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Vacancies

Vacancies 

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.

Born in the Digital: The Universe According to Nicolas Baier

Born in the Digital: The Universe According to Nicolas Baier

Humans have been wondering about the nature and shape of the universe long before the birth of the sciences. Early drawings of the earth show it as a flat disc covered by a semi-circular dome containing the sun, moon, and stars. More modern theories represent the universe as a donut, a saddle, or a dodecahedron – a three dimensional shape with twelve flat faces. Nicolas Baier is interested in contemporary scientific theories of the universe and the digital technologies that allow us to map it. Using specialized software, and in consultation with an astrophysicist at CERN, Baier tries to do the impossible: to capture the universe in an artwork.

 

“Asterisms,” the title of his exhibition at Division Gallery in Toronto, references the random patterns created by connecting the most prominent stars in our celestial sphere, similar in ways to the constellations used in Astrology. In Constellations Or 1 (2017), Baier turns these computer-generated, interstellar connections into a digitally carved relief of geometric planes. The gilded surface of the work can be said to represent the whole observable universe.

 

Baier’s work is preoccupied with hard to measure phenomena like cosmic rays, fossil radiation, dark matter, and neurological pathways. Yet of equal interest for him is the expansion of digital technologies to capture these processes and the mass amounts of data required in order to better understand our world. Jungle (2017) depicts a long hallway lined with rows upon rows of servers vanishing into the distance. Carved with a CNC router, the surface of grey peaks and valleys looks haphazard from up close but fixes into a clear image from further away. It is a haunting reality where the digital seems as infinite as the universe itself.

 

Baier makes use of computer software that creates models of the earth’s atmosphere at different times. The software is able to go back through the data of time to construct hypothetical models of what the clouds in the sky looked like millions of years ago. In Réminiscence 5 (2016), fiery, scarlet-red clouds fade into yellow and amber, representing what the sky would have looked like 65 million years ago on the eve of the extinction of the dinosaurs. Like many of the works in this exhibition, this apocalyptic cloudscape reveals how advanced our technologies are, but also their fundamental limitations. Nothing could ever capture the magnitude or intensity of an asteroid hitting the earth, but our representations, both in science and art, continue to try.

 

Nicolas Baier’s exhibition “Asterisms” is on view at Division Gallery in Toronto from October 27, 2017 until January 3, 2018.

 

By Anna Kovler

Seen by the Water: Marlene Creates and Fogo Island

Seen by the Water: Marlene Creates and Fogo Island

 

by Anna Kovler

 

For Marlene Creates, the landscape is not simply something we look at and represent. It is also something that looks back at us. That her exhibition takes place on Fogo Island in Newfoundland makes this reciprocal looking even more emphatic. It is nearly impossible to exert one’s will over nature here, even in the imagination. As a glacially formed island, Fogo exerts a presence that humbles the most self-assured visitor. Here an ancient metamorphic rock-bed meets gusting winds, low shrubs, countless ponds, arctic drift ice, and acres of undeveloped Crown land.

Marlene Creates “To The Blast Hole Pond River” at the Fogo Island Gallery.

Walking into the Fogo Island Gallery we see large photographs of a particular spot on Creates’ Newfoundland property at different times of the year, snapshots of wild animals at the same location, and self-portraits taken by the artist with a camera submerged underwater in the river that flows through her forest. Looking up through the river, Creates’ face appears warped and wonky, melting into the trees behind her, morphed by the effect of water on the camera’s lens. As the water sees it, a woman is not much different than the trees, sky, and landscape of which she is a part.

“Squish” studio, one of six studios of the Fogo Island Arts residency, an initiative of the Shorefast Foundation.

 

Belonging to the land, even when it’s harsh, is a sense that runs deep through Fogo Island’s mythology. From songs describing the near-death trials of fishers and sealers to more recent struggles to revive a community hit hard by the collapse of the cod fishery in 1992, the commitment to living on Fogo, like the rocks that reign here, is monumental. The Fogo Island Inn – a white, angular modern structure the size of a ship – houses the Fogo Island Gallery and was designed by Newfoundland architect Todd Saunders and staffed by local residents. Founded by Zita Cobb, who was born on the island, the Inn belongs to a wider resilience initiative that includes an artist residency, lending fund for small businesses, heritage building preservation, and a furniture business.

Seeing a place remotely through photographs has never been easier, but what people who live on or visit Fogo want is to be seen by it. Creates captures this desire when she plunges her camera down into the frigid water season after season, blurring her own image and distinct identity in the process. This is a landscape people learned to fit into rather than re-make or mould. But it is not all tumultuous storms and rock sheets here. As the icebergs melt and crack in the summer heat, a constant gentle breeze sways the blueberry bushes and wildflowers, and the doors on the colorful clapboard houses creak.

 

Marlene Creates, “To The Blast Hole Pond River” is on view at the Fogo Island Gallery from May 18- October 15, 2017. Curated by Alexandra McIntosh and Nicolaus Schafhausen.

Marlene Creates, Spring 2003, excerpt from Water Flowing to the Sea Captured at the Speed of Light, Blast Hole Pond River, Newfoundland 2002-2003. Pair of chromogenic photographic prints, each 40 x 60 inches.

