November 30, 2015

Koffler Gallery – Isabel Rocamora

Yesterday was the last chance to see the Isabel Rocamora show – titled Troubled Histories, Ecstatic Solitudes – at the Koffler Gallery.  The exhibit, dominated by three large-scale video projections, opened way back on September 17, and it is utterly prescient in terms of its grave, unflinching tone and the subject matter it contains.

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Still from Body of War by Isabel Rocamora

In Body of War Isabel Rocamora probes the phenomenon of close-up brutality.  In an extended sequence the camera warily circles a fight to the death between two anonymous soldiers.  Staged on a barren runway beneath grey skies, this grim, slow battle confusingly becomes a kind of homoerotic dance from which there is no escape.  A soundtrack of medieval-like, choral chanting heightens the sense of ritual and archetype in this piece. Eventually a victor is left standing, panting and jubilant, and the camera turns away to slowly penetrate the opening of a nearby bunker.  The desultory movement toward darkness creates a truly horrifying moment.

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Stills from Horizon of Exile by Isabel Rocamora

In Horizon of Exile, a two channel video piece, snippets of monologue hint at the reasons a women must leave her home and set off into a barren, windswept desert.  Against an elegiac score and relentless wind, two women then perform a mesmerizing rolling dance, where they are carried like flotsam across a glittering salt flat in a God forsaken plain somewhere.

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Stills from Faith by Isabel Rocamora

An Orthodox Jew, a Greek Orthodox Christian and a Sunni Muslim are all engaged in prayer in Isabella Rocamora’s three channel loop called Faith.  Filmed in a craggy desert that reads “holy land” they are united in ancient transcendent practices.  The religious trappings – the robes, the gestures, the pious heavenward gazes, the fervent ritualized murmuring – are remarkably alike.  In fact not much is separating these men of God from one another, and yet, Isabel Rocamora seems to be saying, the superficial similarities are meaningless.  Tradition is terminally unique.

I really liked seeing this show: The stark graphic power, the rich soundscapes, the choreography of the camera and the subjects, and the potent imagery.  Ultimately the work struck me as very dark: The subjects are all unable to break out of age old oppression, each is condemned to endlessly repeat the rituals of the past and passively accept their fate.

Typology – Nicolas Fleming

Fortunately, it is possible to go shopping for handmade items on the third floor of Artspace Youngplace otherwise I would not have trekked upstairs and come across the tiny gallery called Typology.

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Installation shot of Moving Right Along by Nicolas Fleming

An installation by Nicholas Fleming called Moving Right Along is about to close.  I’m glad I caught this show.

Nicholas Fleming must be a very energetic guy.  He has built an entire room within the gallery, except that it is all delightfully backwards so that drywall, spackling paste, chipboard and insulation foam are on display and the smooth, white gallery walls with crisp corners and subtle lighting are hidden.  It’s kind of like putting a dress on inside out.

An unmistakable Home Depot fragrance wafts into the hallway from Typology.

I really liked looking at the “fountain” in the center of the space.  It has ghastly, poisonous look to it.  Something toxic appears to be weeping from the hardened foam to create a pool, coated in noxious sheen, at its base.

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Installation shots of Moving Right Along by Nicolas Fleming

No doubt Nicholas Fleming allies himself with Minimalism, Arte Povera and various Conceptual Art branches emerging in the 1970s but what is so interesting about this show to me is the exotic beauty created by these humble materials which leads to the whole idea of the infrastructure of our society and how it is hidden and denied and avoided, with perilous consequences.

November 5, 2015

Trek to King City – Richard Serra’s “Shift”

Having lived in the US for a number of years I was somewhat reluctant to participate when my friend insisted we knock on the door of a strange farmhouse in King City, about an hour north of Toronto.  Egress to the site of Richard Serra’s earthwork / sculpture Shift was no longer possible from the adjacent subdivision.  A passing jogger suggested we try the overland route, which would be trespassing.

“We are pilgrims,” we explained when the farmer opened the door, “looking for the Richard Serra sculpture.”

The farmer was cool (and unarmed) and in fact he recalled the period in the early seventies when the sculpture was created.  “Cement trucks arrived every day all one summer,” he said.

Richard Serra was a young artist at the time.  He and his girlfriend, Joan Jonas, together visited the site which belonged to art collector Roger Davidson, who commissioned the piece.  The artwork references their joint walks around the fields, which have a mildly rolling topography.  It apparently traces the natural zigzag path the two would take from the points which were furthest from each other but from which they were still visible to each other.  (You have to be there.)

