Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014 Critic's Picks

In 2014, as the Ottawa Akimblogger, I tried to write about the most notable exhibitions in the area each month. Unfortunately I had to let some events and exhibitions slip by, mostly due to bad timing. Each year, the Akimblog critics post their critic's picks for the year. I had been looking forward to this opportunity to mention some of my favourite things from the past year that my usual posts could not accommodate.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, The Year’s Midnight, 2011. 
(Installation view, Canada Council for the Arts, Ottawa, 2014. Photo : Jennifer Covert)

In an image that summarizes the past year, my eyeballs are smoking from looking at great art. It’s an effect of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s The Year’s Midnight, a version of which was installed at the new Canada Council for the Arts office in time for their AGM in January 2014. With the work’s reference to the winter solstice in the title, my art viewing experience for the year has come full circle.

The complete text of my year-end post was published here on the December 16 Akimblog.

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Beyond Earth Art" Review in C Magazine 124

My review of the exhibition "Beyond Earth Art: Contemporary Artists and the Environment" appears in issue 124 of C Magazine.

Taking inspiration from the ground-breaking Earth Art exhibition organized by Willoughby Sharp on the Cornell University campus in 1969, curator Andrea Inselman put together Beyond Earth Art, an expansive new exhibition examining the manner in which yesterday’s earth art resonates with artists practicing today. Inselman selected environmentally-themed artworks by over three dozen international historical and contemporary artists for installation throughout Cornell’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum and on its grounds. While Earth Art was more strictly conceptual or philosophical in the way that it expanded the boundaries of what could be considered art, the works in Beyond Earth Art more pointedly refer to ecological issues. As a whole, the exhibition registered an increasing sense of urgency around environmental concerns that is correspondingly reflected in contemporary art.

The sprawling exhibition did not offer a succinct chronological outlay, but created an environment for investigation and discovery. Evoking both a sense of alarm and disgust while conjuring up the spirit of beauty, contemporary works in a wide range of media at contrasting scales, from small works to room-size installations, populated an expansive zone for the viewer to traverse, circumscribing states of desecration and preservation. Though Beyond Earth Art has come to an end, the dialogue that was strongly given voice at the Johnson will continue to alert, engage and inspire new audiences.

For the complete review, check out C Magazine 124, available at the finest bookstores, newsstands, and libraries near you.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Samuel Roy-Bois at the Carleton University Art Gallery in Ottawa

Samuel Roy-Bois’s Not a new world, just an old trick at Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG) is one of the more recent works by the Vancouver-based artist that continues on a trajectory he has been following for many years: making art out of the mechanics of displaying art. By fabricating new spaces within art galleries, such as a recording studio or a private apartment, he effects a mise en abyme that mirrors the function of the space within which it is located and augments its potential. Sort of like an ark with an art gallery inside, the installation at CUAG is an affecting architectural folly that offers an intimate portrait of a public collection with all its idiosyncrasies. I've gone to see it a number of times and as the end of the exhibition nears, the sweet sorrow of parting with it increases.

Samuel Roy-Bois, Not a new world, just an old trick, 2013, wood, paint, clear acrylic, and art objects (Photo: Justin Wonnacott)

While its title suggests that there is some mischief at play here, and Roy-Bois has certainly pulled some pranks in the past, I really don’t sense any maliciousness. The installation’s title is more likely an honest assessment of art as one of the few bulwarks we've got against the passage of time. The longer I spent in there and the more I looked, the more I saw thematic associations and formal links between the elements of the work. It was almost too much to bear.

The complete text of my review of the exhibition was published here on the November 25 Akimblog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Shine a Light: The Canadian Biennial at the National Gallery in Ottawa

The Canadian Biennial is a showcase for the National Gallery’s recent acquisitions of contemporary Canadian art. Every two years it offers the opportunity for visitors to get a close look at what some of the best Canadian artists are doing across the country and around the world. If the main purpose of a curator is to build a collection, as Contemporary Art Curator Josée Drouin-Brisebois said at the media preview for the show, then the biennial is an opportunity for the public to see how well our national curators are doing that job.

Geoffrey Farmer, Leaves of Grass (detail), 2012 (National Gallery of Canada; courtesy: the artist, Catriona Jeffries Gallery & Casey Kaplan; photo: Anders Sune Berg).

