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Jenna Powell



By Anna Kovler

In one of the few remaining light industrial neighborhoods in Toronto, a massive studio building houses Towards, an emerging independent art gallery. “Vacancies” is the seventh show at the gallery, a three-person exhibition featuring ceramic sculptures by Sameer Farooq, etchings on glass by Joshua Vettivelu, and a sculptural installation by Abbas Akhavan.

Placed on white shelves running down a long wall in the gallery are Sameer Farooq’s pale copies and imprints of museum packaging materials. What are generally considered practical, unprecious materials that support the “valuable” artwork – plastic wrap, tissue paper, and air-filled tubes – transform into the artwork through the artist’s intervention. Farooq creates traces of these objects by casting them in porcelain or using paper clay, which he folds almost like a skin over wads of museum wrapping tissue. Displayed unpreciously as an inventory of things, the white copies sit, numbered and patched in places, like wounded ghosts or death masks resting on a scientist’s shelf.

Displayed on the floor beside Farooq’s pale sculptures is Abbas Akhavan’s after Untitled, a white 2-ply tissue paper the size of a queen-sized blanket. The installation is Akhavan’s homage to Felix Gonzales-Torres’ haunting photograph of an empty bed. And yet the oversized Kleenex, thin and vulnerable on the floor, cannot keep anyone warm, but could perhaps catch the tears of many people in a moment of overflowing collective grief. Both Farooq’s inventory of undocumented objects and Akhavan’s large tissue evoke meditation on recent global conflicts, the refugee crisis, and flow of undocumented, hidden people across the world’s borders, and the allowance to cry for these unfathomably sad events, to mourn.

Upon a tall plinth are Joshua Vettivelu’s drawings of gay white supremacists, etched onto glass. Arranged in a circle, the glass rectangles show men engaging in a variety of activities, some erotic, others violent. Appearing shirtless and muscular, the men play out archetypes of “strong” masculinity, a performance the artist subverts by placing the men onto glass, a see-through and fragile material. Vettivelu’s disturbing yet poetic sculpture allows us to see right through displays of racist aggressive masculinity, as nothing more than a reaction caused by these men’s deep vulnerability.

A sense of thoughtful sadness pervades the exhibition. Taken together, the works evoke the different kinds of ghosts that haunt us, the ghosts of both loved ones and those whom we denounce, of institutions and their blind spots, of the sacred and of the mundane.

“Vacancies” is on view at Towards gallery at 87 Wade Ave. Suite B1 in Toronto from December 7 – January 6, 2018.

Lovable Hustlers: The Paintings of Michael Harrington

Lovable Hustlers: The Paintings of Michael Harrington

by Anna Kovler

The social interactions depicted in Michael Harrington’s paintings are mysterious. Men in plush interiors make business deals over cocktails. Women with sharp red nails and dandies in brightly colored suits mingle in mod-style living rooms. These characters and the settings they occupy seethe with an almost sleazy, comical air proper to outdated fashions and hapless hustlers. The Elvis side burns, colorful synthetic suits, aviator sunglasses, handlebar moustaches, and flowery wallpaper paint a nostalgic picture of era at once fabulous and overwrought.

In Jungle Trio and Friends (2017), three men in matching tiger print jackets are joined by two brightly suited men and two bodyguards. Sporting Elvis hairstyles in what looks like a green room or corner of a nightclub, the men stand discussing some undisclosed order of business. One grins jovially as he clasps his hands together, his fingers adorned with large gold rings. Maybe he just closed a deal. Or maybe this is just a way of passing time.

Past styles have a way of making people look funny. Harrington’s vintage scenarios elicit both a chuckle and desire for a time now long out of reach. Even if the styles in these works have an historical accuracy, the artist has made up most of the compositions and characters, constructing a new reality. Harrington paints loosely, with a single daub forming a mouth or moustache, imbuing his scenes with a fuzziness akin to the way memories or dreams are experienced. Looking at his hustlers, their ornate outfits blurring with the décor of their scene, it becomes apparent that the colors of memories, dreams, and paintings are always either brighter or darker than waking life.

Michael Harrington’s new paintings are on view at Katharine Mulherin in Toronto from November 24- December 24, 2017.