“It will be about a half hour walk,” the farmer told us.

We set off:

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We passed various attractive outbuildings, associated with the farm.

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..saw water systems, signage…

…and then made a left down the most idyllic path….

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…edged by a corn field.

We got lost for a while….

… but met another friendly farmer who directed us onward…

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and we then found the landmark below.  It’s a…some sort of wood storage device.

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We skirted a swamp….

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….got covered in burrs, clamored up a muddy hill and there it lay: internationally obscure, audacious, sprawling, precise, stately, playful, supremely confident, enduring, elegant, startling, and big.  It is worth the trip.

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Shift by Richard Serra

Great afternoon in King City!   Although the subdivisions are encroaching, and from time to time a developer insists the artwork be destroyed in the name of progress, the Township of King has seen fit to designate Shift as protected under the Ontario Heritage Act, preventing its destruction or alteration.  All the local people we spoke to seemed to have a soft spot for the artwork.  My friend (whose idea it was to make the trip) is sure there will be a gift shop and parking for 300 in another decade.  In the meantime it was time to go home and get the burrs out.

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July 4, 2015

I am elated to be recovered from at least a month of labyrinthitis and to stroll up the Rail Path to Miller Street, in the intoxicating heat of this Saturday afternoon in July.

Katzman Contemporary

Part Time, Deep Time by Meghan Price

First let’s think about textiles (domestic, temporal, decorative, familial, utilitarian and in the realm of craft; the human story told in placemats, dresses and rugs) and now geology (just the opposite, encompassing the study of the Earth, the solar system, nearly incomprehensible time frames, confounding forces, speculative theory; a trail of continents, boulders, pebbles to puzzle over.)  In her exhibition at Katzman Contemporary, titled Part Time, Deep Time Meghan Price investigates this unlikely pairing and comes up with some fresh and unpredictable objects and images that seem to allude to the groping for understanding of some deep questions through the humble, practical arts.

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Metamorphic by Meghan Price

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Detail of Metamorphic by Meghan Price

I really liked looking at Metamorphic, the sculpture shown above.  The artist hand-stitched geological markings onto paper to create an embroidery of a massive boulder.  The manifestation of this eccentric idea is bold and exciting.

Meghan Price takes her knowledge of textile skills into new territory.  She weaves wire, layers and folds it, literally bastes it to rocks.

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Detail of Erratics by Meghan Price

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Detail of Wire by Meghan Price

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Installation view of Stratigraphy by Meghan Price

In her piece Stratigraphy Meghan Price creates a sculpture reminiscent of a typical geologists core sample, except this one is made of screen printed fabric, variously patterned and compressed, and looking quite a bit like a towel display at Pottery Barn.

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Detail of Stratigraphy by Meghan Price

I recently saw an exhibition at the Textile Museum of Canada called Artist Textiles.  A number of the most familiar artists of the twentieth century (Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Matisse) were included.  In every case the artist textiles were images by these extremely famous artists printed onto fabric.  The same images could just as easily been been printed onto bookbags or mousepads.  It was like the gift shop took over the Museum.  Meghan Price, on the other hand, goes so deep into this domain that it becomes abstract, open ended and encompassing all.

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Number Please? scarf by Salvador Dali


Thin Air, Bright Light by Yi Xin Tong

While walking around the gallery I learned that Yi Xin Tong was born in Antarctica.   I couldn’t help wondering if his short films (stop action GIFs), made from found imagery of various situations playing out in a dramatically barren, snow and ice landscape, were related to this fact in some way.  Do these silent, dreamlike tableau equate to memories of early years in the deepest south?

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Installation view of short films by Yi Xin Tong

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How to Capture Penguins by Yi Xin Tong

The films, some only a second or two in length, some with a single image which flickers slightly, read as mysterious messages from another time and a stark realm.  I like the efficiency at work here, the way so much content and formal nuance is packed into these succinct artworks.

Yi Xin Tong’s carved inkjet prints on paperboard share that sense of ‘less is more.’  Quite literally, in this case, since the artist excavates the boards, tearing out the former depictions to create mysterious and playful new images upon an expressive and unifying ground of swirling striations and gouges.

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Piano Factory II by Xi Yin Tong

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Arwork by Yi Xin Tong

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.

February 28, 2015

The Dufferin bus was suddenly drenched in a unfamiliar phenomenon: Sunshine!  We looked around, stunned, and blinked weakly.

