Thursday, April 28, 2005

Jeanie Riddle shakes things up and causes stuff to shift at the Parisian Laundry


Two weeks ago I went to the opening of Decalage, a group show by scads of Masters students at Concordia University. It was tons 'o fun, and tremendously entertaining. As it was the opening, there was only time enough to do a quick scan of the artwork there. So I promised myself I would go back and give it a closer and more thorough viewing. Last Tuesday I did. If you haven't seen it yet, go, go now. And I mean now it is only open through the weekend. The address is 3550 Saint Antoine West, and there is a catalogue launch on Saturday the 30th at 3 pm.

At the vernissage

In between the opening and the close and thorough viewing on Tuesday, I also was able to see the undergrad student shows at Concordia and UQAM. Before I launch into my screed about Decalage, I gotta wonder what's up at Concordia. The UQAM student show is open to anybody. The Concordia show is by some sort of selection process. The UQAM show has something like 75 students exhibiting, the Concordia show had 18. The UQAM show had a catalogue, for the Concordia show I was told that I would have to photocopy 85 pieces of paper that were in a binder on the counter. The UQAM show was endlessly fascinating, wonderful and kicked butt. The Concordia show had one artist who rocked. (For the record his name is Cody Lee Stephenson). I think that the folk responsible for making the choices for the Concordia undergrad show should pass it on to someone else. Maybe the folk at UQAM.

But back to Decalage. 31 artists, something like eight of them doing their thesis shows. If you haven't realized it by now that makes for an awful lot of art. To get it out of the way early - the good stuff was created by Ms. Riddle, Geneviève Chevalier, Esther Choi, Tegan Forbes, Shauna Kennedy, Christine Kirouac, James Francis McDougall, David Spriggs, Charles Stankievech, and Tomasz Szadkowski. But if you give me a chance to backpedal slightly, an awful lot of the art (and most of the stuff done by the people whose names are not in the list above) was very heavy on the theory, but very light on the explanation behind the theory. Sorta like trying to understand Bohm's law of holonomy by just looking at the cover of the book. And that's probably more of the reason why their names don't appear on the list. But then again, some of them did flat out suck. And then again you can't forget that my memory also flat out sucks, so some of the missing names might just be something like an oversight on my part, apologies in advance.

Overall I'd give the show a B+, the space an A-, Jeanie Riddle better have been given an A+ by her thesis reviewers with at least four gold stars, and if you want details, information or opinion on anything that I don't write about here, or anything that I did write about, ask away. As I have already annoyed 21 artists, by not mentioning their names after the words "good stuff," I'm going to refrain giving each of the named artists a specific grade, so that I can at least still think that some of them will be willing to talk to me, and not knife me in the back when I go back for the catalogue launch.

Now, first off, the Parisian Laundry is a spectacular space to present art. However the person responsible for choosing those fake white walls, so that wall art can be displayed needs to borrow some of the creativity from the artists who exhibit - 'cuz they don't help the space in any way shape or form. I can suggest a whole whack of possibilities if anybody is interested.

Then, on to the art. In no particular order.

Charles Stankievech did a piece (unfortunately I didn't take notes during the vernissage) that was basically just sound. Downstairs in the basement there are three rooms, but there is a hallway leading off to the third room, Mr. Stankievech kept the hallway dark, which would normally make it very ominous and unlikely to attract any visitors (most folk tend to be scared of dark spaces). But he used some sort of tiny speakers that then broadcast bird sounds, or as someone I know says "chewies." Thereby shifting perceptions to a much more warm, inviting and friendly space where the darkness could be used as a method to encourage exploration. As it was a group show, there wasn't much in Mr. Stankievech's work that directly referenced the other work on either side of his, but his work was extremely effective in transforming a passageway into a destination. If I remember correctly, there might have been wires, too, but then again, it just might have been the smudges on my glasses.

I gotta point out here, that "Decalage" when translated from the French means "Shift." And while it was supposed to be the overriding theme of the art in the show, sometimes it shifted the meaning of the art, and sometime the art shifted the meaning of the title. Apologies in advance for my overuse of it and all the other synonyms I can find in this post.

