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.

October 1, 2014

Today, on Spadina Avenue, I experienced the future!

Behold, the airy interior of a new TTC streetcar.

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The wide, bike-friendly, double doors opened (automatically) and I exited (in complete safely) at Queen Street and crossed southeast to Richmond, back in the present…sort of. The building at 401 Richmond Street, which has a seventies feel, was actually erected around 1900, for industrial purposes. It currently has so many culturally productive tenants that the management publishes its own in-house gallery guide.

There are numerous permanent art installations scattered around the wide, creaky hallways.

For example, near the main entrance are a group of photographs by Peter McCallum.  Below is a detail of one of the photographs, which document studios, workshops and infrastructure of the 401 Richmond site.

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This artist has so much skill and sophistication.  Grounded in an uncanny ability to discern and compose a nuanced, insightful view of a particular moment and place, and with superb technical skill, the photographs by Peter MacCallum are always instantly recognizable and a pleasure to view.

The Abbozzo Gallery

The Abbozzo Gallery presents drawings by Olexander Wlasenko.  I was flipping through the decades.  Suddenly it was 1965. These works in charcoal, unframed and velvety, conjure up a time when people dressed up for air travel and sashayed across the tarmac in kitten heels.

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Drawings by Olexander Wlasenko

Are these stills from Pierrot le Fou, Bande a Parte, La Chinoise or some other gorgeous Jean Luc Goddard New Wave film from the sixties?  Is that Anna Karina adjusting her makeup in a Paris boite?  These drawings have a cold intensity, like an old school martini, shaken but not stirred.

YYZ Artists’ Outlet

At the YYZ Artists’ Outlet the paintings of Andrew Rucklidge are on display.  The show is called “You and I are Shifters” and it is accompanied by an essay by Terence Dick, which raises all sorts of interesting ideas about post-photoshop, digital sampling and quantum physics.  This artist clearly enjoys pushing paint around canvas and appears to be painting about painting.  He has a dazzling repertoire of effects and techniques and he applies them to various riffs on a geometric diamond-like object.

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Painting by Andrew Rucklidge

Reading about the Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, which is coming up in a few days, I noticed how many of the performances and/or installations involve interaction and/or something called immersion on the part of the audience.  This is a trend that does not appeal to me, in fact, it strikes me as totalitarian in nature.  Despite the multiple and fascinating directions art continues to take there is something really satisfying about just looking passively at a painting by Andrew Rucklidge or any painting and accepting it as is.

Gallery 44 Center for Contemporary Photography

At Gallery 44 I came across an exhibition about wood called “Standardizing Nature: Trees, Wood and Lumber” by Susana Reisman. Yes, trees grow only to end up as a pile of lumber.

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Photographs by Susana Reisman

Whereas the photographs were competent, even impressive, the show had the tone of a science textbook. I was looking for the art part. I did find it in the secondary room, which consisted of a sculpture composed of numerous lengths of wood, some partially painted or decorated and simply leaning against a wall.

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Artwork by Susana Reisman

There is something quirky and anthropomorphic in this sculpture.  It’s so simple and yet it delivers something complex…and it smells really good.

Red Head Gallery

I wandered into the Red Head Gallery and found a show called “Insomnia Salon Soiree”, set up in connection to the Scotiabank Nuit Blanche event.  The numerous pieces in the show were not labelled and will only be on display for five days, to be dismantled once the hoopla over Nuit Blanche dies down.  A couple of paintings caught my eye:

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(At post time I don’t have the names of the artists who produced these works but I’m hoping the Red Head Gallery can provide me that information shortly.)

A Space Gallery

I read on the A Space website that this Gallery was founded in 1971.  That is a long time to be alternative.

The current show is called “Welcome to Tkaronto”  and among others, features work by Meryl McMaster:

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Photographs by Meryl McMaster

McMaster’s use of popping color and strange other-worldly costumes in stark northern landscapes spoke vividly to me about the rich culture of the Indigenous that is all around us in Ontario (and Canada) and yet hidden.

V-Tape

The V-Tape people think a lot about how to exhibit video…and there is a lot to choose from

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I was invited into a comfortable, otherwise empty screening room, which could accommodate maybe thirty people.  The lights were turned down and I watched the feature presentation.

Su Rynard‘s piece “As Soon as Weather Will Permit” is currently on exhibit at V-Tape.  It tells a story about an uncle who was a US World War II pilot.  Uncle Vern found himself endlessly training out the war in the luridly colorful desert vistas around Los Alamos…waiting…waiting for just the right moment. Eventually, of course, the weather aligns with the military and political imperatives of the moment.  The protagonist participated in the bombing of Hiroshima. To paraphrase the narration: they dropped the bomb and they left.

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Stills from video by Su Rynard

Su Rynard uses a split screen to mix home movies and archival footage; glowing dream-like sequences of bubbling atoms and frothing energy, radar screens, hand-written texts and folksy, matter-of-fact narrative to create a riveting piece. Although there is a brief mushroom cloud burst the artist uses restraint very effectively. For me, the controlled, dispassionate story and the undeniably voluptuous imagery combine to pack a potent message into this short, powerful piece.

Nicholas Metivier Gallery

After looking at only a sampling of the art on display at 401 Richmond I needed some air and took a walk along King Street to see the John Scott exhibition at Nicholas Metivier Gallery.

John Scott’s paintings are all about men’s business: motorcycles, spiraling jets, prize fighters, disasters, hulking cars,  and always the ominous “Dark Commander,”  the ultimate, critical, punishing father figure.

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Paintings by John Scott

The bunny figures, another of John Scott’s consistent characters, tend to be sympathetic, even endearing, although they sometimes get up on their hind legs and become, for example, “Imperious Bunny” which is also included in the show.  But its the “Dark Commander” that the viewer has to reckon with.  Who is this guy?

I kept thinking about opera when I was looking at this show.  In fact, the Commendatore is the name of the terrifying character in Don Giovanni who knocks on the door in the last act and in the horrible bass voice reminds Don Giovanni that “he invited him to dine..”  Then the vengeful creature exacts his bargain and drags Giovanni down to hell with him.

Maybe John Scott is exploring his feminine side with the inclusion of a couple of flower paintings in the show.

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Dollarama Flowers by John Scott

They are clearly labelled as “Dollarama Flowers,’ supposedly just the kind of disposable plastic trash we would expect a real guy would pick up.  They do add another dimension of emotional content to the show, like observing a biker at the supermarket: there he is, in full biker regalia, comparing cake mixes.