The exhibition title Shine a Light refers to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and suggests that the artists in the show are modern day philosophers who reveal things that might have otherwise remained hidden. It also handily refers to the function of the exhibition itself, which is to shine a light on the diversity of contemporary Canadian artists and their innovative work taken from a collection aiming to be as representative as possible. Framed by the curators’ invocation of the Allegory of the Cave, exemplary works such as Leaves of Grass by Geoffry Farmer and Stray Light by David Hartt encourage us as viewers to take a closer, harder look at the images that make up our world of appearances.

The complete text of my review of the exhibition was published here on the October 28 Akimblog.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Marc Séguin's Nordic Landscapes at Galerie Jean-Claude Bergeron in Ottawa

Nordic Landscapes, the exhibition of new work by Marc Séguin in Ottawa, came as a bit of shock. I knew that Séguin had built his career on a seemingly unrelenting series of dark and brutal images that employed provocative use of serial killers, terrorists, crash sites and the like, so I steeled myself for what I was about to see and still found myself completely unprepared. In a sequence of ten new oil paintings, the artist has rather straightforwardly rendered pleasantly picturesque views of northern Quebec and Labrador. These paintings were inspired by Séguin’s hunting and fishing trips in the area, as well as by his recent experience shooting a feature film there. Previously, Séguin has said that he felt it was his duty to pursue in paint what deranged or disturbed him. These easily enjoyable works indicate perhaps that the trips up north have helped to mellow him out.

Marc Séguin, Paysage nordique No. 6, 2014, oil on canvas

In the same way that I suspect there is a calculated agenda behind Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s seemingly benign arctic tours, I can’t but think that Séguin is playing the wolf in sheep’s clothing with these new paintings. In conjunction with this exhibition, his Ottawa gallerist Jean-Claude Bergeron has also organized a small retrospective in Gatineau at the Galerie Montcalm that gathers together a range of Séguin's works from 1996 to 2014, the majority of which are on loan from collectors in the region. The proximity of both exhibitions affords visitors the opportunity to get caught up with Séguin’s work and discern a continuity in his aesthetic strategies that suggests there is a darker side to his Nordic Landscapes.

The complete text of my review of the exhibitions was published here on the September 23rd Akimblog.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Land Reform(ed) at Âjagemô in Ottawa

Land Reform(ed) at Âjagemô invites the viewer to re-examine notions of the Canadian landscape in contemporary art. The exhibition is the first to be installed in the new gallery at the recently developed Performance Court where the Canada Council for the Arts is the anchor tenant. The Council moved there at the beginning of the year and Âjagemô opened in June to give the organization an attractive street presence. The space will be used to show off the holdings of the Canada Council Art Bank, which has been collecting Canadian artworks since 1972 and renting them to government and corporate clients. Land Reform(ed) offers a quick thematic tour as delineated over the past four decades by some of Canada’s greatest hit-makers.

Marlene Creates, Larch, Spruce, Fir, Birch, Hand, Blast Hole Pond Road, 
Newfoundland 2007 (and ongoing), 2007 (photo: Brandon Clarida)

Curated by Stanzie Tooth during an internship for her MFA at the University of Ottawa, the exhibition offers scant evidence that contemporary Canadian artists naïvely celebrate a direct communion with an unspoiled wilderness. Even the most innocuous project on view, a series by Marlene Creates where the artist photographed her hand against tree trunks, demonstrates that Canadian artists do not leave the landscape untouched by their interventions.

The complete text of my review of the exhibition was published here on the August 26th Akimblog.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Beyond the Edge at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa

Recently, on a beautiful summer day, I visited Beyond the Edge: Artists' Gardens, an exhibition at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa. Curated byJudith Parker and Mary Faught, the exhibition features five projects by six artists (Barbara Brown, Karl Ciesluk, cj fleury, Deirdre and Glynis Logue, and Deborah Margo) on six sites throughout the Agriculture Canada Research Plot. Using existing and new plant material as a medium, the artists cultivate a hybrid of artistic and scientific research across ten acres of the historic working farm and research centre founded in 1886.

Karl Ciesluk, Mechanical Spiral, 2014, installation view

Beyond the Edge: Artists' Gardens is the inaugural project of the Canadensis Botanical Garden Society, a volunteer organization working to institute a national botanical garden on the same site. At present, the site (and the exhibition) offers a pastoral, if not rural, respite from the urban environment in the very heart of the city.

I wrote about the exhibition for the July 15 Akimblog, which can be read in its entirety by clicking on this link.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Great Stone Face

I laughed, cried and split my side while writing a text to contribute to the catalogue for I Laughed, I Cried, I Split My Side an exhibition organized and curated by Dagmara Genda for AKA artist-run centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan from 2 May to 20 June, 2014. The exhibition explores the manner in which horror and humour intersect in works by the artists Kyle Beal (Calgary), Erica Eyres (Glasgow, UK), Christine Negus (London, ON) and Shanell Papp (Lethbridge, AB).

