September 15, 2019

Loner Culture at Inter/Access

To be a loner today is to raise suspicions.  We know now that Alek Minassian, Adam Lanza, Dylan Klebold, Elliot Roger, and many others, stayed in their rooms, alone, until rage and frustration drove them out, in a frenzy, to commit mayhem.

Loner Culture, the exhibition currently on display at Inter/Access is about something else.  It’s about trying to connect.  It’s social.  And weirdly, to be social, is to exclude one group in favour of another.  That’s the human way!  Sometimes the exclusion piece means solitary confinement in a pink bedroom.  But it’s temporary — a brief, high-drama interlude, an emotional eddy on the river towards self-actualization.

The exhibition re-creates vestiges of the long lost bedrooms where the tender, new self was honed and tested.

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Installation at Loner Culture

I chatted with one of the artist’s in the show, Suzanne Kite, through her live link on the Discord Platform.  She described how in her late teens and early twenties she traveled hours on connecting buses to make the scene.  In her case, the scene was an all ages DNB Happy Core Trance House DJ event in some off-the-beaten track warehouse in a remote corner of sprawling LA.  That is dedication!  That is really wanting to be there!  Needing to get it absolutely right and knowing that the others at this event are just like you!

By the way, if you do not know — like me– the difference between DNB (Drums and Base) and Happy Core you can watch a tutorial above:

Suzanne Kite identifies herself as a Oglala Lakota performance artist.  When the movie Pocahontas came out in 1995 Suzanne Kite’s parents bought her absolutely every conceivable Pocahontas tie-in item.

According to Wikipedia:

… promotional tie-ins included Burger King distributing 55 million toy replicas of the film’s characters with kids’ meals, Payless Shoes selling a line of moccasins, and Mattel peddling a Barbie-like Pocahontas doll.[93]

Payless!  Obviously Indigenous youngsters, especially girls, were starved for dolls, toys and anything else Mattel and Payless could come up with that somehow related to them.  Suzanne Kite has carefully saved these items.  They are displayed on the walls of the gallery overlaid with projections of posters from her youthfully intrepid music life.

 

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Detail of installation by Suzanne Kite titled Better Off Alone

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Installation view of Suzanne Kite artwork Better Off Alone

Typing on the keyboard filled the large space at Inter/Access with Suzanne Kite’s favourite music from that era:

 

 

Video of interactive installation by Suzanne Kite

With all the memorializing of the past bedrooms of origin it is hard to keep the decades straight.  Patti Smith, Michael Jackson, Lydia Lunch and B52s must mean late seventies or early eighties.  But no, nostalgia has already kicked in.  This is a moment in the early 2000s where icons from twenty years prior are revered.

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Installation detail from Loner Culture exhibition, re-creating a bedroom from the 2000s.

Both Thirza Jean Cuthand and Fallon Simard presented bedroom-ish settings and both featured monitors.

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Installation by Fallon Simard

In Fallon Simard’s piece the utterly bland dresser, standing alone in the rather cavernous, grey space, has a bleak feeling.  It is free of knickknacks and/or personal items of any kind, something that might indicate an era or anchor a sensibility. Instead there is a cold sense of isolation and detachment. The monitor displays anti-homophobic/transphobic internet memes with vague, delicate, pastel backgrounds.

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Art work by Fallon Simard

A camera is clipped to top of the  monitor in the Fallon Simard piece.  Are we observing or being observed? 

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Installation by Thirza Jean Cuthand

Thirza Jean Cuthand provides a heap of cushions and head phones to kick back and watch videos.   The tapes by Thirza Cuthand have a graceful poetic sensibility throughout.  The artist is fearless: sex, insecurity, fear, sex, mental illness, rage, grief, sex, youth, race, sex.  All the topics that are endlessly pondered in bedrooms around the world are covered here in an inventive and original voice.

May 14, 2016

I was wandering by the Piri Piri Churrasqueira Grillhouse at the corner of Dupont and Campbell and took some time to check out the neighbourhood.  Just a few steps north there is a cluster of no-nonsense, newish buildings.  They look like the kind of place you might go to pick up parts for, say, a malfunctioning Moccamaster or maybe confer with an insurance broker.  But no, in fact, here is a chance to look at art in Toronto.

Richard Rhodes Dupont Projects – David Clarkson

Speleogenesis, I have just learned, means the origin and development of caves.  In the exhibition of paintings by David Clarkson, called Remotes, caves function as formal device, content and metaphor.

Here’s another word you don’t hear often: trippy.

