
    In Character: Self-Portrait of the Artist as Another Continues until June 1.

    Monica Tap continues until May 31.

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

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  • 05/27/14--07:52: Lina Selander at La Mirage
  • Diana Kaur and Turner Prize nominee Tris Vonna-Michell of the Stockholm-based curatorial/multi-platform initiative Mount Analogue are currently located in Montreal as Vonna-Michell completes a residency at the Darling Foundry. Acting upon the most ideal vision of what an international residency can holistically provide – not only a personal and creative experience for the artist, but also the possibility of fostering a cultural cross-exchange between far flung artistic communities – they have organised to show work by their Swedish peers while in Montreal. This weekend I had the pleasure of attending their first pop up event at La Mirage, located in a tiny space in the renovated de Gaspé studio complex. It featured Lina Selander's 2013 video Model of Continuation.

    Lina Selander, Model of Continuation, 2013

    The video is a gently crafted collage of Selander's own footage and material borrowed from Japanese films. Turning around the idea of vision, the image, and its relation to reproduction and technology, Model of Continuation centres itself on tightly framed footage of the artist taking apart a digital camera and scenes of an eclectic video montage being projected onto the wall of the artist's gracious, leafy, half-lit studio. The projected composite imagery consists of everything from the artist's own footage of fern leaves basking in sunlight to Japanese footage of the remnants of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb. Filmed, projected and re-filmed, the slowly woven together images play not only with changing perceptions of time and vision, but also the precarious role of the witness and of photographic documentation.

    Mount Analogue will also be presenting Marc Matter discussing the work of concrete/sound poet Henri Chopin (who features in Vonna-Michel's own research and practice) on Saturday May 31, from 2 to 4pm at Artexte. Torontonians can catch the presentation on June 4th at Art Metropole.

    La Mirage (founded by artist Sophie Bélair Clement, Philippe Hamelin, and Vincent Bonin) will host its second event this Thursday, May 29th, presenting Lorna Bauer and Jon Knowles' The Cinematographer. (The work will also be on view June 7, 14, 21, and 28th from noon to 5pm). La Mirage is located at 5445 de Gaspé, 6th floor, E6-03.

    Susannah Wesley is an artist and curator living in Montreal. She has been a member of the collaborative duo Leisure since 2004 and from 1997-2000 was part of the notorious British art collective the Leeds13. Formerly Director at Battat Contemporary in Montreal, she holds an MFA from the Glasgow School of Art and an MA in Art History from Concordia University. She is Akimblog's new Montreal correspondent and can be followed @susannahwesley1 on Twitter.

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    This week's visit to a Contact Photography Festival exhibition found me to the foot of Lansdowne and up the stairs of an old bank building where the offices had been stripped to make way for the BAND (Black Artists' Network in Dialogue) Gallery and photographs by esteemed American artist and filmmaker Gordon Parks. His documentation of race relations in the US – from a Malcolm X rally to kids hanging out in Harlem – as well as poverty in different parts of the globe walks that fine line between artistry and reality.

    Gordon Parks, Boy with June Bug, Fort Scott, Kansas, 1963

    Looking through the lens of nostalgia, politics, and subsequent photography in cameras, on film, and through Instagram, it's hard just to see a picture without all this history and influence impinging on your judgment. Could you ever look at a picture of a black couple in Kansas in the 40s and not think of America's civil rights battles? It would be blindly idealistic to think so. Art doesn't erase history and photography is the medium most stuck in the moment of creation, but Parks manages to transcend that. His Boy with June Bug is lying in the grass, eyes closed, dreaming or planning or just shutting out the world. The bug is tied by its leg to a leash. In that quick shift from puny to giant, any number of stories unfold, from the newsworthy, to the psychological, to the mythic.