Christine Kirouac was one of the few artists who did fairly straight forward old-school art. In her case it's called painting. She took the Q&D (quick and dirty) method towards shifting things, by hanging her paintings in what could be called non-standard places (see the darn picture, below). I'm not certain if it was just a sense of relief from a whole whack of theory stuff that aided me in liking them, or if it was the bold red color, or if it was because it took me a whole 7 minutes (and help from my friends) to realize that the second painting was of a railing in the metro, and as a consequence I slapped my head and pronounced myself stoopid. But for whatever reason I really liked them. Probably for a combination of all the reasons above. One of the things that became evident as the afternoon wore on (I think it took us about four hours to see the whole shebang) was that while Concordia might be great at getting students to think about their practice, methods, and reasons for doing art, one thing that they lack is in giving student artists experience in what makes for an engaging art viewing experience. Maybe that's why the undergrad show was a scary experience, too. I hope that things change with the new Arts building. But somehow I feel the theory art that doesn't give two hoots about the viewer is going to be around for a little bit longer. Only in Canada, pity.

But back to Ms. Kirouac's art, while her hanging method was like being hit over the head with a two-by-four with respect to the theme of the show. It truly was her paintings that kept me looking. Jeanie, who had been acting as tour-guide for our visit on Tuesday used some fancy-ass term to describe the drips on the right hand seat, I was willing to give Ms. Kirouac the benefit of the doubt and call 'em a mistake. But a tiny, tiny mistake, sorta like using your salad fork to eat your fish.

Christine Kirouac's work.

Tomasz Szadkowski is another one of the old school artists (although not that old school, as he is a photographer). I can pretty much sum up what makes his art good in one word. Gorgeous. My best guess would be that he is sorta keen on the color green, but then again I have been known to be wrong. I would also guess that these are his two favorite pictures from a series of green pictures, but then again I have been known to be wrong. Taken on their own, the pictures just ooze some sort of Zen like contentment, while I was looking at them I found myself unconsciously humming "Ooom." Whatever. Because of all the other theory pieces in the room, my brain went into overdrive, hence the guesses, then I started humming again, I was then forced to turn away before I developed whiplash.

Tomasz Szadkowski's work.

Tegan Forbes was another photographer included in the show. But unlike the guy above with the unpronounceable and really difficult to type name, Ms. Forbes chose to shift things by taking pictures of what I assume is herself with pictures of graffiti projected on her body. If you're dense, normally, graffiti is painted on walls or other public places, Ms. Forbes' body is about as private as you can get. Yeah, it's sorta simplistic, but they are pretty. Sometimes (see above) pretty is good enough. As there were four of them, in total, it was much easier to see that there was some sort of thought behind them, and I didn't have to resort to any guessing as I did with the guy above with the unpronounceable and really difficult to type name. You might think that by reducing my commentary to one word, that is two letters shorter than what I wrote about Mr. Szadkowski, I might be simplistic. Tough.

Tegan Forbes' work.

Jeanie Riddle and I got into a humongous discussion/argument about her pieces. Initially I was all against them, complaining that they were "theory, Theory, THEORY!" that didn't give a hoot about the viewer. But unlike every other piece of theory art there, this one had the artist there to explain, and defend it. As a method to change people's minds, it works. If I can be so bold, if you're an artist who likes and works with theory, stick around your piece of art, and actively engage people in discussion about it as the come by to look. It works.

Now, don't quote me on this, cause if you remember, I wasn't taking notes. But if I remember correctly, Ms. Riddle trained as a painter. As you can see from the photo of her work, she isn't exactly painting right now. And whether it should be called a reaction or an exploration I don't know. But after another beer I think I at least had a grip on what she was trying to do - now, after yet another beer, I'm not entirely confident that I can explain it back (I never was a good student, hence the lack of notes). I think it goes like this; painters sometimes work with paint chips (small little bits of colored paper) and Ms. Riddle was looking to see if she could break down the process of making a painting into some sort of set of discreet steps that somehow showed or explained the process.

Now I tend to view art as discreet objects and when they aren't, I get grumpy. So initially, as Ms. Riddle was being such a gracious host, I was gonna be polite and tell her that I preferred the smaller box like (or model like) thing on the left as you approached the pieces. Fortunately, Ms. Riddle saw right though me, and we got into the highly charged conversation that left both of us happy and tired.

The part of Jeanie Riddle's work that I liked initially better.