MKG127 – Liza Eurich

What initially attracted me to drop by MKG127 and take in an exhibition by Liza Eurich was the appealing artist’s statement on the Gallery website. See below (reproduced in its entirety):

Eurich will be presenting work that: emphasizes negative space, is hollow, has a faceted surface, contains other work(s), is concealed, is layered, has multiple components, is not a multiple, is like a drawing, incorporates text, is stationary, has reticent characteristics, is monochromatic, uses straight lines only, references Agnes Martin, is fragile, consists of more than three materials, is made of ceramic, was built, is freestanding, requires a plinth, uses keyholes, uses a French cleat, is in its third iteration, is in a series of three, is positioned adjacently, is architectural, references something from an Ikea catalogue, is functional, is recognizable, does not resemble an animal, was almost omitted.

Based on this text I anticipated hardcore post-conceptual, neo-minimalist works but something about the slightly off-kilter, cannily understated writing assured me it would be fresh, distinctive and droll.

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Installation view of Liza Eurich exhibition

Just as the writing suggests, the exhibition, titled Either a New or Existing Character, is a collection of unique items with various attributes: is wood, is thin, is freestanding, hangs on the wall, painted white, stained and…. so on.  The art works are diverse but nearly all could be described as spare, restrained, subtle, precise and strangely reminiscent of some carefully crafted maquette or fragment of a maddening Ikea puzzle that just will not fit together.

The delicate piece below is fitted with what could possibly be a tantalizing scrap from an instruction manual.

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Eeeee: not for placing by Liza Eurich

I really liked the cool, deadpan industrial look of Liza Eurich’s larger sculptures.  They are so perfectly suited for some mysterious function.  Are they a tribute to the Scandanavian juggernaut on the Queensway?

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Freestanding two sided rack by Liza Eurich

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Shelving: six additions by Liza Eurich

Occasionally Liza Eurich adheres some murky graphics to her sculptures.  Apparently these images are from a single book found by the artist.  Possibly medical or antique technological illustrations, these random bits of imagery, placed with such constraint and exactitude, add to the sense of an architectural model but one that references time and atmosphere as well as structure.

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3 levels, pedestal base by Liza Eurich

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Two components, layered rectangle by Liza Eurich

Resting on a pedestal is an artpiece initally reminiscent of a vessel of some kind.  It’s made of deep black broken tiles which dip and swerve to encase a naturalistic form.  Mishapen, gnarly, almost expressive, the soft black tiles absorb and reflect light like a big lump of bitumen.

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Facets by Liza Eurich

Liza Eurich keeps her ideas on simmer and doesn’t give away too much.  I left the gallery with an appreciation for the subtle feeling of hesitancy and tension that was created.

February 20, 2015

How about those grimy ice hillocks that are lining the streets of Toronto?

I have to keep reminding myself that civilization is not breaking down.  It’s just winter.

Koffler Gallery – Kriistina Lahde

The Koffler Gallery, located in Artscape Youngplace, is the site of an exhibition by Kriistina Lahde titled ULTRA-PARALLEL.

I arrived to see the show in a completely winterized getup. The young woman at the desk immediately sprang into action and rushed up to meet me as I entered the gallery space. It took me a few minutes to figure out why this woman – charming and erudite – was so intent on guiding me around the show. The fact is that much of the work is delicately balanced and perishable. It could be easily destroyed by an unruly toddler ….or a viewer with fogged up dark glasses and a puffer coat. She didn’t want me to accidently wreck something.

It’s always so satisfying to see an art piece right in the middle of a gallery space. This show has a spectacular sculpture front and center. As light and airy as a dandelion puff ball the work is also structurally engrossing and culturally loaded.

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From a straight line to a curve by Kriistina Lahde

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Details of From a straight line to a curve by Kriistina Lahde

Geodesic domes must have been around forever but for me they are associated with Buckminster Fuller. He discovered that triangles arranged into a sphere create structures of incomparable strength. He tried to market geodesic domes as dwellings but they did not catch on.  (Civilization is not breaking down!)

The sculpture is made of vintage yardsticks.  Each has a glowing patina and is emblazoned with the name of a long gone hardware store or house paint purveyor.  Even the name “yardstick” is an anachronism and the use of these appealing objects, once so common as to be nearly invisible, softens the piece and adds a melancholy dimension.

Yardsticks are the raw material for another sculpture in the exhibition.  This one, depicted below, glows in a delicious curve as the wooden sticks are arrayed according to hue and balanced in a swoop.