On entering David Clarkson’s show there is a painting by the door.  It depicts a rabbit hole, yes, the pathway that Alice took into the discombobulating environment that made no sense.  In this painting bunnies, giant gems and a perfect oval looking-glass are bathed in a dreamy blue light.  For me this painting set up the whole show with a feeling of philosophical nonchalance.   The viewer is free to descend into a labyrinth of ethereal vistas and subconscious triggers without any kind of didactic price to pay.

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Detail of Rabbits and Mirrors by David Clarkson

The cave imagery is a constant in the show.  Such a potent symbol could be heavy handed but David Clarkson creates unpredictable, droll and imaginative art work that never stumbles into cliche.

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Cascade and Curtain by David Clarkson

Looking at Cascade and Curtain the viewer is in utterly unknown territory, gazing outward through the pictorial plane to glimpse what lies beyond the shimmering veil of liquid.  Which way is the sinuous sluice spilling?  Into the frame or out of it?

The inclusion 0f photographic elements, pop art fragments and tiny renderings of hallucinatory creatures combine to form an otherworldly tableau.  But it is the striking formal aspect – the yawning mouth of the cave – that creates such a powerful image.

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Moth and Frog by David Clarkson

A sense of claustrophobia dominates the painting above as ice and mist frame a route to open air but no, it is another cave that confronts the viewer, like a maddening hall of mirrors.  Life is delicate but relentless in this harsh environment.  And consciousness is brutally linked to physical realities.

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Statues and Fog by David Clarkson

In Statues and Fog surrealist tropes litter a grim trail to the void.  Here the cave is the tough slog of life itself.

Ahem…there is only one way out.

 

Erin Stump Projects (ESP) – Elise Rasmussen

Around the corner on Dupont there is an exhibition by Elise Rasmussen called Fragments of an Imagined Place.  (…am I detecting a theme…?)

As part of the artwork Elise Rasmussen declares that the myth of Atlantis “serves as a metaphor for the artistic practice.”  Within this context she presents some fascinating fragments of a Robert Smithson piece that was never created.

20160514_160955Detail of Fragments of an Imagined Place by Elise Rasmussen

People had a very different appearance in 1970 than they do today.  Within the selection of xeroxed newspaper clippings, cartoons, letters, pamphlets and snapshots is a picture of Robert Smithson posed as a rugged outlaw.  Truly, this artist was onto something new, big and bold and he looks the part.

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Robert Smithson circa 1970

The planned Earthwork was called “Glass Island” and it was to be constructed off the British Columbia coast near Nanaimo.  One hundred tons of broken glass were held at the border and finally sent back to Los Angeles.  Environmentalists opposed the project.

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Installation view of Robert Smithson’s “Map of Broken Glass (Atlantis),” 1969

Included in this sort of scrapbook-like array are copies of the Robert Smithson drawings for other Earthworks.  It was so startling and refreshing to see these humble drawings on graph paper, efficiently packed with ideas and potential.

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Detail of Fragments of an Imagined Place by Elise Rasmussen

I really liked observing the connection Elise Rasmussen created with Robert Smithson and his beautiful idea of a glass island.   She also produced a video in connection to the unmade piece.  Dancers in white stretchy pants and pastel t-shirts gingerly hold shards of coloured glass move and about in a serious though desultory way.

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Still from Video Fragments of an Imagined Place by Elise Rasmussen

https://player.vimeo.com/video/163575629“>Click here to see a section of the video

I wonder what Robert Smithson would make of the art world today?

 

April 9, 2016

Lately I have been obsessed with getting to work on time.  If I’m late I might not have a place to sit.  There are always a few latecomers lugging their laptops down to Starbucks to set up shop for the day and I don’t want to be one of them.  I tried working from home – some people (slackers?) seem to love it, but not me.  My home life and my work life start to become one seamless parade with work edging out home until it seems like that’s all I do.  I started going in to the office again, joining the flow of humanity on the TTC, earlier and earlier, 7:30, 7:20, 7:15…And then I remembered:  Looking at Art in Toronto.

Trinity Square Video – Heather Phillipson

Trinity Square Video’s new location is not optimal for viewing.  Skylights wash out the projected video images.  (I was advised they are fixing the problem and custom blinds are on order.)  Fortunately, the inaugural exhibition of the space features work by Heather Phillipson, and the  show, titled “sub-fusc love-feast,” has such a powerful audio component that the diminished visual impact is hardly missed.

 

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Installation view of sub-fusc love-feast by Heather Phillipson

Also, three video projection screens are tucked into an elaborate installation of cut out photographs.  It’s like walking around in an oversized collage, cut out from cheerful travel postcards and National Geographic magazines.

