January 27, 2015

Biting cold…cruel gusts along Annette Street…broken down Dupont bus…one glove lost…not even February….but the days are getting longer.

Clint Enns, Leslie Supnet

I arrive just in time to catch the beginning of Adventures in Transgression, a screening of videos by Clint Enns and Leslie Supnet at Trinity Square Video. The mood of the crowd is that of cabin fever induced excitement and recklessness that make for an interesting evening, and, TSV has a capacious screening room with a sound system worthy of the ambient industrial tracks to come.

Some of the videos of Clint Enns have a tossed-off larkishness, like the short nostalgic clip called Freddie Mercury Sing-A-Long.


Still from Freddie Mercury Sing-A-Long by Clint Enns

Others are discomforting, like the superimposed close-ups of an ejaculating penis and vigorous teeth brushing in Gleem  or the tight shot of cataract surgery called Botched Eyeball Operation which is more horrifying than any slasher movie. Let me ASMR you explores the perceptual phenomenon of autonomous sensory meridian response, which is evidently a popular youtube indulgence.


Still from Let me ASMR you by Clint Enns

Many of the works have a connection to some earlier film or technology or video art piece.  They are remakes, tributes, recreations, remixes, variants of existing technology or artwork — some more obscure than others — which becomes clear in seeing Andy Warhol, Michael Snow, James Benning, Hans Richter, Chris Burden, Name June Paik and others referenced in the programme notes.  Clint Enns is apparently a student and ardent fan of earlier achievements in moving imagery but he is definitely on his own path.

The videos that are truly spellbinding, for me, are those in which Clint Enns goes for pure image.   Take as a starting point, for example, the scratchy, flaring, generally beat up look of a Guy Maddin film and keep going…and keep going… all the way.  Clint Enns apparently sets outs out to degrade his images until they are virtually abstract.


Detail of still from Ten Skies by Clint Enns

What happens on the journey to total annihilation is really interesting: not only are the visuals often incidentally gorgeous but also the viewer is obliged to think about the phenomenon of seeing itself.

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Stills from Spiderman vs. Macrovison by Clint Enns

In Spiderman vs. Macrovision the real time image decay is fast and unsettling.  Macrovision’s “Ripguard” technology, was designed to prevent illegal copying.  In the tape we see antique cartoons repeatedly churn, hesitate and dissolve into a froth of colour only to be reformed momentarily and dissolve again, like a babel of photons struggling for coherence.

Strangely, in these videotapes the emotional content is heightened with increasing abstraction.  The sound design/music (frequently performed by Clint Enns) is a big factor.  In winnipeg stories: sacrificial memories, composed of discarded footage, Clint Enns achieves a fitful, melancholy tone.  The golden glow gives the tape a “trapped in amber” look and the music is wistful, haunting, emotive.


Still from winnipeg stories: sacrificial memories by Clint Enns

The Everden (which is my favourite) creates a sense of panic and paranoia as the viewer looks deeper and deeper into a bleak urban landscape.  It’s like watching the famous “grassy knoll” footage from Dallas.  Everything is so tantalizingly close, but the resolution just isn’t there and the image breaks up, becomes meaningless, closed and unknowable.

The Everden

Still from The Everden by Clint Enns

The Everden also made me think of the Laura Poitras’ film Citizen Four, in its dark, brooding unease and revelations of betrayal and duplicity.  The sound track of processed ambience and guitar, the unrelenting static, drop out, smear and interference all conspire to create a powerfully tense piece about extreme alienation in this: the age of surveillance.

Leslie Supnet’s work also has a “take no prisoners” approach to materials.  She chooses to hand draw her animations, paint and cut out her sets (with scissors), and shoot in super 8 instead of HD.

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Still from First Sun by Leslie Supnet

Capturing simple, graphic pictures with these erzats techniques Leslie Supnet’s work frequently achieves a sense of elemental imagery.  In pieces like Sun Moon Stars Rain or First Sun the bold images, coupled with a boisterious percussive sound track results in wildly playful pagan joyfulness.

Leslie Supnet’s narrative animations explore themes of depression, anxiety, loss and redemption.  Simple line drawings have an affecting emotive depth and nuance that seems precisely current.


