Thursday, April 01, 2004

Looking at art


Yesterday was a red letter day, yes, it was gray and raining, but Janice graciously accepted to sit gallery hours which enabled me to get my butt out of here this afternoon. The first thing I did was pick up my laundry (nothing like having a clean pair of socks and underwear when you're going to see art, eh?) But then I made a bee-line for 4001 Berri. For those of you who are out-of-towners, this really nondescript building in the middle of a very residential neighborhood is home to three of the 20 Artist Run Centers here in town. From top to bottom, they are: Oboro, Dazibao, and Articule. The building is also the place where the RCAAQ also has their headquarters. If you haven't been there, you should check it out, three flights of stairs are not too much to ask in order to see art.

As per normal, I went straight to the top, but was foiled, Oboro was closed so that they could install something, so I went down one flight of stairs and poked my nose into Dazibao. They tout themselves as a "centre de photographies actuelles," or for the blokes in the house, a cutting edge photography center - no, "actuelles" does not translate into "actual" no matter what Babelfish says. So then what the hell were they doing with a rather sparse historical retrospective of some bits and pieces, otherwise passing itself off as documentation of old performance pieces?

Or if you would prefer the more reasoned version, the are currently showing something called "Point." It is curated by Michele Theriault and France Choiniere. It comprises pieces by Vito Acconci, Max Dean, General Idea, Suzy Lake, Arnulf Rainer, Paul Wong. Now, in their description of the show they give historical overviews of each of the artists. You know, things like: "Though not historical per se, in this first exhibition we see seminal works by influential artists of international stature who delineated the relationship between photography and the performative act." Or in other words less reasoned, claptrap and nonsense.

Let me show you a chart, ok?

Rough number of results when Googling selected artists.
Andy Warhol = 607,000
Pablo Picasso = 818,000
Vito Acconci = 15,400
Max Dean = 981
General Idea = 414,000
AA Bronson = 2,060
Felix Partz = 588
Jorge Zontal = 301
Suzy Lake = 624
Arnulf Rainer = 15,400
Paul Wong = 8,870
Zeke's Gallery = 3,410
Bertrand Lavoie = 14,900

Hmmm, what should we make of that? Then as I am a relative newcomer to the field of contemporary art, I am not really in a position to argue that the pieces that Ms Theriault and Ms. Choiniere chose are seminal, but holy smokes! They aren't all that awe inspiring. There's the piece by the German guy where he took a large black and white photograph of what I assume is himself and then scratched stuff on it over the teeth and hair, yawn. Then moving over to the next wall, there are some tiny Polaroids of a bathtub in what I subsequently learned was a doctor's office, I yawned again when they went on about how there had been some mind blowing performance that had happened at said doctor's office in the eighties. I don't quite understand how these things delineate any relationship between photography and performance. Other than one of them is a photograph of a performance.

I almost forgot, there is a piece by the Toronto artist collective General Idea. One has to wonder why Ronald Gabe, and Slobodan Saia-Levy had to die before they got any sort of major recognition. And I'd also like to know what Michael Tims is doing with all the money he is making now with General Idea. It does not strike me as your standard issue "death as a career move" sorta thing, but then again, it is a tad spooky the touring show, the catalogue raisonee, and everything. But then again, as I came to the scene late, I could be talking out of my hat here, so don't pay too much attention to the previous paragraph, ok?

That all being said, the piece by GI, is some sort of mail-art thing-y. Nice and pink, it has some photos in it, but it strikes me more as a print than a photo, and while if you make a stretch, a real big stretch, you can sorta see how mail art might be considered performance, it is a mighty big stretch.

Then there's the Suzy Lake piece, of which the less said the better. Next in line is the Paul Wong video. Now one thing that I always gives me a secret kick is when I catch other galleries or museums with their pants down. Now, there wasn't anybody at Dazibao having sex in a corner of anything, but it would have been nice if the volume on the headphones for the Paul Wong piece had been turned on when I went to put them on my head.

For the record, there is a way better video piece that covers much of the same idea and concepts as Paul Wong's at the Centre des Arts Contemporains, but I'll get to that later.