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Installation views of sub-fusc love-feast by Heather Phillipson

The layers of sound and music, dominated by a bell-like female voice, are completely absorbing.  Heather Phillipson is a thinker and a poet.  She takes on the slippery task of defining nature in this era of unrestrained production and gives voice to the places, things and animals caught in the terrifying cycles of consumption.

The piece has a plaintive, uncertain feel to it, the sound in particular grows panicky at times and fearful.  This makes sense given the subject matter.  Heather Phillipson explores the grim news that is easier to deny than accept; the scale and finality of the environmental crisis that looms over us all.

 

Gallery 44 – Sarah Anne Johnson

The victim of a medical experiment, perpetrated without the consent or knowledge of patients, Sarah Ann Johnson’s grandmother suffered crippling depression and agoraphobia following her treatment.  Sarah Anne Johnson explores this trauma, which continues to ripple through generations of her family, in a video installation called The Kitchen.

 

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Still from The Kitchen by Sarah Anne Johnson

On numerous monitors we watch short loops of a woman, alone, on a kind of stage set which is a kitchen.  The clothes and decor signify the nineteen fifties.  She wears a dress and heels but everything else is wrong.  This woman is strangely afflicted, nuts probably.  A mask is warn on the back of her head and a wig obscures her face.  She carries out her lonely kitchen activities backwards, freakish, awkward, perpetually failing, occasionally crying out in frustration, hurling plates in this filthy kitchen where she seems to be trapped.

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Still from The Kitchen by Sarah Anne Johnson

It’s fascinating to watch the intense and torturous contortions the woman performs to carry out simple tasks as our vision flips back and forth, trying to make sense of the impossible.  And maybe that is what Sarah Anne Johnson is getting at: the misery of trying to succeed in an situation which is impossible.

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Still from The Kitchen by Sarah Anne Johnson

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Still from The Kitchen by Sarah Anne Johnson

In a separate room, a projected video in black and white, shows the same woman.  She is still in the kitchen.  Now she lies on the floor, trundling heavily in an abstract, compulsive manner.

In acting out these moments in the kitchen Sarah Anne Johnson may be re-creating childhood memories or simply seeking to understand her family and herself.  The art work she comes up with has a strange tragic aspect to it, dark and painful.

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.

April 28, 2015

The Power Plant – John Akomfrah

The Unfinished Conversation, the three channel video installation by John Akomfrah, is so dense with ideas and images that I was obliged to make a return trip to The Power Plant and watch it multiple times.  Projected in a hushed room, on massive screens, and featuring a sound track that is at least as rich and layered as the visual component, I found every viewing of this artwork a rewarding experience.

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Installation view of The Unfinished Conversation by John Akomfrah

The cultural theorist Stuart Hall is the ostensible subject of the piece and his personal and professional life is effectively traced within it.  Visually and structurally, Stuart Hall functions as a fulcrum – around which a kaleidoscope of images swirl – illuminating societal and cultural forces at work, first in his home country of Jamaica, and then in Britain in the 50s, 60s and 70s.  John Akomfrah seemed to have access to the BBC archives as these distant eras are brought to life with so much fascinating material, including TV programming from the time, news footage, photographs and sound recordings.

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Installation view of The Unfinished Conversation by John Akomfrah

Stuart Hall came to the UK as a Rhodes Scholar in 1951.  He produced important academic writings, particularly theories of mass communications and he expanded the idea of cultural studies in the academic world.  But he hardly confined his activities to academia.  He was also a prolific journalist, television personality, champion of the arts, and is often referred to as the “Godfather of Multi-Culturalism” for his work in these various media on immigration, race and the politics of power.  Stuart Hall died in 2014.

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Stills from The Unfinished Conversation by John Akomfrah

“Identity is an ever unfinished, endless conversation” is a (paraphrased) statement made by Stuart Hall in the video.  His own identity was shaped in the intensely race conscious Jamaica in which he felt an outsider even in his own family.  He longed to be part of the modern world and for West Indians of that era the UK was an escape and a second “home,” to which, he decided soon after his arrival there, he would never belong.

The sixties in the UK were not just about mini skirts, the Beatles and Mandy Rice Davies!

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Mandy Rice Davies and Christine Keeler

With a focus on the impact of British colonialism around the world a steady drumbeat of upheaval is referenced in the artwork: Conflicts like the Soviet Invasion of Hungary and the Suez Crisis; social movements like the protests by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, natural disasters of every kind, the 1963 Profumo scandal, workers strikes, the beginning of the wars in Asia, mass immigrations, the travails of the poor in Northern England, Civil Rights demonstrations, the rise of consumerism are all depicted in this piece.  These events affected and changed the individual known as Stuart Hall, along with millions of other individuals.

