Tuesday, February 24, 2015

'Robert Tombs/L'Occupation' Book Launch

Robert Tombs/L'Occupation is a 48-page bilingual book available in softcover and hardcover editions which documents Robert Tombs's installation at ParisCONCRET, Paris, in January 2013. Published in 2014, it was officially launched on February 24, 2015 at Carleton University Art Gallery with a wine and cheese reception from 6 to 8 pm. Robert Tombs and I made opening remarks.

Image: Robert Tombs/L'Occupation, Ottawa: L'Arène 2014. Photo: Robert Tombs, 2015.

The book contains my essay "Painting ‘After Painting’: The Critical Occupations of Robert Tombs," and an afterword by Richard van der Aa, director of the ParisCONCRET gallery. The French translation is by Denis Lessard.

My essay considers Tomb's practice of painted installations, leading up to his exhibition at ParisCONCRET. In his painted installations, from his ‘marking’ of Brigus in 2007, to his ‘occupation’ of Paris in 2013, Tombs continues the process of formalism’s entrenchment of its own capabilities into an area of competence so that, as everything gets pared away, the surface becomes infra-thin and incontinent, letting everything that has been pared away seep back in. His painted installations infect/affect the spaces they touch, and doubt seeps into the picture.

By connecting his occupation of ParisCONCRET to both the Occupy movement and the Nazi Occupation of France, Tombs not only complicates the space, but also implicates it. Tombs engages in an abstract kind of institutional critique that marks every surface it touches and seeps past its parameters, suggesting that a critique of painting can lead to a critique of society.

The essay built upon my earlier review of the exhibition, published in C Magazine 118.

David Kaarsemaker at Gallery St. Laurent + Hill in Ottawa

In The Fragile Surface, an exhibition of recent work at Gallery St. Laurent + Hill, David Kaarsemaker adds to the dialogue between painting and photography. His pictures are surely about painting, representational while verging on abstraction, the canvasses rendered diaphanous through the application of colour and thinly layered images. They are also about photography in that they construct images that appear to be accurate depictions of the visible world while being faithful to the way that lens-based analogues can be blurred and out of focus. More directly, photographs are partly the subject of the paintings. The processes by which the works are made generate their dramatic interest, and though fully on view, as in the painting Cross-Section 1, they add to their mystery by bordering on the metaphysical. Inasmuch as paintings and photographs are about memory through their commemoration of people and places, Kaarsemaker’s process engages with space and architecture not unlike the “method of loci” of the immemorial rhetoricians.

David Kaarsemaker, Cross-Section 1, 2015, oil and charcoal on canvas 

The trick that memory plays transforms the spaces we remember over time. And just as these spaces are subject to change, so too are paintings, photographs, and people. Kaarsemaker’s biography reveals a peripatetic life, traversing the US, Burkina Faso, and many places in Canada, where the artist now makes a home in the Ottawa area. Kaarsemaker’s paintings are mobile in the manner of today’s digital technology. His paintings, such as Cross-Section 4, evoke the inner glow of networked flat screen monitors and equally ubiquitous hand-held tablets and phones. The paintings share the uprooted quality of a digital image that can be anywhere at any time, connected simultaneously to a global, dispersed social network, always at hand but ironically untouchable.

The complete text of my review of the exhibition was published here on the February 24 Akimblog. It is my last Akimblog post, as Akimbo will cease publishing reviews from its Ontario regional correspondents in March 2015.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cultural Engineering: Investigative Media

Over the next two years, an extraordinary transformation will take place at Arts Court. The Ottawa Art Gallery will be pulling up stakes and moving into a brand new purpose-built high-rise in the lot next door. Arts Court will be renovated and connected with the new building, and a reconfigured interior will see SAW Video take up new digs, including a new media art gallery for the presentation of works. Though physical changes to the site have not yet gotten underway, numerous invested parties have been working towards this goal for a long period of time.

Timothy I. Smith, Daly Avenue And Nicholas Street, November 27th, 2014, 2015, digital  video

SAW Video has commissioned a number of artists to produce media artworks in order to chart, and at the same time contemplate, the progress of the Arts Court Redevelopment. The selected artists will be excavating the complex significance of the site. Though they are participants in the ambitious undertaking, they are at enough of a remove to provide a critical perspective on it. The title of the project, Cultural Engineering, makes reference to an exhibition of video, installations and texts by the artist Tom Sherman at the National Gallery of Canada in 1983. In the 1980s, Tom Sherman was also one of the founding editors of FUSE magazine, which published investigative journalism by artists. The artists in this project are conducting similar artistic research, and what their investigations unearth will be published here for your consideration.

On a regular basis, the Cultural Engineering artists will be publishing their new work on a specially designed website conceived of as a kind of on-line magazine. I am the Project Coordinator, and I will be contributing an introductory text for each issue. Link to the first issue here. Stay tuned for further reports from the field.