Still from Fair Trade by Leslie Supnet

Her processed super 8 work also has complex results using simple imagery.   Recurring themes include flocks of gulls, bizarre landscapes, cats, horses.  Last Light Breaking has an other worldly, meditative dreaminess.  Wind and Snow combines startling depictions of classic subjects in flaring, shimmering psychedelic colours.  Less like a documenter of the natural world and more like poet, Leslie Supnet gets at the essence of what’s around her.

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Stills from Wind and Snow by Leslie Supnet

January 22, 2015

The weather softened as I traversed Dundas Square and crowds spilled out of the Eaton Centre to mill about aimlessly in the late afternoon light. Rounding the corner, the approach to the Ryerson Image Centre has a gloomy, underpass feel and the clatter of hockey sticks and shouted taunts echoes up and down Gould Street.


Ryerson Image Centre

Even in the vestibule area of the Ryerson Image Centre glamour is front and center.  The Salah J. Bachir Media Wall continuously plays a loop of thirteen vignettes by Alex Prager.  The piece, commissioned by The New York Times Magazine and called A Touch of Evil, is all high production values and top shelf Hollywood talent as Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, George Clooney, Mara Rooney, Mia Wasikowski and others get all campy, ironic and self-referentially post modern to portray peak Noire moments. It’s kind of fun to take in the special effects, lavish colour and tension enducing music, like watching movie trailers or some patische put together for Oscar night, but I couldn’t help feeling that I’m tired of celebrities and their faces.



Stills from Alex Prager piece, A Touch of Evil

The world is the playpen of this gang of mega stars and now it seems they have insinuated themselves into every aspect of life; even romping into the art world with a knowing wink. (I wish Tilda Swinton would stop doing performance art too.)

Burn with Desire: Photography and Glamour

Thinking about the fire theme I recalled the Is Toronto Burning? show which opened in September of this year at the Art Gallery of York University.  Whereas the York show, curated by Philip Monk, examined an intense period in the creative history of this city, the show at Ryerson Image Centre, curated by Gaëlle Morel, is a longing gaze mostly at Hollywood.

We all know the lovely goddesses of the past, with arched spines and eyebrows captured in satiny black and white,  especially Marilyn Monroe.  In this show there is definitely a surfeit of Marilyn pictures and yet somehow, new angles and unfamiliar expressions are revealed.  How is that possible when the woman’s image is available in every cut-rate t-shirt shop on Yonge Street?

Manfred Linus

Manfred Linus, Untitled [Marilyn Monroe], date and location unknown. BS.2005.190119/113-1226. The Black Star Collection, Ryerson Image Centre.

We also see Brigette, Sofia, Natalie, Gloria and others, all swanning about in the glory of mid century USA.  (Below is an incendiary Ava Gardner.)


Burn with Desire: Photography and Glamour (installation view), 2015 © Eugen Sakhnenko, Ryerson Image Centre

Vanity Fair’s celebrated pull-out covers by Annie Liebovitz work the time-tested glamour signals.  With only minor adjustments to old Hollywood style the images capture throngs of interchangeable starlets with bare shoulders, limpid expressions and more satin.
Burn with Desire: Photography and Glamour (installation view), 2015 © Eugen Sakhnenko, Ryerson Image Centre

The show gets more interesting and the understanding of glamour broadens with the inclusion of a bit of authentic counter culture from the late sixties. The Kenneth Anger film Puce Moment is totally loopy and delightful.  (Click on the link to view it on Vimeo.)

Puce Moment

Burn with Desire: Photography and Glamour (installation view), 2015 © Eugen Sakhnenko, Ryerson Image Centre

There is also a hilarious Richard Avedon film from 1973, actually an ad for a Japanese Fragrance, in which Lauren Hutton, Anjelica Huston. Jean Shrimpton and Avedon himself send up the whole glamour enterprise.  The short piece, which predates MTV by about ten years, has a frothy, giddy excitement to it that might be impossible to achieve in this more cynical era.

The giant colour portraits of black women by Mickalene Thomas add gravitas to the exhibition.  One of the few that are not actual celebrities, the image below depicts an utterly self-absorbed beauty, shimmering and adorned and posed for maximum impact in a kind of trance of narcissism.


Burn with Desire: Photography and Glamour (installation view), 2015 © Eugen Sakhnenko, Ryerson Image Centre

There is picture of Kim Kardashian in the exhibition; nude shots with Barbara Kruger’s trademark red and black bands of confrontational texts strategically placed.  What occurred to me was the following: Why do I know so much about Kim Kardashian?  I have never watched her reality tv show nor really read anything about her and yet…and yet I possess numerous facts and impressions about the woman.  Was it like this when Marilyn was ascendent?  What about the future?   Will the Google glass have a filter?