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Slide Rule by Kriistina Ladhe

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Detail of Slide Rule by Kriistina Ladhe

In fact, most of the pieces in the show are created from measuring devices: A chalk reel, surveyors tape measure, vellum, sewer’s measuring tape, and the yardsticks.  Routine, utilitarian, mundane could all be used to describe these objects.  Kriistina Ladhe uses them with grace and wit not so much to transform them as to allow their brilliant versatility and simplicity to be evident in a new context.

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Detail of Parallel Lines by Kriistina Lahde

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Detail of String and a Box by Kriistina Lahde

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Detail of Tool for Making by Kriistina Lahde

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Greater than, less than by Kriistina Lahde

Near the entrance to the exhibition is a mysterious circular piece of steel.  It is a depiction of a meter.   The phrase “Meter: one forty millionth of the circumference of the Earth” is etched along the bottom rim of the object.  This piece has all the marks of serious tool but it is delightfully useless.

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One forty millionth of the circumference of the Earth by Kriistina Lahde

The concept of the meter goes back to the 18th century.  After the French Revolution the French Academy of Science selected this as the standard measurement unit in the new Republic.  It was believed to be one ten-millionth of the length of the meridian through Paris from pole to the equator.  Actually they were a bit off, which is explained in an essay accompanying the exhibition.  Currently, somewhere in Geneva, the meter is defined as “the distance light travels, in a vacuum, in 1/299,792,458 seconds with time measured by a cesium-133 atomic clock which emits pulses of radiation at very rapid, regular intervals.”  Progress, not perfection.

September 25, 2014

There is so much frenetic construction activity along Queen’s Quay on the way to The Power Plant. What’s going on?  It appears RBC’s marketing team are working overtime to hint about what might be in store for us when all this commotion is done and the dust settles.

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The Power Plant

The fall season at The Power Plant includes impressive work by three artists.


Shelagh Keeley

I admired Shelagh Keeley’s drawings back on September 6th at Paul Petro Contemporary Art. Here, covering The Power Plant’s vast clerestory wall, is an example of the artist’s site specific work, scaled up.

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The piece is called “Notes on Obsolescence.” It  has the spontaneity of jottings and doodles pinned up on a giant push-pin board but, amazingly, the numerous drawings, photographs and writings coalesce to create one monumental work of art.

Threads, strings and strands – sometimes drawn directly on the wall – drop, dip and fall in concert with layers of more drawings and many photos (of different textures, hues, vintage and size) depicting spindles, shuttles, punchcards, servers, circuit boards, weavings, intersecting woofs and warps, dye mechanisms, the factory floor, gadgets and widgets, quotes from Marshall McLuhan, cascading reams of paper from a long gone dot matrix printer and so on and on. The work follows the relentless march of technological innovation by looking backward at the abandoned remains.

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This piece is endlessly fascinating to look at. There is so much rich content and beautiful details.  It was annoying that I could not see the loftiest sections until I realized I could simply walk upstairs.

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Julia Dault

Seeing this sculpture by Julia Dault got me thinking: What if I owned an austere modernist rectangular house? What if I placed this sizzling pink and blue bundle in one of its large imposing rooms?

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How cool and sophisticated would I be?  Would I have to hire a staff just to dust my possessions?

Maybe its the playful colors and unconventional materials but I definitely got a sense of joy seeing this work. The high gloss sculpture appear on the verge of flying apart and the paintings have a late-night, rock ‘n roll high spiritedness to them.

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Julia Dault’s exploration into mark making is deep. At the same time it has a certain infectious giddyness most evident in the sprawling lexicon of marks, encased in a grid, which she created for one wall of the gallery.

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Pedro Cabrita Reis

This sculpture is brawny and muscular. I-beams appear to have been ripped from walls and scattered about recklessly as if in mid demolition. (There is no way this piece was not made by a guy.)

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It has a dangerous feel too: through the precariously balanced beams, sharp metal edges, vulnerable neon tubing and tangles of explosed wiring. Wandering through this huge installation reminded me of my walk through the construction site to get here. I really enjoyed the bold, massiveness of it as the lake sparkled outside in the morning light; and there seemed to be emotional content too but it was not out of control, instead it was more like thinking about havoc in a repressed, distant and thoughtful way.

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That same contemplative feel is evident upstairs in a gallery containing fourteen paintings by Pedro Cabrita Reis. These formalist paintings are very somber: Raw canvas, reddish stain, heavy slablike layer of dark brown nearly black paint encased in elaborate plexi and welded metal frames.

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(The lights in the gallery were so bright and the frame surface so reflective I was unable to capture the actual look of the paintings.  You’ll just have to see for yourself.)