    Mike Kelley, Day is Done, Part 1, 2005-2006 (courtesy: Electronic Arts Intermix)

    The current spate of high profile artist artists at the Art Gallery of Ontario would seem to me to be the growing influence of curator Kitty Scott as she nudges the beast closer to the stream of contemporary art history - or at least certain dominant strains of it. Bruce Nauman, Theaster Gates, the upcoming Matthew Barney Drawing Restraint triptych: while, admittedly being a sausage party (as one commentator on Facebook put it when the visual arts program for Luminato was announced), includes the godfather of all this late 20th century nonsense, the turn of the century champion of the art world battle royale, and a 21st century up-and-comer known for doing unexpected things in the name of art. Add to that the final masterwork of the dude who will be placed between Nauman and Barney in 22nd Century art texts and you've got some exhibitions that you might not like but you should be attentive to. This last guy – Mike Kelley– can be seen this Wednesday in a screening coproduced with Pleasure Dome. The main attraction is Day is Done, the aforesaid magnum opus that preceded his suicide in 2012. A smattering of earlier works are included to warm up the crowd and provide some sense of Kelley's unique brand of funny, profane, cartoonish, dysfunctional, intellectual, high theory, lo-fi, non-narrative art.

    Kelley's videos are often exhibited in sculptural installations that add another layer of architecture to his cultural critiques. When a next generation artist like Barney goes the same route, his sculptures don't stand up to the movies, whereas Day is Done leaves one pining for the full scale funhouse installation with all its fragmentation and cacophony intact. I was lucky enough to be in New York when the whole machine was installed in the cavernous innards of Gagosian's Chelsea space. The scope of Kelley's massive unearthing of the American psyche through a reanimation of bacchanalian high school yearbook images was greater than any one work I've ever seen by an artist. You could have spent weeks in there. Left with just the video, I find myself trying to reconstruct the environment instead of simply giving over to the single screen. Once I manage to do that, my first reaction is to recognize the roots of Ryan Trecartin's aesthetic in their shared play on adolescent sub-culture, language, and gesture as a means of constructing identity. However, while the younger artist edits at the speed of Snap-Chat, Kelley's scenarios play out at a pace that befits someone who was already exhibiting at the dawn of personal computers. His subject is also the past; his America one that never grew up.

    BAND Gallery:
    Gordon Parks: Portraits continues to August 3.

    Pleasure Dome:
    Art Gallery of Ontario:
    Mike Kelley: Early Works + Day is Done screens on May 28.

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

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    On an imaginary web diagram of all the modern art movements, I could see "contemporary craft" and "relational aesthetics" linked by the shared characteristic of "good vibes." Both craft as activism (or "craftivism") and relational practices started out by realizing momentary or localized "utopias" characterized by what critic Stewart Martin calls "micro-political disengagement from capitalist exchange." Now that economies of profit have managed to subsume almost all of our experience under neoliberalism, artists not only seek alternative economies but also alternative lifestyles – ones that antagonize the whole neoliberal package. As Franco Berardi contends, we are subject to the "constant stress of our permanent cognitive electrocution" and a way to combat this is through what he calls the work of the soul or what some artists might call good vibes. Hence happiness has become a critical position and artful living a legitimate art practice.

    Mary Rothlisberger

    Following Deleuze and Guattari, Berardi says that "friendship is the way to overcome depression, because friendship means sharing a sense, sharing a view and a common rhythm: a common refrain." Artist Mary Rothlisberger, a self-proclaimed relationalist and "hide-and-go-seeker finder situated in the hinterland of North America" offers several refrains of this kind in work that over time and distance develops friendships. Examples are found in the titles of her projects, such as I think of you on mountaintops, make your own medicine, and the hoping machine – which is an ongoing dissemination of homemade textile banners reminiscent of Tibetan prayer flags that act as a symbolic portal to another realm. Her current exhibition at The New Gallery, also called I THINK OF YOU ON MOUNTAINTOPS, houses relics of her nomadic interjections of communal, domestic space in public places. The afghan blanket tents and brightly colored yarn pom-poms attest to a lifestyle of play, having fun and maker culture, which is pretty familiar territory in art galleries.

