April 19, 2015

A Space Gallery

Hermann Nitsch, the Austrian artist, born in 1938, and famous for his bloody “Aktions,” recently had a planned exhibition in Mexico City cancelled because of the protests of animal rights activists.  Torn apart animal carcasses, buckets of blood and offal, fake crucifixions, ritual animal slaughter are all part of Hermann Nitsch’s performance art.  Numerous volunteers assist in these events which are described as “life affirming mass intoxications.”  Old Hermann Nitsch began to do this work in the 60s as the Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries.  “Splatter paintings” by Hermann Nitsch are exhibited at the Saatchi Galleries in London.

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Hermann Nitsch

Here in Toronto’s A Space, in an exhibition titled A Non-Space at A Space, by the Art Collective Postcommodity, video documentation of the slaughter of a single sheep is on display.  Relative to a Hermann Nitsch bacchanalia, and its bloody methaphoric stew including the Catholic Church as well as Broadway, this is a simple act.  The sheep is butchered in the bathtub of the Gallup Motel by an attractive woman identified only as a former Miss Navajo beauty contestant.  We see Miss Navajo lead the docile animal from the sunny, southwestern exterior to the motel’s bathtub.  The animal’s throat is slit.  It quickly dies.  The carcass is expertly skinned and the body is rendered into meat.

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Stills from Gallup Motel Butchering by Postcommodity

Butchering of livestock is routine and takes place around the world in factories, farms and probably bathtubs. Ms. Navajo’s ancestors in Gallup, would have been slaughtering animals for many thousands of years in this region.  But not sheep.  Sheep are European imports.  Sheep arrived in North America around 1600. (I wrongly identified the animal as a goat in my original post.)  It would have been an entirely different kind of video – more action and adventure – if, for example, an antelope (actually a Pronghorn), indigenous to North America, were brought back to the Gallup Motel.

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Pronghorn (North American antelope)

The event in the motel room was recorded at various angles by at least four cameras.  The images are projected big and on every wall of the rather small space.  It’s oppressive, even alarming.  The viewer is hemmed in by the flashing knife, the gore, the tugging and snapping of bones, tendons, vertebrae as the blood circles the tub’s drain.  It struck me that this profound act, performed in a spirit of cultural empowerment, within the down market motel room, is enough.  The fast edits and multiple supersized screens are superfluous.

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Stills from video installation by Postcommodity Art Collective

In the room next door the Postcommodity Art Collective presents a two channel surveillance video of residences of the affluent middle class in the Santa Fe area called My Second Home, But I Have a Very Spitiual Connection With This Place.  (I love surveillance video and the quiet dark room was a relief after all the slaughter in the bathtub.)  I guess the point is the houses have that adobe look in historical accord with the surroundings.  I have never been to Santa Fe but oddly enough you can see the adobe look in some of the suburbs of Winnipeg, which takes appropriation to a whole other level.

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Winnipeg interpretation of the Santa Fe style

In the writing that accompanies the exhibition the terms “settlers” and “colonizers” are used.  The show’s curator, Ellyn Walker, in a short bio, is compelled to identify herself as a “settler” of Scottish and Italian descent.  What does this racial identification by the curator mean?  Is this the politically correct end game in which ancestry must declared and then judgement is passed?  I find this a depressing trend.

April 18, 2015

All over the city today I am seeing tank tops, patios at capacity, flip-flops, Daisy Dukes.  The rush to embrace summer is irresistible.  We are in love.

Images Festival

Casey Wei presents Chinatown Center Mall Happenings!

How often have I walk down Spadina, past the Chinatown Center, and barely registered it is there?  Thanks to Casey Wei I have now visited this mall, twice.

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Chinatown Center, 222 Spadina

The mall is packed with glittering things but short on shoppers.  There is a drowsy atmosphere.  Could be the weather is to blame.

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Jewelry store in Chinatown Center

Like the larger, newer Pacific Mall in Markham, Chinatown Center ostensibly caters to ethnic Chinese  who want the feel and products of a Hong Kong shopping center.

Casey Wei set up shop on the ground floor where occasional passers by gaze down from the upper galleries.

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Chinatown Center

There are a handful of artists around and a few members of the local community.  As an art piece it is shapeless, open ended and slowed down, stretching out to nine days.  It feels good: relaxed, friendly, natural. There is playful banter. The Karaoke is at times quite accomplished.  (I was almost ready to sing “You’re So Vain” but backed out.)  The mahjong tiles clatter in the corner.  The shop owners don’t seem to have much expectation of customers.

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Snapshots of Casey Wei presents: Chinatown Center Mall Happenings!

One of the organizers mentioned the piece is about “engagement”.  It worked for me.  I have a new familiar stop in Chinatown.  For Casey Wei I think engagement means something different and here is where ancestry comes into play. (If Casey Wei did this in the PATH for instance, around King and Bay, it would be a wholly different kind of engagement.)

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Chinatown Center Mall Happenings! by Casey Wei

Here is not so much a place to shop as a place to catch a mood.  At least I don’t think anyone goes to Chinatown Center to buy a smartphone, or a pair of jeans.  My sense of the virtually deserted Chinatown Center is that it is a sentimental destination, one that evokes a life left behind on the other side of the world.  Casey Wei, a young woman with an Asian face and name, but whose bio suggests she grew up in this country, may be trying to plumb that sentimentality towards greater self understanding.