Christine Negus, Ditto, 2013
, engraved razor blade, silver thread.

The catalogue was launched on June 19 at the Frances Morrison Central Library in Saskatoon as part of  a night of book sales, signings and readings to celebrate and launch recent exhibition catalogues and publications produced by galleries in Saskatoon, including AKA artist-run centre, BlackFlash Magazine, College Art Galleries/Kenderdine Art Gallery, Kimiwan Zine, Mendel Art Gallery, and PAVED arts.

The following is an excerpt from my essay, The Great Stone Face:

“When stand-up comics perform, they either “kill” or “die.” The use of these words in comedic shop talk reveals an antagonistic power dynamic between comedians and their audience. But the artists in the exhibition I Laughed, I Cried, I Split My Side are not your garden variety comedians. They are different, as Dagmara Genda notes in her curatorial essay. They are deadpan. The deadpan inhabits an ambivalent, ambiguous zone of the undead where the rules that distinguish between killing and dying don’t necessarily apply. As in the etymology of the word, the deadpan presents a dead “pan” or face, like Buster Keaton’s great, emotionless, stone face.”

The complete text, and more, was available for a short period of time on the AKA website as a downloadable e-text pdf. Now, in order to get a copy you will have to look for Tragedy Plus Time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Rehab Nazzal at the Karsh-Masson Gallery in Ottawa

In each work in the exhibition Invisible, at the Karsh-Masson Gallery from 9 May to 22 June 2014, the artist Rehab Nazzal employs a formal device that actually obstructs the full expression of the content presented. For example, the 2010 video Bil'in combines the sound of a crowd getting tear gassed with out-of-focus images and abstract flashes of colour, as if the camera too were blinded by tear gas. At the heart of the exhibition are works that utilize found footage of a military exercise at a prison in Israel resulting in the injury and death of Palestinian political prisoners. Frames from the Negev Prison is an installation of 1,700 4"x 6" digital prints that runs the length of one gallery wall. The individual prints make up a mosaic that represents a highly pixelated image, with completely black "tiles" indicating footage that was suppressed by the authorities, and others offering only limited views of the events.

Rehab Nazzal, Frames from the Negev Prison, 2013, 1700 digital photographs on paper (detail)

In an artist's talk on June 1, Nazzal said her work formalizes the process of making visible that which has been suppressed. The works remain incomplete in order to betray the force of suppression. Above all, the works invite the viewer to look further into what is only being partially presented. Most certainly, Nazzal's exhibition and the works within it have made the dialogic visible, creating the space for a polyvocal response.

I wrote about the exhibition on the June 17 Akimblog. For the complete text, click on  the following link.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Petra Halkes: Lights On!

My review of "Lights On!" at the Cube Gallery in Ottawa from 2 - 26 January 2014 is on newsstands this summer, appearing in issue 130 of Border Crossings. An exhibition by the Ottawa-based artist, writer, and curator Petra Halkes, “Lights On!” was comprised of recent oil paintings that reproduce the aesthetic qualities of hasty snapshot photography in order to defamiliarize everyday scenes and make them seem otherworldly. Curated by Marcia Lea, the exhibition included selections from two related bodies of Halke’s work, her Window Shopping series and her Reflections series. In both series, Halkes refers to source photographs in the production of her paintings, and she plays up the accidental effects of the lens-based imagery in them, underscoring the disproportionate time and materiality of their making. Halkes confounds the traditional conception of a painting as a window onto the world by superimposing the perspectival planes of more recent technological developments, multiplying windows to other possible worlds.

For the complete review, check out Border Crossings 130, available at the finest bookstores, newsstands, and libraries near you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Art in Odd Spaces: An RIA House Tour in Ottawa

Organized by Petra Halkes as part of her ongoing Research in Art project (RIA), the Art in Odd Spaces house tour, which took place on two weekends this May, was inspired by a Deborah Margo installation that came out of a RIA residency that saw Margo place salt licks in unexpected places throughout Halke's home. That installation has triggered a series of responses that Halkes has called tangents, of which Art in Odd Spaces is the sixth. Proving to be remarkably fecund, Margo's salt licks, entitled The Traffic of Matter, remained in Halkes' attic as part of the tour.