Harmony in Opposites: Jennifer Lefort at Division Gallery Toronto

Harmony in Opposites: Jennifer Lefort at Division Gallery Toronto

by Anna Kovler

 

If there are binary opposites in the language of paint, Jennifer Lefort exploits them to the fullest in her current exhibition at Division Gallery in Toronto. In her monumental abstract paintings, thin washy paint nestles beside thick oily marks, while a gesture made with a broom-sized brush is contrasted with a skinny line sketched with a piece of chalk. Wet is set against dry, layers against erasures, proximity against distance, dark against light. With so many opposing forces at play, it is surprising the compositions exude a sense of stability rather than antagonism or pure chaos.

Jennifer Lefort. Poker Face, 2017. Oil and spray paint on canvas.

In Grand Salon of Ideas (2016), the largest work in the exhibition, black spidery shapes hover on a ground of pink and light purple, surrounded by a chorus of spray-painted lines. As the confident black shapes advance forward, the soft, spray painted background dissolves, giving the impression of receding in the way a distant mountain appears blurry to the eye. At once recalling the palette of graffiti and the speed of abstract expressionism, this painting brings together another pair of so-called opposites, the “high-minded” realm of fine art and “lowbrow” street culture.

In No level field (2016) Lefort maximizes the optical play between foreground and background, creating the illusion of deep space but simultaneously emphasizing the flatness of the painted surface. Here a cast of expressive blue, orange, and yellow shapes sits close to the surface, while silhouetted shapes in the dark background read like a distant, receding landscape. Opposing forces are brought together and neutralized, flattened in unison on the picture plane. Providing the space for radical difference to coexist is no small feat. By balancing opposing forces, Lefort suggests that difference is actually a good thing, that the high and the low, the close and the far, the dark and the light, can occupy the same space, and rather than cancel each other out, provide an exciting, harmonious variety.

Jennifer Lefort. No level field. Oil and spray paint on canvas.

 

Jennifer Lefort, “Desires and Relationships” is on view at Division Gallery in Toronto from September 14 to October 14, 2017.

 

 

 

Bringing Down Giants: Duane Linklater’s Public Commission in the Don Valley River Park

Bringing Down Giants: Duane Linklater’s Public Commission in the Don Valley River Park

by Anna Kovler

People in Toronto refer to the Don River Valley Park as a refuge from the congestion of the city, with its long and lush strip of trees and trails skirting along the river. Two hundred years ago this might have been true. Today, the chorus of the cicadas and crickets in the mid-summer park cannot compete with the loud hum of the highway. The subway rattles overhead, passing over the massive Prince Edward Viaduct, which was constructed in 1918 to connect Bloor Street on the west with Danforth Avenue on the east. Originally dubbed the “Road to Nowhere” – since the east side of Toronto was sparsely populated at the time – the century old nickname for the bridge rings true again, only for different reasons. Energy towers and power lines hover above the canopy of trees, and the Don River sits murky and stagnant, its greenish brown water barely suitable for a few ducks. This polluted nexus of industry, energy, and transportation is where Duane Linklater’s new public sculptures, a series of concrete gargoyles, dwell.

 

Sculpted as replicas of actual gargoyles found on significant buildings in Toronto, the fallen gatekeepers lie in a grouping beside a thicket of stinging nettles along the walking and biking trail. The sting of the nettle, a medicinal and edible plant native to North America, is a perfect metaphor for the sting of Linklater’s gesture. Gargoyles have long been symbols of Western power, becoming an important architectural feature on Gothic cathedrals in Medieval Europe. Their function was to scare people into going to church, and more practically, to act as rain spouts. Today gargoyles reign over civic buildings too, their eternally open mouths and bulging eyes demanding loyalty to the country. National loyalty doesn’t come naturally to Linklater, an Omaskêko Cree artist from Moose Cree First Nation. By bringing down the gargoyles from their perch, he renders them impotent, their exaggerated features becoming funny and awkward from up close, too silly to frighten anyone.

 

What are the Gargoyles protecting, now that they are down on the earth? Repurposed by Linklater, perhaps the mythical figures ought to scare joggers, cyclists, and dog walkers into becoming better stewards of the land, and to wonder what it was like here before the “Road to Nowhere” was built, before the water in the river was brown.

 

Duane Linklater’s public sculpture commission, Monsters for Beauty, Permanence and Individuality was curated by Kari Cwynar with support from Evergreen, a Canadian charity with the mission to transform public landscapes into thriving community spaces and restoring the health of local ecologies. This is a long-term installation that was unveiled on September 23, 2017.


Duane Linklater, Monsters for Beauty, Permanence and Individuality, 2017. Photo by Yuula Benivolski, courtesy of Evergreen.

 


Duane Linklater, Monsters for Beauty, Permanence and Individuality, 2017. Photo by Yuula Benivolski, courtesy of Evergreen.

 


Duane Linklater, Monsters for Beauty, Permanence and Individuality, 2017. Photo by Yuula Benivolski, courtesy of Evergreen.