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Installation shot of The Unfinished Conversation by John Akomfrah

Readings from William Blake, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Mervyn Peake and others, lectures and personal reminiscences by Stuart Hall, and music, particularly jazz of the era, along with sounds of all kinds are woven together to add much of the emotional resonance of the artwork.  The audio reaches a kind of crescendo at the point where Mahalia Jackson sings an extraordinary version of Silent Night, tears streaming down her face, within a melange of images including an actual birth.

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Mahalia Jackson in still from The Unfinished Conversation by John Akomfrah

Below is an (incomplete) list of countries and the dates they achieved independence from the United Kingdom.

  • 1922 – Egypt
  • 1932 – Iraq
  • 1947 – India
  • 1956 – Sudan
  • 1957 – Ghana
  • 1958 – Sierra Leone
  • 1960 – Nigeria
  • 1961 – Tanzania
  • 1962 – Uganda, Jamaica
  • 1963 – Kenya
  • 1964 – Zambia, Malawi
  • 1966 – Botswana, Lesotho, Barbados
  • 1967 – Yemen
  • 1970 – Fiji
  • 1971 – Qatar, Bahrain
  • 1974 – The Bahamas
  • 1980 – Zimbabwe

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.

March 21, 2014

Knots of people loitered on the street like teenagers as the sun started to have some real meaning.  It was an afternoon to saunter.

Trinity Square Video

The work on display at Trinity Square Video, called The Cloud of Unknowing, by Ho Tzu Neyen, put me off lunch.   The camera lingered over plates of rotting food and maggots, appalling skin diseases, obese half naked people, fetid water and a heavy set man wearing a Depend.

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Still from The Cloud of Unknowing by Ho Tzu Neyen

The soundtrack could be described as ambient metal or dark ambient with an overlay of heavy breathing and occasional bursts of quite good drumming.  There is no dialogue.   A collection of vaguely surrealistic and improbable tableau vivant were linked with a cloud/steam/fog image.  At the conclusion of the presentation a fan switches on somewhere and a  steamy vaporous cloud wafts into the dark viewing room as the screen fades to a blinding white. It’s disorienting.

Showing video in art galleries has always been challenging.  On this Saturday afternoon I became aware of an apparent new trend in the medium: a material manifestation (literal fog or cloud in this case) of the onscreen work.

(Fog was one of the key components of a memorable art piece I saw in London by Olaf Elliason called The Weather Project.  In that case viewers in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall became so spaced out they lay on the floor, staring up at the fog shrouding a dim sun in the mirrored ceiling far above.  The fog created a dreamlike atmosphere and seemed to release all kinds of inhibitions. )

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The Weather Project by Olaf Elliason

Ten minutes away from Trinity Square Video, at the Georgia Scherman Project, there is an anything goes atmosphere as an art installation/perfume launch is underway.  The space is very dark and very fragrant.  A short black and white video loop is playing is which a model clomps up a circular stairway in what appears to be a dank cave or grotto of some sort.  The soundtrack is ambient metal.  No dialogue.  The floor is littered with black confetti which has been heavily doused in the fragrance.  The artist wants to create a particular atmosphere.  At the counter – I mean desk – sachets of Andrea Maack’s upcoming fragrance “Dual” are handed out.

The gallery staff mentioned the plan for the video to go viral.  You never know what’s going to catch on.  More than 40 million people have watched: Double Rainbow.

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Samples of the fragrance “Dual” by Andrea Maacke

The idea for the black confetti underfoot – more material manifestation – is that the public will inadvertently track it out into the neighbourhood and disperse the olfactory offering up and down Techumsah Street and beyond.

Susan Hobbs Krista Buecking

Next door at Susan Hobbs I thought I was in more conventional terrain.  Big, beautiful framed art pieces hung on the walls.  But at the moment of entering the gallery a soundtrack is triggered: swelling violins and “This Magic Moment’ by the Drifters spills into the space.

In the exhibition, titled Matters of Fact, Krista Buecking creates equisitely subdued atmospheric fades and then suspends hard edged graphics above them on the encasing glass.

For me, although the music was an endearing touch, the art pieces could totally stand alone.  It did strike as me as amusing that whereas the media artists want some ambient element scattered about the painter selects an old school emotional torch song to create an atmosphere.

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codified form B by Krista Buecking

Mist, fog, dreaminess, atmosphere.  Those seems to be the themes for this beautiful sunny afternoon.