Deborah Margo, The Traffic of Matter, 2014, installation view RIA House Tour

Five homeowners responded to a call to make their odd spaces available for an installation like Margo's, and five additional artists were selected for the task (Gail Bourgeois, Vera Greenwood, Dipna Horra, Stephanie Nadeau, and Svetlana Swinimer). Each responded to their assigned space with her own artistic stratagem.

I wrote about the exhibition for the May 20 Akimblog, and you can read the whole thing by following this link.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Governor General's Awards at the National Gallery in Ottawa

An exhibition featuring the laureates of the 2014 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts is at the National Gallery of Canada from March 28 to August 10, 2014. 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.

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 (Kim Adams, Angela Grauerholz, Carol Wainio, Sandra Brownlee, Jayce Salloum, Max Dean, and Raymond Gervais) manipulates or creates objects that act as devices for knowledge or memory transmission. 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.

I wrote about the exhibition for Akimblog on April 15, 2014. You can read the complete text by clicking on this link.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sharon Hayes at CUAG in Ottawa

In her exhibition Loudspeakers and Other Forms of Listening at the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG) between 3 February and 27 April 2014, the American artist Sharon Hayes does not simply re-enact the political past but re-fashions it with dry humour, a sense of the absurd, and empathy, by marking our historical differences and making them materially present. For example, in the four-channel video installation Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) Screeds #13, 16, 20 & 29, one of her signature works on display, Hayes is coached by an audience as she falteringly recites partially memorized transcripts of the four taped statements made by Patty Hearst during her captivity with the SLA in the 1970s. Each work in the exhibition contains a similar, interior structural spacing, like a broadcast delay that suspends the immediate reception of its address.

Sharon Hayes, We Knew We Would Go to Jail, still, two-channel video installation, 2003-2012.

Reflexive aspects of the exhibition are doubled by the fact that it is being presented at CUAG, as several of the works consider the university as a crucible for political activism and the formation of political and personal identity. As an apocryphal preamble to the exhibition, there is a video monitor displaying archival photographs of protests by Carleton students through the 1960s. An undergraduate on campus might even identify with the twenty-something interlocutors of the video installation We Knew We Would Go to Jail if he or she didn't get the sense that they were putting on an act. The exhibition offers a study in how politics are represented, performed, and taught.

I wrote about the exhibition for the Akimblog on March 25, and you can read the review in its entirety by clicking on this link.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Josée Dubeau at AXENÉO7 in Gatineau

L'Occupation des sols is the title of an ongoing project initiated by Jonathan Demers at AXENÉO7 in Gatineau, just across the river from Ottawa. In the spirit of open-ended experimentation and artistic research promoted at the gallery, Demers invited a number of artists to respond to a text with the same title by the French writer Jean Echenoz's as well as to the site itself. Josée Dubeau was the first artist to participate in the project that, ultimately, stages the act of reading, implicating each reader, both artists and viewers, in a performance that gives body to the meaning of the text. Dubeau's intervention in the space, drawn directly on the wall in non-photo blue pencil, offers a sensitive and economical reading of the text, matching both its emotional weight and its slightness of form.

Josée Dubeau, L'Occupation des sols (installation view), 2014, wall drawing in non-photo blue pencil

I wrote about the exhibition for Akimblog on March 11. To read the complete review, click here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Primer" at Patrick Mikhail Gallery in Ottawa

My Akimblog post for February is about Primer, an exhibition at the Patrick Mikhail Gallery from January 22nd to March 1st 2014, offering a refresher course in the work of four Ottawa artists: Andrew Smith, Amy Schissel, Natasha Mazurka and Colin Muir Dorward. Each explores the elementary concerns of painting in distinct but converging ways.

Amy Schissel, Alto Terra 3, 2014, plaster, acrylic, ink, graphite, paper on wood

To read the complete review, click here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Elise Rasmussen at Gallery 101 in Ottawa

As of January 2014, I am the Akimbo Akimblog correspondent for the city of Ottawa and area. My first post was a review of Finding Ana, an exhibition of work by Elise Rasmussen at Gallery 101. The exhibition comprises a recent body of fascinating research-based work by the Edmonton-born but New York-based Rasmussen that began with earlier performances exploring the death of the Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta and culminated in a trip to Cuba to see if the site-specific installations she had carved in the porous rock of the caves of Jaruco Park in 1981 still existed. Rasmussen's video, Variations, which explores the circumstances surrounding Mendieta's death, was presented as part of the opening for the exhibition along with a panel discussion including Rasmussen.

                   Elise Rasmussen, Variations, 2013, production still

To read the complete review, click here.