    The content of this type of work resides in its functionality in real life; that is, the fact that the artist actually lives within these crafted objects every day. Traces of the work's use outside of the gallery are found in the dirt-stained blankets or the many postcards from scenic landscapes displayed on a shelf. They're also documented on the artist's website. Where relational artworks necessitated the gallery as a critical foil for social activity in an otherwise institutional setting, site-specific and performative projects exist beyond the gallery in the everyday world or in what Stewart calls "eco-aesthetic communities" such as the Minnesota Lake Art Shanty project of which Rothlisberger was a recent participant. There is undoubtedly a challenge to transfer art normally at work in off-the-grid communities into the gallery space, unless the works respond in an equally site-specific manner and acknowledge the social, political, and geographic factors of the location. It is unclear what the gallery is doing for Rothlisberger's work here, apart from acting as a museum-like display of artifacts taken out of circulation. Because the exhibition is not fully an "elsewhere" or a "here," the full picture of a lived practice cannot be adequately discerned and the good vibes get lost.

    The New Gallery:
    Mary Rothlisberger: I Think of You on Mountaintops continues until June 21.

    Andrea Williamson is a Calgary-based writer and artist. Her reviews have appeared in C magazine, Swerve, Color magazine, esse arts and opinion and FFWD. In January 2013 she initiated a critical theory reading group that meets monthly in a collective attempt to approach academic texts in peripheral and humble ways. She can be followed on Twitter @andreawillsamin.

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    My entry point into art criticism was never a love of pictures so much as a fascination with ideas. I studied philosophy at university, not art history, and the moment I get most excited in a gallery doesn't happen with an exclusively visual question – something along the lines of "what does it look like?"– but an ontological one – such as "what is it?"– that addresses a basic inquiry into the nature of being. The initial visual impact of the work might grab or repel me, and the subsequent pigeonholing within the larger context of what came before eventually organizes my assessment, but both those responses are delightfully delayed when the only reaction is one of confusion. The longer it takes to place a work, to name it and frame it, the more power it has to intrigue me and invite the intense scrutiny and speculation that makes art worthwhile.

    Jen Aitken

    Plonked on the floor like discards from a construction site, Jen Aitken's sculptures (though that word feels too dainty, so perhaps we could call them "forms") at Erin Stump Projects are, on first glace, impassive. They are as inviting as the Brutalist architecture (a more appropriate name for an architectural school has never been coined) they resemble. In other words, they aren't talking. At least not in a "Hi, how are you? Let me tell you about myself." sort of way. If I wasn't one for the underdog, I'd be reviewing Hollywood blockbusters instead of art, so I find this reticence appealing, and, like all cool quiet types, these forms only reveal themselves slowly. The shapes and angles they describe resemble puzzle pieces, and the set number of modular variants alludes to a potential assemblage that resolves into a higher order (the point where Plato and the Transformers meet up). However, any notion of unity and perfection is left behind once the material nature of the work is discerned. Concrete is already a blend of aggregate and cement and thus impure, but Aitken mixes in polyurethane foam, canvas, and dyes to confuse any attempt at identification. It's not enough to look; you have to touch them in order to feel their density. You have to circle around and crouch down to view their undersides in order to get a sense of their volume. And you have to wonder at what stage does order become chaos in order to grasp their meaning.

    Wil Murray

    Up the street at p|m Gallery, Wil Murray plays a similar game of identity but with representation instead of reality. He's taken a collection of early 20th Century European landscape photography and used the images as a base for collages that are then reprinted, painted in the style that black and white photographs used to be coloured, and then remounted on the original pages of the portfolio from whence they came. They are unconvincing at first and, particularly, when seen individually, but when the full range of works is on display as it is on the gallery's west wall, then the constructive confusion asserts itself. The resulting dreamlike scenes combine bucolic greens with eruptions of paint smeared in amongst the trees to break up any spatial sense and remind the viewer how much of all we look at is an illusion. This deception is where are art lies.

    Erin Stump Projects:
    Jen Aitken: Poda continues until June 14.

    p|m Gallery:
    Wil Murray: Die Welt in Farben continues until June 14.

    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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