January 16, 2015

Villa Toronto

Villa Toronto kicked off this week with an opening in the great hall of Union Station. The exhibition was dimly lit and fraught with tripping hazards.  The beauty of the space – the spectacular vaulted ceiling, clerestory windows, touches of Canadiana like the carved city names ringing the hall – was ignored.  Instead a warren of tiny white galleries was installed, apparently in a rush. Unfortunately the place reeked of Cinnabon, which wafted up from the food court below.

On the positive side there was definitely some art to look at.  There were hordes of people and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

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My friends and I were puzzling over the sculptures and drawings by Joseph Wagenbach.



Sculpture by Joseph Wagenbach at Villa Toronto

A multi media kiosk told the story of this artist: his rural childhood near Hannover; the confusion and displacement of the war; some time spent in Paris where he may have met Brancusi; his reclusive life in Canada.  In 2006 he suffered a stroke.  His house was opened and a trove of art works was discovered.


Rabbit by Joseph Wagenbach


String Mouse by Joseph Wagenbach


Rabbit Skinned by Joseph Wagenbach

Initally we weren’t sure the object above represented a rabbit.  Maybe it was a cat of some kind or a weasel?  A particularly articulate and knowledgeable woman overheard our conversation and emerged from the crowd to explain that a particular rabbit was obtained from a Portuguese butcher and a cast was made of it and that is why this object exists.


The woman then went on to introduce herself as Iris Haeussler and confessed that, yes, she created the sculpture and the drawings; dreamed up the biography, the stroke, the discovery and in fact the whole alter ego of fictitious Joseph Wagenbach.

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Drawings by Joseph Wagenbach

Iris Haeussler went on to tell us how liberating it was to create this work for her alter ego.  Self imposed inhibitions and doubts vanished and she enjoyed a truly creative period.

I mentioned the Scondi Collection and told her it would be interesting if Joseph Wagenbach had actually been acquainted with Isabella Scondi…but with the noise and the Cinnabon I don’t think it quite got through…

January 15, 2015

I walked north from Dupont on Osler and then veered left to take in some of the desolate, windswept beauty of the Junction. All was bathed in a high contrast glare on this bright afternoon in deep January.

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Jessica Bradley Gallery

It was such a relief to be in the warm, friendly gallery space, filled with laconic poetry, as a succession of trains rumbled by outside.  The show at Jessica Bradley is called Signs & Symbols.

Work by a dozen artists is on display. The delivery methods are diverse but there is a definite coherence to the show: high Concept Art, detached and cool.


Installation view of Signs & Symbols

The show got me thinking about the material manifestation of ideas and how far ranging that could be among the original Conceptual Artists: From the notion that “if it’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing,” (for example, Robert Smithson literally creating a new landscape) to instances whereby the object part of the art became less and less important until finally, poof!, it was gone (as in Sol LeWitt handing out some instructions).

In this exhibition, one end of the spectrum (the “less is more” end) might be occupied by Jason McLean who jots some practically illegible notes on nice thick paper and then frames them. It’s so deft and effortless, the way these particular text fragments powerfully capture some of the chaos and unmanageability of contemporary life.


Jan 2112 by Jason McLean

(Since it is a bit hard to read I’ve excerpted a particularly appealing section below:)

loose nuts in bowl
  with kiwi &
    log on log off

Jason McLean’s poetry/sign works really well with a photograph by Geoffrey James which is hung next to it. The photograph documents a bit of signage on the exterior of The Matador. The bizarre concoction of letters on dense green paint is like a faint missive from another world, emphasizing the divide between the dull staid society where mail is delivered and the after hours parallel universe where vice and mayhem rule.


The entrance to the Matador by Geoffrey James

Some of the work seems to be getting at the ineffable. Like a thick black, manufactured oval with glowing white letters by Kelly Mark.  It effectively reminds the viewer that life is short and eternity awaits.


Nothing is Larger than Everything by Kelly Mark

Yes, yes….there is no time like now! I should buy a Hyundai and some cheap gas!

A piece by Robert Fones, similarly manufactured and glowing, elevates a strangely awkward command.


What You Don’t See Displayed by Robert Fones

Tricia Middleton’s piece, painted in watery blues, is a quote from Nietzche.  It has a plaintive tone and makes a link between the courage to live life deeply and the by-product of that, which is intense suffering.