In the piece by Mr. Wong, you get a very grainy black and white video of what I assume is him throwing himself all over the place, or more succinctly, into the walls. If this is such a seminal video, then what's "Royal Wedding?" Chopped Liver? Granted, Fred Astaire's ideas and concepts in dancing on the walls and ceiling aren't as angst ridden as Mr. Wong's but gimme a break, notions of confinement can be done much more gracefully. Although to give him some props, as his piece was done in 1979 and Ted Nugent came out with his career obligation album to Epic in 1981, I can only hope that Mr. Nugent saw Mr. Wong's video at some point, if only for the whacked out image in my brain that it creates.

While I'm on the topic of video art, why can't the galleries in town figure out someway so that the viewer (ie, me) can start and stop the video when I want? During the week they probably get slightly more than the 10 or so people who wander in here, and when I wander in and there is a video, one thing that really annoys me is coming in during the middle of the video. If the video was designed as an endless loop, fine, that is obviously the way I was supposed to see it. But, if it has a beginning and an end, why can't I see it that way?

Then, I trudged downstairs. Articule has from my experience, always shown some pretty kick-ass stuff, and this time was no exception. They have something called Psychic Sublimation up. Again, a group show, this one, according to the website was organized by the selection committee. Which sounds suspiciously to me like they didn't have enough stuff to fill out their schedule and Nathalie Garneau said something along the lines of "hey! If we take these three submissions, we can probably fill the space up." My guess is that there must've been at least one other artist who either declined, or was short listed in case Valerie Lamontagne, Christian Kuras, or Duncan MacKenzie backed out.

Now, I'm not certain if I glom or grok the psychic stuff - for those of you that are enamored of dictionary definitions, try this one on for size:

1 - psy-chic \"si-kik\ also psy-chi-cal \-ki-kel\ adjective [Gk psychikos of the soul, fr. psyche soul] (1642)
1 : of or relating to the psyche : psychogenic
2 : lying outside the sphere of physical science or knowledge : immaterial, moral, or spiritual in origin or force
3 : sensitive to nonphysical or supernatural forces and influences : marked by extraordinary or mysterious sensitivity, perception, or understanding
psy-chi-cal-ly \-ki-k(e-)le\ adverb
(C)1996 Zane Publishing, Inc. and Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. All rights reserved.
And it might be that I am just plain old dense, or quite perhaps stupid, but there wasn't anything there that made me go or think outside of any sphere, circle or round thing. But just because the title wasn't up to snuff (hell, it is handy that it is readable in both languages - Ms. Garneau should get props for that, eh?)

In short, Mr. MacKenzie has a couple of large scale photographs of model train landscapes (minus the tracks) along with a video of it being messed around with. Cool, effective and to the point. Then there is Ms. Lamontagne's part which consists of 40% of Balthus Revisited. And while I'm not at all familiar with Balthazar Klossowski de Rola, Ms. Lamontagne's digital manipulations of his paintings are successful. I would imagine that if I actually knew something about the dead French painter, then I would really be able to get off on her variations. Lastly, Mr. Kuras comes up with a white cube spectacular! Suffice it to say; he understands what and how to control the space.

I then trucked up to Galerie Graff, but they were closed, too. Jigged across the street to Artus where they had just finished installing a show with work by Jacques Huet and Therese Vachon. Nice, priced right, nothing too challenging, but worthwhile.

But then as I was heading back to the gallery here, I stopped by the Centre des Arts Contemporains. And wow! They didn't disappoint. Marie-Pierre Labrie has a piece called Sequestre that is exactly that. An absolutely wicked cool video (that yes, I did come into in the middle) basically, the basement of CACQM is a dark, dank, dungeon-y place, Ms. Labrie videotaped herself in it, and then projected the video in the dark, dank, dungeon-y place. Absolutely wonderful. There's also a slide projection that doesn't quite work as well, but it does not take anything away from the absolute brilliance of the video. Then, upstairs (what you see upon first coming in) Shelly Low has her Royal Pagoda, which is a one joke work, and could have been done better with fortune cookies instead of rice krispie squares, but it is also a wonderful work. I'm disappointed that I did not make it to the vernissage, as I am certain that the food served would have rocked!

Now, I've gone on way too long. Apologies for the length, and the delay in posting (yesterday, I spilled some grape juice on my keyboard and it made working particularly difficult).

More tomorrow, ok?

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