David Spriggs got me coming and going at the same time. The first time, during the vernissage I had to pick my jaw up off the floor, as there was only one other artist who caused me to even open my mouth I sorta was prepared to give him the blue ribbon, and call him best in show. But then at the close viewing on Tuesday, I heard some pretty convincing, or maybe they were just loud, arguments as to why what he did was vapid, shallow, without meaning, and contrary to everything good in this world. Since I had forgotten my earplugs those arguements were tough to ignore. But on the other hand - there is always another hand - they look pretty darn slick and cool. Basically, imagine making really thin slices of a suitcase, thinner then you would for your standard issue carpaccio. Then imagine that those slices are slapped onto your standard issue acetate, suitable for your standard issue overhead projector. Now, put them back in order, so that what you have approximates a suitcase. That is sorta like what you would get from one of Mr. Spriggs' pieces of art. Or if you would like it using less words, an engineer's blow-up diagram of a suitcase on acetate. What makes them cooler than you or me, is that they are then suspended in this thing that looks like an aquarium. The scuttlebutt around the VAV building is that his skills at securing and building the aquarium like housings is less than one would like, and will probably cause future archivists and restorers lots of problems down the line. Then still going with the gossip going around at the vernissage, he wants more than a king's ransom for them. My suggestion to Mr. Spriggs? Go to New York young man. According to the gossip going around, they are willing to throw money around like it is going out of style down there - but you might have to apply to Hunter or Yale first. He also does another piece with clouds replacing the suitcase, it comes out better in the picture but the suitcase is better in real life.

David Spriggs work

Esther Choi makes me realize that I mighty be liking photography more than I initially thought. Or perhaps as this is a student show, that Evergon and the other photography professors at Concordia are pretty darn hot. Upon some reflection, I'd be giving the props to the profs at ConU. Go Man, Go! Ms. Choi's work is a pretty darn simple, a black and white picture, split into three separate prints, of some vines. But, jeez! She has spent what I would imagine is the better part of her life learning how to make prints. As the paperwork was sorta sketchy, hence my lack of info about the theory stuff, I have no clue as to what sort of printing process she used but looking long or looking close, or using the most powerful magnifying glass you can find her work is the bomb. I could probably foam on for about another 500 words or so about the grid pattern, and or how black and white vines on a wall in something that is attempting to look like a white cube shifts something, but I have three other artists to write about who could use the words.

Esther Choi and Julie Boivin installation shot.

Geneviève Chevalier probably gets my vote as the best of the best. Or maybe that's bestest. But then again, maybe not, I gotta remember to be diplomatic, so let me take that back. Ms. Chevalier is as good, no better than everybody else in the show. Yeah, right. The reason I say that, is because although I was fascinated by Mr. Spriggs' work at the vernissage, the gossip and hearsay made me think twice. And while at the close viewing I discovered and thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Riddle's work, at the vernissage I was prepared to write it off. Ms. Chevalier's work caught me by the short and curlies at the vernissage and more significantly, during the close viewing it stood up to the scrutiny, and got better. Basically, if I remember correctly, Ms. Chevalier was the only artist who upon entering into the building that is Parisian Laundry understood what and how to deal with it. Fairly simple, just a bunch of boxes underneath the steps leading up to the second floor, where the thesis projects were. Not exactly something that I would call gorgeous, but I stood there dumbfounded for easily 15 minutes at the vernissage trying to work my brain around her work, and then another 45 minutes at the close viewing (where I got to feel extra special, cause I could crawl around and in it). Any piece of art that keeps my attention that long, especially while I have a beer in one hand and my gorgeous girlfriend on the other has got to be good if not better. I'm deliberately not posting a picture of it because the pictures I have don't do it justice.

OK, I'm losing steam here, so James Francis McDougall might be getting short shrift. At this rate I don't know why I'm doing this darn thing, it looks like I'm going to end up pissing off every last artist. Hey, promise me you'll go see the show for yourself, that way I might not get beat up this weekend, ok? I think this might be why they got a different person to write about each artist, I'm close to a 3K word count, and I still got a gallery to run. His prints are as it says in the bio thing-y that I got "super colorful pop prints" look at the picture. I like the one on the right. A lot.

James Francis McDougall's work.

And finally Shauna Kennedy, gets a free punch. I really like her stuff, but I'm way too tired to write about it. Look at the picture, go to the show, tell her that I sent you, ask her for an autograph, heck, buy it, then perhaps I won't get pummeled.

Shauna Kennedy's work.

And then in going over the photos of the show I realized that my list of artists is most definitely incomplete, you gotta check out and listen to Ian Campbell's piece which I think is called Core.

What makes it even cooler is that you gotta search for it first. It ain't exactly in your face.

Then I almost forgot that Julie Boivin's piece is nice too.

And lastly, before I completely space on all of my responsibilities all the photos were taken by Guy L'Heureux, and if you want to contact him, call me, or Jeanie.

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