I’m thinking about a friend whose parents are Chinese and who was born and raised in Scarborough.  He got into Eastern philosophy, not through his parents, but via Western culture at a particular moment.  Later he and his wife adopted a Chinese baby.   They raised their daughter in the USA and then they all went on an extended trip to China to try to understand, well, themselves.

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March 28, 2015

March marches on: cold, windy, glare, barren.

Clint Roenisch Gallery – Eli Langer and Jennifer Murphy

Caravansary Of Joy is the title of a joint exhibition by Eli Langer and Jennifer Murphy at the capacious Clint Roenisch Gallery on St. Helen’s Avenue. The two artists are a couple.  Other than that fact, the exhibition is composed of two separate and distinct shows.

The paintings by Eli Langer, occupying the front of the gallery, are a pleasure to look at mainly because they are so uncomplicated.  This artist is pushing paint around in a serious way but anything external to that activity is irrelevant.  There is no agenda, narrative, political pitch, intellectual or iconoclastic posture.  I like this feeling of having nothing between the paintings and me; nothing I have to sort out or disagree or agree with.  Its relaxing and calming to look at these paintings and there is a crystalline lightness to them that makes it hard to look away.

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Winter Flowers by Eli Langer

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The Three Sisters by Eli Langer

Eli Langer did provide a sheet of notes available for viewers of the paintings.  They reinforce the calm, open, meditative qualities the art works possess.  A few lines from the notes are excerpted below:

Painting is experimental.  I want to get lost.  Turn off the logocentric mind.  Trip up purposeful reflex that seeks     familiarity in recognizances.

I work without plans.  I want the painting to surprise me with its directness.

Painting is truly free of its history in 2015.

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Her Cabinet by Eli Langer

Eli Langer is talking about getting into the zone where creativity is effortless and assured.  It’s exciting and mysterious to see how that Zen-like stillness comes through in the work.  Also in the notes Eli Langer writes about the idyllic, creative period he recently experienced, in a supportive relationship with his partner, Jennifer Murphy.

Jennifer Murphy’s work occupies the back of the gallery space.

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Installation of art work by Jennifer Murphy

A polished granite platform holds sculptural works in the center of the room and around the walls the artist’s collage pieces are pinned, at varying heights.

Who among us has not, at one time or another, cut pictures out of a magazine and glued them down to make something new?  Jennifer Murphy has the uncanny ability to create art works using this technique.  Suspended on long pins, like insect specimens, a parade of beast portraits, interspersed with somewhat more conventional portraits of women, are displayed.

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Art works by Jennifer Murphy

As varied as the animal kingdom itself the pieces share a fragile spindly-ness and jewel-like allure.  I recall certain aunts of mine wearing brooches like this: a leopard with an “emerald” eye for instance.  The frankencat, shown below, has such a coquettish pose, but maybe that’s just something about cats.

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Art work by Jennifer Murphy

The sculptural pieces in the exhibition have the look of  a surrealist’s garden: weird, ungainly, texturally patchworked and  punctuated with fizzing colour.

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Sculpture by Jennifer Murphy

One of the tiniest pieces has a wonderful “Twilight Zone” sensibility.  It’s as if the doe-eyed ingenue is trapped in another dimension.

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Detail of sculpture by Jennifer Murphy

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Details of sculpture by Jennifer Murphy

In fact all the objects by Jennifer Murphy – composed of humble materials, found objects, scraps of fabric and various castoff print media – evoke an alternate universe.  It’s similar to this universe, but adjusted a bit, for private aesthetic purposes.


Daniel Faria Gallery – Valerie Blass

Just next door, at the Daniel Faria Gallery: A glittering arm holds aloft a crack pipe, miniature figures melt together in lurid sexual embrace, whacked together scrap wood has an anthropomorphic expressiveness, a life-size sculpture of cliched female desirability studies “herself” in a distorting mirror.  These are some of the pieces constituting an exhibition by Valerie Blass.  Exploring notions of identity, objectification and self-delusion, Valerie Blass adds an ambiguous overlay of autobiography by titling the exhibition My Life.

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Art work by Valerie Blass

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Art work by Valerie Blass

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Detail of Sois gentille by Valerie Blass

The technical virtuosity and versitility of the artist is impressive.  She boldly takes on all media to trawl the phsycosexual depths.

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Dr. Marbuse Psychanalyste by Valerie Blass

Dr. Marbuse was a fictional hypnotist and criminal who featured in Fritz Lang movies.   Is the artist suggesting that hypnotic self absorption is implicated in the fracturing of identify?

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Details of Dr. Marbuse Psychoanalyst by Valerie Blass

A grinning homunculus, looking like something out of a medieval relief, inhabits the “face” of the mirror gazer above.

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Artwork by Valerie Blass

In another piece, the same curtain of silky blond hair is present.  This time the hair is out of context, set in a provocative display with a hand, a foot and pale pink panties.  Parts only, no woman required.  It’s the definition of fetish.

Something about the piece made me think of Andrea Dworkin and the feminist sexual wars of the eighties.  At that time feminists defined themselves as either sex-positive or sex-negative.  This was mainly because of the theories of Andrea Dworkin which condemmed all objectification of women and all pornographic imagery.  She was truly a crusader and was famous for saying things like “Intercourse remains a means or the means of physiologically making a woman inferior [and is] the pure, sterile, formal expression of men’s contempt for women.”  That kind of talk turned a lot of her feminist, lefty allies against her.  Today, pornography has won.  It’s everywhere. Andrea Dworkin was the hardest of the hard-line feminists and the strange upshot of her ideas is that the Christian Right championed them and they still do today.