The most spiritual human beings (Nietzshe) by Tricia Middleton

The artist Karl Holmqvist creates an ambitious installation work.  Typewritten sheets completely cover one wall and climb over a platform.  The texts share a visual similarity to the “typings” of Christopher Knowles but unlike that famous autistic artist whose pieces never waver from a single idea, this installation offers a roving commentary on such disparate topics as celebrity culture, advertising, politics, history, religion and so on.  It’s not clear if these are found texts or compositions by the author.  There are a couple of sets of headphone included as part of the installation where one can listen to what sounds like a computer with a deep, male, German accented voice reciting random words.



Untitled (MOMA) by Karl Holmqvist

Walking back down Miller Street I had a new appreciation of the workaday announcements plastered on plateglass all around me.  What were the considerations that resulted in the final form?


January 3, 2015

The festive torpor has come to an end and the galleries along Tecumseh Street are now open.


Birch Contemporary – Janice Gurney, Renee Van Halm

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Punctuation in Translation, (Marcus Aurelius meditation 10.17 translation by Meric Casaubon, 1634) by Janice Gurney


Artwork by Janice Gurney

The snapshot above actually functions as a continuation of the conceptual art piece, called Translations & Alliances, by Janice Gurney, on display at the Birch Gallery.

And now for the explanation:

Janice Gurney begins with an ancient text by Marcus Aurelius. She isolates the punctuation in various English translation of the text.   She literally makes paintings of the punctuation marks. Then she lends the paintings, framed and under glass, to colleagues. The colleagues place the paintings in offices somewhere and Janice Gurney photographs the original paintings in their new context, including incidental reflections on the glass and adjacent objects. Then the photograph of one of the paintings is included in a show and Janice Gurney photographs the photograph of the original painting in a new context, including incidental reflections on the glass and adjacent objects…..and on and on, like a hall of mirrors.


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Reflection: Production Still (ArtLAB Gallery, 2009) by Janice Gurney

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Meditation in Your Office, (M. C.’s office, University of Toronto, 2006) by Janice Gurney

This piece is initially mystifying and would remain rather opaque without an understanding of the back story.  For example, what are the numbers near the floor, beneath the paintings (and photographs of paintings)?


In fact 1634 is the date of the translation, the punctuation of which is depicted in the painting.

I found that putting the effort into figuring out this work is worthwhile. Through all the commotion with the photographs, punctuation marks, reflective glass and whatnot a real sense of this haunting piece of poetry and its journey through history emerges. The delicate idea of how a translator hundreds of years ago decides to place a comma stays with me. The words – a meditation – are about the brief and fleeting nature of any one thing. Paradoxically this one thing, an intangible idea, has endured.

The original 1634 translation of the Marcus Aurelius text is below:

XIX. Ever to represent unto thyself; and to set before thee, both the general age and time of the world, and the whole substance of it. And how all things particular in respect of these are for their substance, as one of the least seeds that is: and for their duration, as the turning of the pestle in the mortar once about.

In the handout that accompanies the show Janice Gurney provides complete texts of the subsequent translations through time. Excerpted below are a few examples of various translations of the original “turning of the pestle in the mortar” phrase:

1701 “turning of a Wimble”

1747 ‘”twinkling of an eye”

1862 “turning of a gimlet”

2002 “twist of a tendril”

2009 “one brief turning in air”

I wonder if the band Kansas was thinking about Marcus Aurelius when they wrote their 1978 hit “Dust in the Wind”?


Kansas, in the seventies

Concurrently on display at Birch Contemporary is a show of paintings, called Depth of Field, by Renee Van Halm.

It’s an interesting pairing of artists:  Whereas Janice Gurney’s show explores elusive concepts of past and present Renee Van Halm’s paintings are all about the visual  “now.”

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Complex Curves by Renee Van Halm

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Tongue & Groove by Renee Van Halm

The paintings consist of pure, intense swaths of colour enclosed in sensuous curves on a background of fragmented depictions of interiors.  Renee Van Halm is on top of the language of desirable objects and she plays with the fracturing and recombining of those conventions with delicious success.  In fact, I immediately wanted to take one home, hang it over a white Carrara marble fireplace…maybe there would be an Italian greyhound slumbering in front….I’d be wearing Prada and a vintage Jaguar would be parked out front…

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Rose by Rene Van Halm